Girdles

Girdles started to replace corsets in the 1940's and in 1966 six million girdles were sold in Britain in nine months. A fair proportion of these were accounted for by Spirella's 6,000 consultants as the corsetieres had become known. (By 1966, the term 'corset' was having image problems in the marketing department). Even in November 1968, a report from Kayser Bondor disclosed that in a survey of over 3,000 women, 70 per cent still wore conventional girdles and the vast majority of women needed and wanted controlling garments.

As we will see (weddings), 1968 probably sounds the death-knell of the girdle, as British woman suddenly adopted the panty-girdle that her American sisters had been wearing for nearly a decade.

Today (2005), the girdle is probably less well known than the corset that still has a small, but dedicated, following. The panty-girdle, or shaper if you must, is the lower foundation of choice, if, of course you chose to wear a foundation. But let us return to the heyday of the girdle.

Spirella girdle 234 - 1958

 

In the 1960's the 200-series girdles were the foundation of choice for the young woman, the bride and even the aspiring lady politician.

     

The 205 girdles (from 1965, 1970 and 1978) and the 206 girdle (below - 1968) were Spirella's longest selling design. The front panel of the 206 could be ordered in a choice of materials. 

      

The 206's from 1957, 1958  and 1965 shows the exquisite details available on these garments.

The 205 and 206 models ran from the end of the war until the 1970's. They were immensely popular, however, in response to the bigger hipped woman of the 1960's, the 234 and 346 (below) were introduced in 1961; they were the first new style in over a decade.

The234 girdle designed in 1962 was a new design to accommodate the larger hipped woman. Two 234 girdles (1964; left and middle)  and a 346 girdle (1962; right) illustrate the different cut from the 205/6 series.  Fancy materials could be ordered at extra cost and were a favourite choice of brides.

 

Coppelia

The Coppelia 40-series range was introduced in the mid-1960's to counter the cheap (and extremely well made) products from from the stores such as Marks and Spencer. It was very difficult for some women to believe that the extra expense of the made-to-measure girdle was justified in view of the choice of fittings from ready made girdles.

    

The Coppelia 40 and  41 (top row); and the 42 and 45 girdles (bottom row).  The model (3rd from left; top row) seems less pleased with the 45 than the 41!

 

Latterly, Coppelias became (in Britain) the first girdles sold by Spirella in stock sizes. The pictures come from  Spirella's last catalogues produced early in the 1980's.

 

The Coppelia girdles were, in fact, very well made, however, when they came on the market, the era of the corsetiere as a skilled trade was on the wane. Many corsetieres might as well have sold 'Tupperware', or "Avon' cosmetics. How many measurements do you need to sell a plastic tub or a perfume? None; and that is my point. Coppelia was never a great success, because it was too easy for an inexperienced corsetiere to foist on a client, and the client would feel that, perhaps Marks & Spencer were cheaper and better.

 

The emphasis had moved from service and quality, to sales, sales, sales!

 

 

 

Spirelette

In the 1950's, Spirella coined the term 'Spirelette' for a range of lighter girdles. These were still made-to-measure, and should not be confused with the Spirelette range that was introduced in 1963 and was pushed towards the younger clientele in the 1970's (see panty-girdles). I believe that the name 'Spirelette' was a response to arch-rival Spencer's, Spencerette. The Spencerette, was by no means a light garment, but when the name was introduced, it was certainly lighter than the corset it replaced.

The latter Spirelette was never fully made-to-measure, and was simply available in an enormous range of sizes. Note how even a garment aimed at the more youthful figure (216 from 1954 right), has the option of front-lacing. How many housewives in their 30's and 40's wore a laced foundation in the 1950's? We'll never know and the records of Spirella and Spencer that might provide a clue, are probably lost forever. Certainly, not many of these women would shout to the rooftops "I wear a corset like my mother and granny did", although that would probably be the reason why!

Laced girdle 216 from 1954

Why is it that the photograph compiler gives the model a semi-swooning posture? Scarlet O'Hara's corsets had reached the cinemas 15 years before. 

   

Spirelette Girdles (above): the 126 from 1957, the 127 from 1953 and 1957, and the 128 from 1954.

 

Girdles from the Ivy Leaf Collection

It is often quite revealing to look at real girdles from Spirella (and other makes for that matter), since, to be honest, the majority of girdle wearers in the last 20 years have been older women.

The example on the right is an absolute classic Spirella. Note the waist, 30", and the 34" hips have created more of a tube, than some of the shapely girdles above, worn by shapely models. This is the girdle of an elderly woman, whose 26" / 36" lower proportions have changed with age. 

Flesh is lost from the derriere and a lack of exercise allows the tummy to protrude. This was no corset designed to flatten the stomach at all costs (left), this was typical Spirella, made-to-measure, and designed to support the abdomen without constricting it in any way (right). No off-the-peg corset or girdle was made with such a scant hip-spring of 4". By catering to the vagaries of the female shape, Spirella became justly famous.

The following pictures of girdles have been collected over a 35 year period and are classics of their era.

Above we have in the top row, unidentified Spirella, 206 and 206.  In the bottom row, a 234, a 246 and an older 202. On the left in black another 234. Despite the dramatic difference in materials, the cut of the two 234's is identical.

The real girdles, in colour, and with the obvious lustre of satin, nylon and brocade, say so much more about the garments than the black & white pictures, although exquisitely modelled, will ever do.

Identification simply requires access to a Spirella magazine or brochure of the period, however, such was Spirella's fascination, and latterly ever-changing range of model numbers, that not even our collection has a reference to the model at the top left. 

If you are really lucky, then the garment may still have the manufacturer's tag attached (above right). So much more than a high street purchase, this tag tells of the garment model, the material, the corsetiere and client. Even the date is recorded of this 28 year-old girdle (top middle). It's a collector's dream, for we look at a slice history.

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