Changes in Corsetry: 1900-1950
he quantity of underclothing worn by women decreased between 1909 and 1914, although most women continued to wear corsets. The newer types of corsets were a combination of a corset and a brassiere. Corsets with laced bra tops and garters to hold up the stockings were popular. With the revival of the Empire Dress, some women would often combine a separate brassiere with a straight line corset. Other women abandoned the corset and would wear a wide elastic belt, leaving the bust free (Hansen, 1956, p. 153; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 9, 21, 432, 469).
Between the 1930s and 1950s, corsets extended to slightly above waist, and they emphasized curves of the figure. In the late 1930s, girdles, some with attached garters, were introduced. Garments that had earlier been called corsets came to be referred to as girdles or foundation garments. Girdles were generally extended well above the waistline in order to narrow the waist for achieving the small-waist silhouette.
They were made out of elasticized panels with some stretch combined with panels of firmer, non-stretching fabrics. Some girdles closed with zippers, others had enough stretch to simply pull on over the hips. Nevertheless, large women would often wear boned corsets, corsets made with elastic panels, or a combination of both (Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 508). In the 1930s, brassieres or bras became popular. They were cut to lift and emphasize the breasts. Versions of strapless brassieres were fabricated to be worn under strapless gowns (Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 462, 469, 508).
Tortora & Eubank (2010) explain that by the 1950s whalebone was no longer in use in the making of undergarments although the term boning had come to be applied to any kind of material shaped like whalebone which was used to provide stiffening in undergarments. Even the section between the bones was generally made of elasticized or synthetic power-net fabrics. However, women wearing this type of garment still found it confining, and to some degree uncomfortable. Some women preferred to wear boned or elasticized fabric waist cinches, introduced in 1946, instead of an elasticized girdle for the small-waist look (p. 508-509).
When the garter belt was introduced many women opted to wear this light weight garment to hold up their stockings instead of the traditional corset or girdle. Later on, in the 1950s-1960s, women began to wear the newly introduced panty hose, a combination of underpants and stockings all in one garment. Some panty hoses were designed with heavier elastic to serve as a tummy control when wearing slim fitting dresses. This new innovation eliminated the need for foundation garments.
There is a video on corsets from the 1900-1950s produced by Wally Greeninker on YouTube titled, “Fashions in corsets and lingerie year by year: 1900-1950”
The gowns worn by women in the past centuries are very colorful and romantic in appearance. They dreamily bring you back to Cinderella at the ball, but we all know what happens to our heroine when she is returned to reality. Her Fairy Godmother, taking pity on her unnatural form, likely wished away her constricting corset so that she would have unrestricted freedom of movement to carry on her daily tasks. One wonders why the Fairy Godmother waited until the 20th century to wish away the tortuous corsets worn by so many generations of vain and vulnerable women, mesmerized by fashion trends.
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Missed Part 1? See: The History of Corsets Part 1
Missed Part 2? See: The History of Corsets Part 2