The Stout Woman's point-of-view

 

With additional photos from Helen

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! 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

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoons on the subject of corsetry have appeared in many places. We have tried to capture those that share a theme or depict the corset either badly or rather well. Spirella often included cartoons in their house magazine.

Cartoons

 

 

Inevitably, the 'stout woman' has been the but of numerous jokes and cartoons. Without this long-suffering creature, how would the sea-side picture postcard industry have survived? Atrocious 'double entendres' abound in this fantastical world and yet, occasionally the art-work can be rather accurate. On the left is a wonderful cartoon from Lilian Rivers' book 'Corsets in Africa.' The bra, the girdle and the bulges are all very real.

Interestingly, this cartoon appears in two different renditions.

 

So many of the cartoons show that long-lasting tradition of lacing one's corsets with a foot in the back. Since so many corset wearers have bad backs, this is hardly recommended! See the section on 'corset lacing'.

 

        

  

 

 

 

 

The archetypal stout woman. Well-to-do; middle-aged with a prodigious bosom balanced by an equally large posterior. The large torso tapers downwards to end in small, delicate feet. In reality this was actually very often the case as is depicted in other cartoons here.

 

     

 

The cartoons sometimes have the virtue of being particularly accurate. The maid hasn't pushed her knee or foot into the back of the corset as have the struggling helpers on the left. The large women leans forward against the pull of her maid, an effective way to tighten the laces, although the laces should never pull the corset completely closed. The corset is not designed to put a waist on the wearer, rather to support the wearer's abdomen and prevent it from bulging; this is exactly the Spirella principle. The corset is very long both above and below the waist. Above the waist, this is designed to prevent any unsightly rolls of spare flesh bulging beneath the armpits. Below the waist, this will control her undoubtedly substantial thighs. I hope, however, the the corset is cut shorter at the front than it appears, otherwise, this lady will never, ever manage to sit down. I feel that the cartoonist's wife was stout; and that he had seen this picture in real life. He didn't have to imagine it. The black and white picture in the middle is drawn in a similar vein.

 

The poor corsetiere on the right's tape measure is too short. Our Spencer friend from Liverpool has encountered exactly this problem, and keeps a special tape handy. It is embarrassing for the client if the corsetiere has to tie two tape measures together!

 

 

     

Time and time again, we see the same joke attached to a different cartoon.

Making ends meet occurs in many of the cartoons.

 

          

 

      

 

The Lost Chord is a famous one and birthdays provide no end of entertainment, perhaps inspired by Spirella's own cartoons.

 

         

There appears to be no end of the cartoonist's imagination regarding the stout woman and her corsets. Even the word 'corset' elicits almost a schoolboyish smirk and snigger. Failing to extract humour from references or images of corsets and girdles,

the cartoonist will poke fun at the poor lady's over-sized bosom!

 

   

The style of these two is so similar I assume that the same artist was involved.

 

    

The cartoons range from subtle, observant to downright rude

 

   

Inevitably the embarrassment of the man in the same context as female underwear gets an airing!

 

     

 

The theme of the girder strangely appears in two instances, whilst the cartoons on the right are so very American including the strip cartoon below:-

 

 

 

.... but ....

 

 

I think we should leave this page to the quintessentially English humour of the sea-side postcard where even the mention of the word "corsets" evokes a laugh!