Weddings

The picture (taken and composed for Doctor Nikola's 2014 calendar) is a tribute to the Spirella coverage of weddings in its house magazines of the 1960's. The bras, girdles and corsets are true period pieces from Spirella, Spencer, M&S, Sears, Axfords and Triumph. The wedding dresses and WRNS's uniform are 1960's as are some of the formal dresses, but most of the clothes are 1970's, but we still wore girdles then. Six of the women (aged from 59 to 90) wear corsets; there are three Spirella 305's, two 325's (one a Spencer reproduction made in the 1990's) and one Jenyns fan-lacer. A women in her early 50's wears an M&S girdle as does her daughter, the Wren. The young brides (29) wear reproduction Victorian corsets and the corsetiere's young assistant wears a panty-girdle.

Within a decade, most of these women would be wearing panty-girdles or no lower foundation at all!

 

A shopping list for the bride and her mother.

A target for the Spirella corsetiere.

"The wedding took place in St. John the Baptist Church in Lowestoft on Saturday of Miss Joan Flack, youngest daughter of Major and Mrs. Hugo Flack of The Gunnery, Canon Close, Lowestoft and Mr. Dennis Clam, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Clam of 3, Grey Street, Colchester.

 

The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a long, empire line dress of white slipper satin and carried roses and lily-of-the-valley. Bridesmaids, Joanna Grommet and Davina Wedlock wore pink satin dresses."

 

The mid 1960's, by comparison with today, an age of innocence

This report from the provincial weeklies, unchanged in format for decades, was repeated up and down the country. A wedding did not cost a fortune. Mother sewed the dresses, granny made the favours and all the economies that we have forgotten today were pressed into service. There was even the chance that the bride was entilted to wear white! Consider the trouseau that was recommended by a style of book that has all but been forgotten (left). Advice was passed down from generation to generation. Well thumbed tomes would take you from cradle to grave in a world of advice, encouragement and cautionary tales. A woman's world was indeed mapped out for her, and many women appreciated the direction.

 

The liberating force of late 1960's relieved women of the need to follow the map. Sadly, this force provided no guidance for those who lacked a direction of their own, and as a consequence, subsequent generations have wandered in a moral wilderness that only a strident minority ever wanted. We pay the price today.

 

But enough moralising. It simply sets the scene of a time when a forthcoming wedding rang the bells of the cash register in the corsetiere's mind. It is 1965 and the world is changing fast, although nobody quite realises it, and certainly nobody imagines the changes of the next forty years in their wildest dreams. People were very conservative then and men often wore jackets and ties at the weekend.

Weddings were probably the ‘special occasion’ where women could be persuaded to wear their best foundations. A persuasive corsetiere could have a field day once she got wind of an impending wedding. The Spirella magazines have many charming wedding photographs with detailed descriptions of who is wearing what under the satin dresses and the floral rayon print of the Mother. Typically in the 1960’s the mother and older relatives might be wearing a 305 corset or one of the heavier-style girdles, however, there are no references to the bride doing so. Usually the bride would be wearing a 206 girdle, a waist-nipper, or something similar. On a few occasions, the bridesmaid, apparently aged about 25, was described as wearing a 305, however, I doubt if this was a regular habit.

The wedding description below comes from November 1969. Note that even at the end of the swinging 60's, two middle-aged women are wearing corsets and amazingly, so is one woman barely into her 30's!

An exciting day for the bride and a proud moment for our consultant Mrs. H. of Peterborough. The bride wore Spirelettes 83 and 132 (a desperate attempt by Spirella to attract a younger market with lighter foundations), the bridegroom's mother (on her left), a Coppelia 44 and Modern Line bra; sister of the bride (extreme right of picture) wore a 305 and Fashion Line bra, and (on the bride's right) her mother in a 325 corset and style 72 bra, and Mrs. H. in Spirella foundations 305 and 30.

Reports Mrs. H.: "A guest at the wedding became interested in Spirella and ordered a Coppelia girdle and bra. Another guest had a Coppelia girdle and asked me to get her some support stockings." It was Mrs. H. who, in the August issue, explained how she had secured orders while helping out at a funeral.  Is nowhere safe??

 

At least Mrs. H was wearing the same foundations that she sold. Note that the sister on the right wears a laced foundation, one of Spirella's many euphemisms for corset. The year was 1969 and I could well believe that her Mother was a regular corset wearer. The fact that her Mother wears the complex (and expensive) 325 suggests that this is so; however, a 30-year-old woman? At the end of the 1960's such a garment for the sister I suspect might just be 'for special occasions only', such as this wedding. 

 

 

The reference above to stockings is repeated several times in correspondence from Spirella corsetieres. It was a clever ploy by the corsetiere to gain just a little more commission. What could be easier, having fitted the wedding guest with new brassiere and girdle for the occasion, to persuade her that some support for her legs was required. "There will be so much standing around. You really have to consider your poor legs". This ploy was so successful that Spirella branded their own support stockings (left). Spirella provided everything, even rayon directoire knickers for the mother-in-law! In the 1970's Spirella experimented with Matchmakers, a foray in the world of the twin set, however, there were far more experienced fashion retailers out there, and Spirella ignoring it's core strength of corsetry paid a price later.

Spirella's experience with parachute nylon during the war was used to good effect in knicker construction!

 

From 1959 comes a lovely photograph of a very attractive bride with a keen interest in her appearance as is revealed by her corsetiere's letter to the Spirella magazine.

The charming 21-year-old bride is a regular Spirella wearer. Her corsetiere, Mrs. N. of Norwich, tells us she had supplied her with one 700,  one 260, one 384, one 423, one 323 and one 206 : and all during 1959.

To translate from Spirella's love affair with their numbering system, the 700 is quite a formidable corselette (and would probably have been worn at the wedding), the 260 and 206 are high-waisted girdles, and the rest are brassieres, two of which are long-line style. By today's standards that is a remarkable trousseau.

Weddings, present and future, were a source of vital intelligence for the diligent corsetiere with an eye for future sales. The bride, bride's mother, granny, bridesmaids and a host of relatives, in a time when life was far more parochial than present, represented an un-tapped vein of commission. How good a corsetiere are you? Let us see if you can spot the potential corset and girdle wearers in these wedding photographs.

   

Look at the photographs below that appeared in the British Spirella Magazines of the mid-1960's. Guess who is wearing the corsets, girdles and  pantie-girdles. It isn't very difficult, with a few exceptions. The real task of the corsetiere was to engage all these ladies prior to the wedding, and convince them that a new lower foundation was essential for the occasion. Having sold the idea of the new lower foundation, a matching brassiere would be proposed as an essential complement to the girdle or corset. There is plenty of standing around at these functions, so some support stockings for those aching legs will be required. 

There are thirteen ladies present, who ages range from 24 to 65. This means that some of the older ladies were born around the turn of the century, whilst the brides and bridesmaids would have been born at the end of the Second World War. Seven are wearing corsets, one is wearing a pantie-girdle and the rest are wearing open-bottom girdles.

Click on the picture to find out if you guessed what the lady was wearing. How good a corsetiere are you?

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With these ladies you do not have to guess. From left to right:- Coppelia bra and Spirelette 105 panty-girdle; fashion line bra and 234 girdle; type 31 bra and 305 corset, and type 31 bra and 325 corset. This picture could well have come from 1965, a year after the 105 was introduced but when many fashionable women would wear a girdle and the older women a corset. The panty-girdle struggled to make headway until the late 1960's in Britain.

 

Surprisingly, this picture was not taken in 1965, but in 2011, some 46 years later. All the garments are original Spirellas and the clothes come from the same general period.

 

Interestingly, the lady on the left found the panty-girdle quite uncomfortable. She has a longish back and I think it was simply too short above the waist for it kept snagging her long-line Coppelia bra. The lady second on the left loved the girdle. She has had a sensitive back for years and she enjoyed the support sufficiently to ask if she could buy it from us! The third lady liked the corset and commented that once ensconced for a little while, she felt that the laces should be tightened that little bit extra. "It's years since I got into a size 14." On the right, the corset put a dramatic waist on the lady but it really did not fit very well. Whoever ordered the corset originally would have been quite scant in the hips, whereas our model was more shapely or as my corsetiere once discretely put it "she favours a larger hip-spring!"

 

 

In practice, however, the majority of brides in the late 1950's and 1960's were looking towards the lighter foundation, and below (1958) and right (1965), all the girls are wearing Spirella's 'waist nipper'. In 1958 in Britain, a girdle would have been 'de rigueur', however, this was Spirella in a rather warm South Africa.

 

 

The text attached to these photographs from the Spirella magazine speak volumes about the aspirations of these young ladies.

Left above 1962: "Spirella client, Miss F. of Stockport, completes three generations of Spirella wearers. On the day of the wedding, Miss F., her mother and grand-mother all wore Spirellas. All are clients Stockport corsetiere, Mrs. B." Indeed, a good corsetiere could guide generations through their girdles, maternity belts and corsets.

Right above 1964: "This charming wedding picture shows the daughter of corsetiere Mrs. H. of Colchester, Essex. Her daughter wore a Waist Nipper and short bra style 93 for this most important day of her life. She hopes to follow her mother's example and become a corsetiere when she is twenty-one, later this year. (Note the Sp of the Spirella sign outside the door - IL).

In this charming wedding photograph on the left (Spirella 1958), the girl on the left is reported as wearing a pantie-girdle 610 and the 22 year old on the right wears the traditional 206 girdle.  The girl on the right by today's standards needs no support whatsoever, yet in this photograph she epitomises the stylish figure of the late 1950's that has all but been forgotten.

This was a period of considerable change. In the earlier part of the century, womanhood, from girls to grannies wore corsets. From the 1970's to the present day, it was feasible for daughters, mothers and grannies to wear the same model of panty-girdle (or shaper as it is euphemistically called these days). But in the two decades post-War, Granny might wear the corset, Mother the girdle, and daughter the panty-girdle, but conceivably, and the evidence is there above, that order could even be reversed as is described below.

As the swinging 60's heralded in an era that we yet are struggling to understand, the modern Granny might wear the panty-girdle, and the young (overweight) bridesmaid from a traditional family, the corset.

We received an interesting missive on just this point:- "My daughter was getting married and the complex dressing process was attended by myself, my mother and my other daughter who would be the chief bridesmaid. The bride was being laced into a reproduction Victorian corset to further accentuate her (already waif-like) waist. "You must be used to this granny" she volunteered. Granny retorted that she hadn't worn corsets for years and that we all wore girdles now-a-days. My other daughter laughed "So -----'s wearing a corset; I wear one when I ride, so it's mum and granny that are the moderns here!" How we all laughed."

One of Spirella's earlier wedding descriptions from 1952:-

 

"Another triumph for Mrs. H. of Congleton (left of picture). She sets an example to her clients by wearing a 305 corset. (This seems to be part of the corsetiere's uniform! - Ivy). The six women to the left of Mrs. H. are all wearing Spirella, including three generations of one family. Granny (3rd from right) has worn corsets for six decades and Spirella for the last three, her latest purchase being a 315 corset especially for this occasion. Her daughter (right of picture) wears a 305 corset and the bridesmaid, her grand-daughter, a 205 girdle. The other women all bought corsets and stockings from Mrs. H, helping her to secure the Midlands area award."

 

It's interesting to note the 315 corset on the oldest woman. This back-laced model was, in fact, rarely purchased, even in the 1950's. Granny, probably born around 1880, would have been used to a back-laced corset, whereas her daughter, born around 1910, would have entered a world where you laced your own!

 

Another wedding group from 1963 in which Spirella candidly informs us that there are to be found five corsets (four 305's and a 325) and five girdles (unspecified). Home-made satin is the order of the day, and to my mind, this makes the picture all the more charming. Once again, the 305 is the mainstay of the older women whilst the girdles and panty-girdles predictably work their way down the age range of this charming group. This was the first year that Spirella vigorously marketed their new brand of Spirelette panty-girdles and maybe the bridesmaids have adopted this new style. For sure, their mothers would by the end of the decade.

I once attended a wedding in Renfrew where I was introduced to the local corsetiere. She was a mine of information "That's old Mrs. W. She's been with me for years. Orders three 325's each Spring, regular as clockwork! The bride's wearing Coppelia just like her Mum, mind you, the youngsters can get away with it. Frankly, Mrs. H should be in a corset but she thinks it's so old-fashioned." And so the interesting prattle would continue as each female figure was analysed, dissected and re-built in Spirella's best.

 

What Lies beneath

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