Girdles – 1950s

The fashion industry boomed in the 1950s, and the norm was to see extremely well-groomed women. All well-dressed women of the time wore tight, controlling girdles. Fashion required a firm silhouette, particularly for the slim-fitting, streamlined sheath  dresses that were so fashionable at the time.

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Girdles were now made from nylon and latex rubber; strategic panels smoothed and flattened the tummy as well as the bottom. This decade saw the first elastic that stretched in more than one direction, so well-fitting garments did not require heavy boning as in the past. The breasts were enhanced, and the girdle helped to accentuate the contrast between a flat, slim torso and large, well-shaped breasts. A flat bottom was considered to be the feminine beauty ideal.

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 The girdle was worn regardless of a woman’s size; moral considerations were of paramount importance, even more so than fashion requirements. A woman who chose to not wear a girdle was considered, at the time, to be of loose moral nature.

As advertising became more common, girdles were designed to look attractive as well as be functional. Nylon garments with decorative front panels, embellished either with lace or embroidery, were popular, and lacing closures were abandoned for zips (step ins), hooks and eyes (wrap-arounds) or tug-on garments (roll-ons). Colours were adopted as well.

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Older women often still chose to wear the controlling, boned corsets of old – resistant to change for the sake of change. Even the newer items cannot have been comfortable, especially when sitting, and must have been very unpleasant to wear on hot, humid days or when doing heavy work.

1950s women were expected to have a wardrobe of girdles to suit every outfit and occasion: foundation garments, as girdles were called, were advertised as being “hugging”, not “squeezing”. For the first time the girdle was marketed for its sex appeal.

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The 1950s also saw a new sizing method being adopted. The “hip spring” was the term used to refer to girdle sizing: this was the difference in size (in inches) between the waist and the hip.

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The biggest advance in the 1950s as far as girdles was concerned was the invention of DuPont’s special new fabric, Fibre K. To later be renamed Spandex, then Lycra, it was lighter, more comfortable, easier to wash, and could be worn against the skin without rubbing or chafing.

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Like the eve of the 1920s, by the end of the 1950s change was again in the air…

Next Time: 1960 – Modern Shapewear

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