The Fitting Room

Model and buyers 

 Advertising and Selling

Prior to the 1950's women's underwear was not heavily advertised in the press, and in many respects corsets and girdles were considered unmentionables. Advertisements in the press would often include line drawings of the garments, but it was not common for photographs of actual models to be used. The 1950's has been described as the "Silver Age " of corsetry as during this period the exaggerated figures required by the New Look were popular, and the small waists that were fashionable needed corsetry in order to be able to achieve the shape desired.


Newlook fashions

New look and corselette 1954- Moulding a lovlier you.

Women were urged to be fashionable by " Hook, by Crook or by Corsetry", and significant advertising campaigns such as National Corsetry Weeks were used to promote the garments. Girdles and corselettes were fashion items, and as important as the clothes that went over them.

Historically the world of the corset had been a largely secret place populated by women alone, but now all members of the public were exposed to such advertising. In the past even a woman's husband might not have seen her corsetry, and it was not unknown for a woman to hide her underwear when it was removed. Now however the corset became a much more public item of clothing, and even the boxes used to promote the products became more explicit.

Galaxy box showing woman in silhouette only

This illustration is taken from the cover of a corset box for Galaxy foundations, and is typical of the subdued advertising for corsetry prior to the late fifties. During the 1950's live models wearing the corsetry became more common in advertising, but these were usually in stylised poses making the model look artistic rather than real life.

1950's girdle1950's corselette

During the 1960's advertising became more aggressive and television advertising was used to promote the products. In addition there was a move away from the traditional ways of selling products to a self service culture. Historically department stores had not displayed the majority of their goods, and women would receive personal service from a shop assistant who would bring goods to the customer for inspection.

This shift in service delivery also brought with it changes in the ways in which the products were packaged. Brightly coloured boxes with descriptive text and photo's of the garments being modelled replaced the drab boxes of the past.


Gay Slant box from early 60's


Instructions on putting on a Gay Slant girdle


Box for Berlei girdle 1960's

Berlei- Instructions for washing and wearing girdle 

Playtex 18 hour girdle box-The firm control girdle thats comfortable for hours

Girdles were also advertised in public places, with posters even being displayed on the escalators of the Tube in London. Television advertising was used heavily by Berlei, Silhouette and Playtex during the 1960's but there were some concerns about showing live models wearing the garment. A common technique used was to imply that the woman was wearing the garment and then show the garment on a display. These adverts from this period are typical of this technique.

Traditional girdles continued to be sold well into the 80's and 90's to older women who had got used to wearing the garments, and many of these still had suspenders, even though tights became common in the 1970's and largely replaced stockings. In the 1970's many manufacturers of panty girdles were still including suspenders on their garments, but these were often removable so that tights could be worn instead of stockings. Advertising for girdles became much less common after this period, and woman's magazines no longer had full page spreads of girdles. Girdles were still advertised in mail order catalogues however, and some are still advertised in this way.

Advice from the 1950's

Contemporary attitudes towards the use of corsetry can best be determined by reading literature from that period. This makes interesting reading, and also gives insight into the fitting and care of such garments. The following is taken from a 1956 book on health and beauty. It is interesting as it makes it very clear how essential corsetry was considered to be for health and well being during that period. Note also that the role of the professional corsetiere is stressed as a wide range of women with different figure problems had to be accomodated.

Large ladies in girdles

Publications for women such gave good advice about girdle fitting, as the following illustrations from Vogue in 1954 show.

Vogue advice 1949


Vogue advice 1949 (pt2)-Selecting girdles according to figure problems.

In addition whole books were dedicated to ensuring that women were well groomed and chose good foundation garments, as the following extract from a 1957 book on health and beauty illustrates.

The Right Foundation (From Beauty Belongs to You, Jean Grey 1956)

" A good foundation garment gives exactly the right amount of influence in the right places- it adds or subtracts just where we need it most! It should fit the figure, firm the figure, flatter the figure!

Instructions for Gossard Tru Balance

No wise woman grudges the money she spends on these, for with care and regular washing they can be made to last a long time, and the beneficial results of a correctly fitted corset and brassiere make every penny spent on them a wise investment. Never before has there been such a wide, comprehensive and scientifically designed range of foundation garments to chose from, for only now is it beginning to be fully realised how large a contribution these garments make towards a woman's good health physical fitness and beauty.

There are pantie girdles (for sport and for summer evening wear), step-in girdles with no fastenings (for those women who are slim and whose muscles are strong), side-fastening girdles (for those who like an easily adjustable corset with a smooth front); back-lacing corsets for the heavy figure (adjusted from the lowest part upwards, these give wonderful support to the tummy muscles) and corselettes, with or without underbelts, to give the smooth, unbroken line of present-day fashion.

Whenever you plan to buy a new foundation garment, do go to a shop where you know you will be able to find a trained assistant. Corset fitters these days are trained specialists who are taught to regard their job much as a nurse regards hers-as a vocation; but it is only with your full co-operation that she will be able to fit you properly so that you get the maximum amount of support and comfort from the foundation you are going to buy.

Take the full benefit of her experience and personal interest for the fit of a foundation garment is just as vitally important as the fit of your shoes. It promotes good posture, helps to prevent fatigue, ensures against sagging muscles in later life, prevents "spreading", saves skirts from having that " sat-in" look, and moulds the figure without in any way constricting it, so that every suit and dress you wear is seen at its very best. Never, but never, buy a foundation garment over the counter without a proper fitting, for only one that fits really perfectly will be able to do all that you are entitled to expect of it. The first rule of fitting is: "Up in the front, down at the back." When you are trying on a girdle, fasten the hooks and eyes from the bottom up so that the flesh is held upward. The bottom hook of a step-in should be left fastened when you put on and remove the garment, so that you avoid any strain at the join. Cross your legs to reduce the hip measurement when drawing the garment on, and fasten suspenders, starting with the back ones before completing the side fastening. Test for comfort this way: Sit well into a chair. Make sure that any boning there may be does not dig into the flesh anywhere. The fitter can usually alter the lie of the bones in a matter of minutes. Stand up tall, then bend down as if to pick up a pin; bend from side to side as if you were making the beds; squat as if you were using a dust-pan and brush. In spite of all this movement the garment should not ride up but should remain comfortably in position. Be sure that you can breathe easily and comfortably. The top edge should fit easily; if it pushes up a roll of flesh, it is too tight. Don't have it too loose, though, or it will make a bulge under your dresses when you sit down. See that the garment extends one and a half to two inches below the fold between the buttocks and thighs. It should not be too tight around the skirt edge, for this will make a bulge.

When fitting a corselette see that the breasts fit exactly into the cups, the under-seam fitting neatly under the root of the bust Be sure the flesh does not bulge above the bust-line, under the shoulder blades or under the arms. Foundation garments are made for all types of figures these days, and there have been tremendous advances in the scientific design of rubber corsetry. Rubber foundation garments are very light and comfortable, they fit the line of the body like a second skin, they never vary in shape and size and they are very easily kept scrupulously clean. Nowadays they may be bought with a lining of knitted fabric or downy-soft absorbent cotton which gives extra warmth and absorbs perspiration, and the perforations in the rubber allow the body to breathe freely.

Most of us have figures which may be classified under one of the following five type categories.


Berlei- Five figure types

Figure Type 1. She is often young. She is proud of her slim waist, small bust and low, curved hip line. She likes a step-in girdle coming down over the seat, which is just what she needs. For her, I would suggest a girdle with a tiny waist with two elastic gussets at the front of a rather wider fitting skirt, or an all-elastic girdle cleverly cut to take her tail down and hold it under, to lift her tummy and to keep the youthful figure growing in the way it should. Bones are not necessary, but good design is essential

Figure Type 2. She has a smallish bust, small waist and rather classical hip-line. All her weight is on her hips and thighs. She needs a long garment, which must come really well down over the rather heavy buttocks, and have enough room in the skirt to allow her to sit down in it without the slightest suggestion of cutting into the thighs. It must fit the small waist while at the same time it does a trimming job below. A long, firm, strong garment, perhaps one built high above the waist-line, should provide her a perfect fit.

Figure Type 3. Into this category comes the woman with the most common feminine heritage of all, extra flesh on the tummy and the expert fitter will choose for her a garment which lifts rather than compresses the extra flesh, and will at once recognise the answer to her problem.

Figure Type 4. Nothing out of proportion here, but an average, normal figure for which the foundation designers like to make their prettiest garments. The main thing is to avoid a roll at the waist-line, either by wearing a one-piece corselette or by wearing one of the high-waisted girdles made by most designers today. If the waist measurement is ten inches smaller than the hips it is safe for you to say, "I have a Type 4 figure!"if it is less than ten inches smaller, you may find that a Type 5 garment will be more suitable, and if the difference is as much as fourteen inches, then your perfect fitting may well be found in the foundation garments classified under Figure Type 2.

Figure Type 5. Above the waist she has a real problem. Her bust has always been heavy, and with it the soft fat on the tops of the shoulders is easily cut if the straps of her brassiere are too narrow. Corsetieres call her the "short below waist" figure, as usually when the bust is bigger than the hips, the figure is short between the waist and the groin. The secret of fitting is to find a waist-line, for this gives a curve to the thighs and balance to the figure. The bust-line must be fitted at its proper position, not pressing the figure down and creating that shapeless all over look, but lifting the bust to emphasise the waist. Only a foundation specially designed for this particular type of figure is any good at all; it should have deep bust cups, wide shoulder straps, a short skirt cut up at the front, and be small over the hips.

Specially for the Mother-to-be

During the months of pregnancy and immediately after the birth of the baby, it is difficult to be absolutely certain of the type of foundation most likely to fulfil your particular needs. Fortunately the latest garments have been most expertly designed to help in every way; they relieve the strain of the extra weight you are carrying and give additional support just where it is needed most. They are made of feather-light material which prevents compression and allows for easy breathing and movement. Lacings and hook-and-eye fastenings make them easily adjustable as the figure changes.

The nursing mother will have no great difficulty in finding the right brassiere to maintain a good uplift and to ensure that the muscles of the breasts retain their flexibility and strength. These brassieres are made with both centre front and back fastening that have elastic batiste insertions under the cups to give extra comfort. Some are designed to expand and retract according to fluctuations of the size of the breasts without exerting pressure; and many are supplied with terry towelling pads lined with jaconet.


These are just as important as other foundation garments. They must be worn next to the skin, so fit them that way. First essential is that the cup size should be correct. Never buy a brassiere which is too tight or too loose. Too tight, it will constrict the bust, making a large bust look larger, and too loose it will give no support.

Brassieres are made in special fittings these days for the girl with the broad back and small bust and for the girl with the narrow back and large bust. Straps, too, are always made adjustable. When you are trying on a new brassiere, make sure you are putting it on in the correct way. First bend forward from the waist and let the cups take the breasts naturally and easily. Then fasten the brassiere and give the elastic at the centre back a downward tug to pull the garment into position. Finally, pull up the short end of the shoulder-strap ribbons in order to adjust the straps as high as comfort permits, holding down the front base of the brassiere to prevent it hitching up and wrinkling. When it is properly fitted, there should be no bulges of fat under the arm or over the top of the brassiere; the under seam of the bust cup itself should fit neatly beneath the breast, and the breast should fill the cup. Test it out for perfect fit by stretching your arms above your head and flinging them wide. Now bend down and straighten again. A good bra will stay in position-will need no hitching afterwards.

Above all, never hurry over fitting a foundation garment of any kind. Give yourself time-time to discuss your problem with the fitter; time to solve them satisfactorily; time to make sure that the garment you finally select will repay you both in comfort and long-lasting service.

If you want to beautify the bosom: Wear a deep brassiere which has diaphragm control, so emphasising the curve of the bust; if you are very slender, choose a padded bra with circular shaping to give the "fuller" look. To minimise the waist: Choose a long girdle high over the waist-line to give midriff control. Have it lightly boned at front and waist. Or wear a "waspie" with suspenders, lightly boned with back-hook fastening-wonderful with the "fullness from the hips" fashion line. To look slim round the hips: Choose a long girdle with reinforced front panel, lightly boned and with a down-stretching back panel; or a corselette with a down-stretching back panel and good tummy and buttock control. Last but most important, having found your perfect foundation garments, do take care of them. Wash them lovingly, do minor repairs immediately they become necessary. That way they will last longer, give you full value for the money you have spent on them. Too many women think foundation garments will lose their resilience and shape with washing. In actual fact, careful washing not only prolongs their life but also restores their original shape,freshens the materials and prevents the elastic from rotting through perspiration.

Laced corsets should be washed with laces fully open. Metal clips should be undone, and when the garment has been washed, all metal parts should be carefully dried with a towel to prevent rusting. Slide fasteners should be done up and the garment washed and dried like this to keep it in shape. Always wash a foundation garment in a large bowl to avoid bending the garment more than is necessary. Shake the garment well in a rich lather of soapflakes and lukewarm water, and If dirt is at all ingrained, brush these spots lightly with a soft nail-brush dipped in the lukewarm suds. Never leave the garment to soak. Rinse thoroughly in two or three changes of lukewarm water, then roll in a towel to remove as much excess moisture as possible. Never use a wringer or dry near hot pipes or direct heat, and never iron elastic fabrics. Hang lengthwise to dry, pulling boned corsets gently along their boning to straighten. Never peg on the line by shoulder-straps or suspenders. The best method is to thread the line through the garment. The non-elastic part of the garment may be ironed with a warm iron on the wrong side when slightly damp, stretching it gently into shape. To avoid contraction, press seams until they are dry and flat. A cool iron should be used for nylon, which needs little if any ironing. Never iron the Lastex or rubberised parts. Brassieres and the bust-line of corselettes should be ironed over a soft, round pad of material."


Advice from the 1960's

By the 1960's the advice had changed little but there was more concern that women use girdles rather than the heavier corsets, and that corsetry was really only one of the factors in obtaining a good figure, with diet and exercise also being necessary. Panty girdle styles became much more common and were often worn under the short mini skirts popular in the UK at that time. These girdles may well have been intended to be seen, as it was difficult not to get a glimpse of a girls underwear when she was wearing a very short skirt.

Opinion is mixed as to whether a pair of panties was also worn underneath the girdle. It is very clear from the video clip taken from the film 'Performance', that the woman getting dressed was not wearing panties under her girdle, but opinion is mixed whether whether this was usually the case or not. Certainly in the 1950's it was common for panties to be worn over the open bottomed girdles then in style. I am particularly impressed with the clever camera angles. Incidentally she is merely asking her boyfriend whether he has got out of bed!

The Shaping Aids (From The Complete Woman Book of Successful Slimming, 1966.)

" BECAUSE OUR DIETS are based on normal everyday foods we hope that they will cost you only a little effort- and very little extra money. But, be warned-what they will cost you is the price of a new set of foundation garments. After you've managed to lose all that weight it would be a crying shame not to make the most of your wonderful new figure. And it will be only good, well-fitting foundation garments that show off the slimmer curves you're so pleased with to their very best advantage. When overweight readers are slimming under our supervision, we always get tremendous pleasure from watching them gradually becoming more attractive as each week goes by.

But the big day for us, and for them, is the day right at the end of their slimming campaigns when they call in to see us, wearing their new figure-fitting foundation garments under their smart new outfits. That's when we find ourselves rushing round the office telling our colleagues: "Look, you really must come and see Mrs. T. You just won't believe that she's the same woman we saw only three months ago!" A good figure depends on four factors-weight, proportion, firmness and shape. Foundation garments can take care of the shaping for you, and this will make all the difference to the new look of your figure. During a diet, unless money is no object, most of us just have to put up with the old foundation garments from fatter days. Since a perfect fit is essential, it would be silly to buy new ones while the figure is changing-and of course the old ones will gradually become looser and less effective as the pounds are shed, week by week. That is one of the reasons we always see such a sensational change in our dieters after an end-of-campaign session with a corsetiere. These garments make such a difference that we would certainly give you this advice: If you can't afford to buy new clothes and new foundations right away, then take in your old clothes to fit your new figure, and spend what money you can afford on buying a new bra and girdle, or else an all-in-one corselette.

Don't try "taking in" foundation garments. Only a trained expert can do this efficiently. To give you the proper support they must have correct balance-and any tucks that you made would interfere with this. The soundest bit of advice that we can give you about choosing these new foundation garments is this: Get help. There is plenty of expert help readily available. Most of the department stores have experienced corsetieres in their lingerie department, and they are there to help you to find a perfect fit. Some people feel shy of allowing a stranger into their changing cubicle, and you may well have acquired this aversion when you were fat and self-conscious about your figure. However, try to remember that the corsetiere is used to seeing undressed people of all shapes and sizes-probably shapes and sizes that would make your worst ones look good, and your figure now is quite different from what it was before you started your slim-campaign. Like the doctor, she is a disinterested person, concerned only with doing her job. And we find that most corsetieres have the tact to say: "Try this one on, and just ring the bell when you are ready," when they see any signs of shyness in one of their customers.

It is possible, through firms like Spirella who give a personal service, to have a corsetry fitting in your own home. There is probably a trained representative in your area who would come round to take your measurements, and supply you with made-to-measure garments. Buying without trying is all very well for a girl who stays the same size and has discovered the bra and girdle that are ideal for her. There are some chain stores which haven't any changing facilities but do an extremely good line in foundation garments of all kinds bought straight over the counter. But, after the shape of your figure has radically changed through slimming, a lengthy trying-on session is essential to achieve perfection. Even knowing what your exact measurements are is not sufficient, because the shapes of people, and the shapes of the garments which suit them, differ just as much as the sizes.

Before buying a bra it is a good idea to get an idea of your basic measurements, so that you know what sizes to start trying on. To do this, run a tape-measure around your ribcage just under the bust (under your clothes, of course). Now add 5 inches to those measurements. This will indicate the basic size of bra you need-32 in., 34 in., 36 in. and so on. Next measure around the fullest part of the bust. The difference between the two measurements indicates your cup fitting: a 5 inch difference usually means an A cup, 6 inches a B cup, 7 inches a C cup, and 8 inches a D cup. Armed with this information, go to the shop or store which offers the widest possible range of foundation garments, and ask a corsetiere to help you select some different makes and styles for you to try on.

If your bust is still on the generous side, look out for special supporting features in whichever bra you select. These can consist of wire frames which rim the lower half of the bra cups; boning at the sides; stiffening material in the under half of the cups; or a cross-stitched double thickness of material in the under half of the cup.

A deep bra is often a good idea for the larger bust. It might be bordered with a firm elasticated section, or with a wide band of material. Or it could extend right to the waist with light boning for extra control. Wide shoulder straps are another golden rule for extra comfort-particularly the stretchy kind which are now widely available, and are so good for wearing with wide-necked dresses because you can push the straps over and they stay in position. Take about half a dozen bras into the fitting room. And if you don't immediately find one that is perfect in every way, send for more. Don't be tempted to buy in a rush. To try on a bra, lean forward so that your breasts fall naturally into the cups. Then straighten up to fasten the back before you start to adjust shoulder straps. The straps should not have to be tight to give the necessary uplift. If you find that they are, the basic construction is wrong for you, and you must turn to another. You will see exactly what we mean about widely differing shapes when you start to try a bra on. Sometimes the cups will be too pointed for the shape of your breasts and you will see loose material at the centre of the cup. This would cause a bad outline under clothes. Others may seem to fit the breast shape fairly well, but you will find that they create a roll of fat under the arm. Reject these too. Another thing to look for is good division. Make sure that the bra is constructed to hold the breasts gently but firmly apart, and that the material between the cups fits well and doesn't jut out away from you.

When something is wrong with those you try on, the experienced corsetiere will know where to lay hands on another bra that will solve the problem. It's well worth spending a little time on finding the perfect shape and size.

When you buy girdles or corsets, do remember that nowadays foundations need not have a cast-iron look to give firm control. Multi-boned corsets made of mainly rigid material are still available, but only to satisfy the insistence of women who have grown accustomed to them, and just can't believe that anything with a lighter look could give the control they want. We are against these inflexible garments on two counts. Firstly they tend to give an aging "packaged" look to the wearer, far from the young lithe look that you can now aim for with your slimmer figure. And, secondly, they encourage muscle slackness. Women who wear them continually tend to rely on them too much. They let their own muscles go completely slack inside this "armour plating" and by the time they reach middle age their bodies have become loose and flabby. If you have been wearing a corset like this, now is the time, after your slimming and exercising campaign, for you to make the change to a modern corset or a firm girdle. Modern corsets have only a minimum of boning, and are made mainly of light flexible materials like Lycra and Vyrene, which move with the muscles. The rigid material is usually confined to a centre panel down the front. You have to rely on your own muscle control a little more with these garments. And that is a very good thing, because it will help you to keep your muscles firm, and your body young-looking. If you choose a girdle rather than a corset, look for the light but helpful reinforcements. The best modern girdles tend to rely on a double thickness of light stretchy material across back and front (often in a criss-cross style) to give this extra control, rather than panels of rigid material. Any fitter worth her salt will insist on measuring you herself for these garments. Most of them insist that we can't do it properly ourselves.

When trying on a corset, remember that the short-waisted corset should start just a little below the waist, because it will rise when you sit down. The high-waisted one, which usually has light-boning at the top, should fit so that it lies lower at the back that at the front. Both types should curve in snugly below the seat to give a good fit and prevent them rising. Remember that these days corsets are made in masses of different sizes to suit every figure in every way. At one time many women would put up with, say, a loose waist, to get a garment which gave a good fit around hips or seat. But this is no longer necessary. Make sure that the corset fits snugly but comfortably all over.

To make sure a girdle or corset is comfortable, check on it sitting as well as standing. Look in the mirror to see that it gives you a nice flat tummy and a neat seat. And check also to see that it doesn't push out rolls of flesh at the thighs or waist. (Long-legged pantie girdles, incidentally, are the best garments to choose if you have to cope with a thick-thigh problem.) There is no point at all in trying to squeeze into a size too small. This will only make you bulge out in other places, and make your figure look worse instead of better.

All-in-one foundation garments which extend from the bust to the thighs, are usually referred to as corselettes. They can do a splendid re-shaping job for the newly slimmed figure. But, again, it is important to ensure that they are light-looking garments with large areas of fine stretchy material and a minimum of boning. The more rigid garments will always tend to give a very solid appearance to any figure. These days corselettes need not necessarily be made-to-measure because a large corsetry department can stock them in a huge variety of sizes. However, the help of an expert fitter is absolutely imperative. The garment may need some adjustment to give you a perfect fit, but the large stores are able to do these alterations in an expert way. Of course, a made-to-measure service, supplied by firms like Spirella, would be equally good. To try on a corselette, first cross your legs and clench your buttocks. The corselette should be doubled-over, held with finger-tips (careful, if your nails are long!), and then drawn over the hips with one quick movement. When the lower half is in position, draw up the top. Fastenings should be worked upwards, and zips should avoid hip bones. When fastening your stockings, follow the slant of the suspenders and fasten the back ones first. Look for a perfect fit by checking the same points that you would with a separate bra and girdle. See that the cups fit correctly at the centre, with no loose material, that there is good division, and no rolls of flesh pushed up under the arms or down at the thighs. And make sure that you are comfortable sitting as well as standing.

You will probably get better value in the long run from your foundation garments if you can manage to buy more than one of each. This makes really regular laundering more sure and simple. Oddly enough, frequent laundering helps to preserve the life of these garments, because it is perspiration which tends to rot the elasticated materials. Many manufacturers are now advertising bras and girdles which come to no harm in the washing machine, and these are a particularly good buy for people who find hand-washing an extra chore. We think that it is worth spending as much as you can afford on really top-class foundation garments. An inexpensive dress can look marvellous when you are wearing the right things underneath."

By the 1970's advice on the importance of foundation garments in promoting good figures was less clear, and instead of girdles being advised for all age groups, mothers were being advised to do teenagers a favour and advise them not to wear girdles until they were older. Women in their thirties were advised that a well fitting panty girdle would be good for their figure, but were also warned not to buy garments that were too heavy and restrictive as this gave an unnatural and harsh outline. Changes in fashion also mean that close fitting garments were not needed, and therefore figure defects were less obvious than in the past.