European Corsets  

 

 

  Recent exhibitions of European corsetry from France (left) and Sweden (right)

 

A huge amount of data is available on the history of British and American corsetry. This is, however, a very biased view, since our British data comes from personal experience and American data from the medium of the internet. So far, the internet has not successfully overcome the language barrier that will remain a blocker of information transfer in Europe for years to come. Therefore, our European knowledge is based on very incomplete data: memories from holidays, my childhood in Holland, and my husband’s business visits to various parts of the world. So far, our web pages have covered aspects of British corsetry, a limited understanding of what our sisters were wearing on the other side of the Atlantic, and a few tales from my Dutch aunt. What of the Germans, the Scandinavians, the French, and the Latin countries -- Spain, and Italy? Perhaps we should leave this incomplete data alone; however, experience has revealed that once a topic is aired on the internet, interested parties often volunteer new and fascinating information.

 

Another pitfall is to stereotype each nationality, and then make the corset fit the stereotype. This is unfair, nevertheless, it is true that each of the groups mentioned above have markedly different characteristics, and this is reflected in their corsetry as we shall see. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. From this casual knowledge we can add some comments and photographs of garments for each nationality in the hope that one day we will find out more and improve our presentation.

   

I believe that once the minor quirks of each nationality have been filtered out, the main difference between the nationalities is not of what the women wore, but at what stage in the last century the change from corset to girdle to panty-girdle took place. The number of serious foundation garments worn today, whether by the rich or poor, young or old, is minute compared to the 1970’s in any country.

 

We have borrowed several images from the Internet auctions and I am most grateful to Modesecond for their permission to do so. Some other images come from years of collecting without cataloguing from where they originated. I have made a reference to two vendors who displays the corsets on sale to excellent advantage; these vendors deserve to do well. 

 

German Corsets for Sale

Modesecond  Swinbur

 

Did our European sisters wear the foundations that we required, or was the climate too hot in summer? Did liberation arrive earlier? Of course not. Never, ever underestimate woman’s ability to “suffer to be beautiful”. On the contrary, when the mis-guided English rose set fire to her brassiere, her Italian and Spanish peers would still be fastening the dozen hooks and eyes demanded by their long-line brassieres. The German maiden, especially from Bavaria, would still be well aware of the corset that her mother wore, and the corset that she herself would wear if ‘Mutti’ got half a chance. As I have mentioned elsewhere in the reducing corsetry section, the sweaty embrace of the rubber corset and girdle has re-surfaced in this latest millennium in one of the hottest locations of all, Latin America.

 

One thing I do know is that one of my favourite companies, Spirella, not only had offices in Britain, the USA and Canada, but also in Malmo, Sweden, Copenhagen, Denmark and Berlin. Nobody I have ever met has any details of the German and Scandinavian connection here. We keep on looking in hope. We have but one example.

 

Please share our European experiences by clicking on the countries below:-

 

 

FRANCE GERMANY SCANDINAVIA
HOLLAND    BELGIUM ITALY SPAIN

 

 

 

 

Holland

 

The Dutch have a reputation for blunt, straight-forward speaking. This trait, I feel extends to their corsets as well. Pink unadorned coutil of a quality and thickness reminiscent of canvas was the order of the 1950's and 60's. To the money conscious Dutch, a corset that would last forever, totally outweighed fripperies such as satin flashes and pretty brocades. Nevertheless, the Dutch did make some lovely, if sturdy foundations. The Dutch branch of CAMP (latterly BASKO-CAMP) featured in all the upmarket high street shops and the famous 'adjustaband control' was to be seen in the corsetry department of Vroom & Dreesman until the late 1980's.

 

 

The girdle on the left was even purchased in the 1990's, however, the corsetiere at Coja of Rijswijk (who still works there as she has done for 45 years), suggested that such girdles were more common amongst the British. CAMP made some ferociously strong pantie-girdles in heavy patterned elastic with the mandatory satin facing front and rear. We purchased two examples in Groningen in the late 1980's, however, they were the end of the line at a clearance sale. For comparison, the American version is shown on the right. No patterned elastic here, but more emphasis has been placed on the satin accents. It is also a formidable girdle.

 

The corset on the left below was a standard high street model from Hunkemoller in the 1970's. Heavy, firm and solidly constructed; this long-lasting quality product would appeal to the cost conscious Dutch. Of course, a discussion of Holland's corsetry wouldn't be complete without a mention of the amazing perforated white rubber corsets on sale until the late 1970's. My aunt swore by these, and occasionally at them for they were cold to put on in winter and ridiculously sweaty in summer.

 

 

 

Belgium

 

We have been guilty of assuming that Belgium, lying as it does between Holland and France would adopt the corsetry fashions of its larger neighbours, however, this is to do Belgium a great disservice. Flanders has long been famous for its textile industry and lace, and produced many excellent corsets of its own. Corsetry marketed in both France and Holland was often manufactured in Belgium. We have included Belgium recently to this page (September 2007) for one important reason and that is our discovery in a modern catalogue of some excellent images of panty-girdles (I hate the euphemism shapewear). Such devices were the but of golf club jokes barely a decade ago, but nowadays, no self-respecting starlet's wardrobe is complete without them.

 

Available from www.cette.com

 

 

 

Spain

 

The Spanish seem to be similar to the Italians in their choice of firm underwear with the dominant colours being flesh, beige and black (presumably for widows). As I described in various other sections, it is the Spanish-speaking population of South and Central America who maintain a lively interest in firm foundations. The Rubens-esque senorita needs to maintain a careful control of her figure, at least until the husband is secured and the bambinos are born.

Soras was (and still is) a well-known brand. The catalogue and the 465 model corselettes show an all-encompassing garment designed to contain those wayward Latin bulges. These garments may look elegant and conventional, however, they are not for the faint-hearted. Four heavy-duty bones run the length of the spine (below).

 

 
Another feature of the Spanish corset (which is also typical of Latin America) is the offset lacing where the corset is hooked on the left, and laced on the right. We first encountered this sort of arrangement in 1968 in Tenerife (Canary Islands). The corset was completely made of peach satin, but with surprisingly little bone structure. The example here, one of which (above) comes from PrincessLolly is a class above its peer group. We have a similar model in our collection from Cuba, yet another Latin country. The corsets on the right come from the 'Super Scarlet' Spanish range, although I doubt that Vivian Leigh would have contenanced the monstrosity on the right.

Regard the corset on the left. This is a very robust Spanish construction. Note the buttons to attach suspenders. This is typical of any corset manufacturer whose clientele live in climates with hot, sticky summers. The corset has very little hip-spring but is long, over 50 cm (20"). The back is so heavily boned as to be virtually immobile. This was an old lady's corset, hence the tubular shape. (Older women tend to lose the fat on their buttocks whilst retaining it around their middles). The wearer would have that common complaint, the 'bad back', and I imagine that this unyielding device brought considerable relief. Note the touch of lace around the bottom. How Latin! It might be a surgical corset, but it is still a feminine garment.

A modern, powerful panty-girdle from Olith Creationes

 

Fortunately, the traditional corset shop still supplies decent foundations (courtesy of Triumph) in the provincial cities of Spain (2006 above).

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Regard the picture below. Three black foundation garments photographed against a black background (which my husband said would never work). We started this part of the site with the intention not to draw upon national pre-conceptions. We then lurched straight into those perceptions and then came to this arrangement of some rather splendid items from our collection..

 

 

All these garments are superbly crafted, made from the finest materials, yet were available at no great expense to the high street shopper. Where do they come from? Black is a notoriously risqué color. Satin has its own connotations, and we have intimated all sorts of national characteristics in the foregoing paragraphs. It's quite humbling, yet gratifying to be proved wrong, for isn't that what research is all about?. The top left corset comes from the sturdy, money-conscious, plain-speaking Holland . Top right, predictably, France; and what a gorgeous confection of femininity is is! At the bottom, this splendid brassiere that could have graced the best of Hollywood's starlets, was a product of that unique post-War British invention, the Garden City, for this is a Spirella brassiere from Letchworth, North of London.

 

It looks like the French still carry the honours in the perceptions of fashionable underwear. Look at the label on the Dutch corset from that bastion of Dutch corsetry, Hunkemoller. Even the name of the corset is French!