The Stout Woman's point-of-view



a Panic in Fat

Lane Bryant's Engineering Solutions



The 'stout woman' was one of the corsetiere's favorite clients! After all, a thin women can be sold a corset, however, the change to her  figure will not be very apparent (outside the world of tight-lacing). With the avoirdupois of the stout woman, anything is possible!


The background photograph comes from the Spirella house magazine of 1950, and shows a well-endowed, and very shapely model (one of Spirella's regulars and favourites), by no means in her first flush of youth, parading in front of the gathered corsetieres in her striking satin brassiere and brocade corset.


The negligee appears for effect, for style, and to remind the audience that normal women do not parade around in their underwear; it is an act normally reserved for the bedroom. The stout woman appeared in so many of Spirella's house magazines. After all, this was their target audience. The Spirella and Health pages contain reams of testimonials, not just from the over-weight matron as to the effectiveness of her stays, but also her doctor.






With particular care indeed! "Rengo Belt Reducing Corsets mould the stout woman's figure into the long graceful lines that she has so often admired in other women." The money that could be extracted from the corpulent matron by an experienced corsetiere would certainly provide for the family holiday. In the section on corsetieres, the subtle, and lucrative art of persuading the woman desperate for an improved figure to part with her husband's money is described in detail. Times have changed. The comments above about "the husband's money" are neither chauvinistic nor untrue. It was the way of the times. My husband interjects here and asks if the women concerned had been 'working women', would they have been so casual about spending their money? Interesting male question, but more for a sociologist than a corsetiere. The corsetieres used the attitudes and fancies of their era to do what any businessman or women wants to do; and that is to turn a profit.  Perhaps the difference between then and today is that without that profit earned by the woman, the family might have gone to the wall.



Berlei (above left), Spencer (1934; centre) and Gossard (1920; above right) realised that corsets styled for the stout figure would fit better than a standard cut.






Yes indeed. Corsetting the stout woman is not a subject for levity as this gimlet eyed matron suggests. Nevertheless, the Teutonic cherub in the 'Ski' advert quite seems to enjoy her substantial corsetry, whilst Spirella's 1930's model "thinks of England" and appears resigned to the photographer's attention.  On the right, we have a picture that amply portrays the words of Mary Armstrong, chief corsetiere for Ambrose Wilson in the 1970's, "Let's not romance about corsetry!" Rite-Form really take advertising to its limits. That corselette is designed for the larger woman, but the drawing is of a size 10 model. Did they really think that their foundation garments were that effective? Berlei got back to basics, and in typically Australian straight-forward fashion aims its advertising at the 'heavy, big hip figure!' Interestingly, in this pre-war advertisement, the corset is marketed from the Berlei-Camp company, the Camco 341 being none other than a Camp corset made under licence.




You never know where you'll meet these stout women! Spirella (1930) envisaged a stately home with a dozen society female guests who, unaccountably, have forgotten to put on their clothes.   

In America on the right, the portly matron is so pleased with her corsets that she enrols three friends to help model it!


 From stoutness we move to obesity. A major problem these days, at least Spirella in the 1930's didn't 'beat about the bush'. "Are any of your friends obese?" Ran one (less than successful) advertising campaign.


Rice Corsets (right) are also rather direct, and coin a new description, the "fleshy woman"!

The photograph on the left is obviously a composite. My husband found the head and shoulders of the otherwise 'headless' model wearing the corset in the Spirella archives at Letchworth. The pictures joined identically, apart from the  dramatic difference in resolution due to their different scanned sizes.


In the 1930's (right) Camp employed its (almost) unique cluster lacing to support the large bosom of the matronly figure. Whether such engineering was absolutely necessary is challenged by Spirella, who's Fashion Line brassiere of 1958 does a similar job without the 'rigging', and,  I might add puts quite a waist on this 40-year-old woman.



It is Spirella who give us the best examples of these charmingly mature women. The examples (above and right) feature one of their favourite models, and all these pictures come from the halcyon period of the mid-1950's.  That the 305 model corset lasted so long, with just minor changes to the quality of materials (and not always for the better), is illustrated below, where the three pictures of the 305-wearing ladies come from 1930, 1975 and 1998. The mature woman was well served by Spirella for over eight decades.





Spirella in the 1930's, 1960's, Mrs R. of the November 1962 Spirella magazine and B. in 2005.


Apart from Spirella, who could use older models, as well as unfeasibly young models, to portray their wares, perhaps the mail order firm 'Ambrose Wilson' appealed more than any to the older generation desperately seeking corsets in the declining market of the 1970's. Ambrose Wilson simply marketed others' garments, although they did use the brand name 'EVE' for some manufacturers' discontinued lines. Below are three of their corsets from an early 1950's catalogue alongside Sears insensitively named "Y.B. Stout." What was the marketing department thinking ?




And why, oh why does the stout matron believe that cladding oneself in rubber will have any effect at all? For decades the marketing departments have forced women into these sweaty contraptions (which I might tell you are fiendishly cold to don on a cold winter's morning). Sears advertised latex reducing under-belts on their Y.B. Stout range of corsets in case the very name of the device left you in any doubt as to your size!



And as for the lady on the right (above); well, I'm sorry my dear, that corset looks fine from the front, but it will never, ever fit. You are pulling the laces from the wrong end, and if you ever get the top of the corset to close within six inches, breathing will, I fear, become impossible. The stout woman should be supported by her corsets; they should give her a feeling of confidence and well-being. Forcing a waist onto a reluctant torso is best left to septuagenarian actresses. An aging and famous actress once appeared at a charity dinner, where she was described by her hostess (out of ear-shot) as a badly-packed satin sausage. I'm sorry, the stout woman can do far better than that!




Obesity is a problem in all cultures that have the money to buy more food than the body actually requires, however, this is far from being a modern problem. Camp and Spencer, in fact, all the major corsetry houses, catered for the stout, overweight, and, quite frankly, obese figure.

A figure like this genuinely needs the support of a corset, and Spencer could supply them (and still does).







































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