Girdles

Compiled by  tiepolo2@aol.com (Tiepolo2) and posted on alt.clothing.lingerie newsgroup
Copyright restricted

Here is the complete Girdle FAQ. At some point, when I have time, I'd like to expand the section on sources. In the meantime I am posting it here and on the A.C.L. Web Page

History
A girdle is an elastic garment designed to shape and smooth a woman's figure from the waist to the thighs. It was invented around 1910 by the French designer Paul Poiret to be worn with the clothing he was designing. Compared to the fashions of the period 1830-1910, Poiret's revolutionary designs placed much less of an emphasis on the waist and fit much closer to a woman's body in the area of the hips and derriere. Poiret's revolution became permanent in the 20th century. His new understanding of the way in which women's bodies should interact with their clothing, and his invention of the girdle, was a major reason why the corset, which had determined the shape of women's clothing for most of the previous five centuries, went out of fashion.

Girdles were worn by most women throughout the period 1920-70. They were an important part of the fashion aesthetic of these decades. A woman needed to be smooth and sleek if she was to look her best in most of the clothing of this period. Although girdles became the butt of jokes and the object of resentment when they went out of style in the 1970's, it is, I think, important to remember how much they were a part of the glamour of the far more glamorous 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's. Anyone watching the films of this period, observing the way women wore their clothes and moved through space, can see the effect of the ubiquitous girdle. The elegance of Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, (the list could go on forever) was due in part to this universally worn garment. A glance at fashion magazines of this period will also give anyone a sense of the degree to which the girdle was represented as a glamorous garment. Although, of course, ads and articles in fashion magazines had an agenda to promote the wearing of the girdle, the extravagant glamour of girdle ads and articles suggests that women found it plausible to associate girdles with perfumes, lipstick, slips, stockings, and all of the other accoutrements of femininity that tended to be associated with skies filled with stars and swirls, New York nightclubs, and Paris in the springtime. I certainly made this association of girdles with elegance, sophistication, and glamour, as I was growing up in the fifties. And I know that I was not alone.

In any event, they still make and sell girdles. Girdles are even enjoying something of a revival. Women wear them to make their clothes fit better, to support their backs and stomachs, and to correct what exercise and diet cannot. I feel, however, that there are other reasons to wear girdles. They can be very seductive and even lovely garments. Many men find them very attractive. They deserve a place in the pantheon of lingerie. Having been worn by so many glamorous women in the most glamorous years of the twentieth century, they are certainly as worthy of a place in that pantheon as garter belts, slips, or teddies. It is out of such a conviction that I am taking the trouble to compose this FAQ.

I. Girdles Today
Most girdles available today are made from an interweaving of nylon and lycra spandex. Contemporary girdles made from this blend are the most comfortable girdles that have ever been made. Although they are light and comfortable, they are almost as controlling as the much heavier and stiffer girdles that were worn before Lycra was developed in the early '60's. Girdles sold today are normally classified as light control, medium control, or firm control. The difference in these levels of control is usually a reflection of the thickness of the girdle material or the degree to which a girdle is panelled. That is, a firm control girdle will normally have more areas in which the fabric has been doubled or tripled to form a panel design that will have more controlling power. Although most contemporary girdles are relatively light, pull-on garments, it is still possible to find girdles which contain boning, which incorporate materials like rayon, cotton, or satin, and which must be hooked and/or zipped.

II. Girdle Styles
There are several classic girdle styles:

  1. The long-leg panty girdle: a girdle with legs that extend fairly far down the thigh.
  2. The boy-leg panty girdle: a girdle with legs that only extend to mid-thigh.
  3. The girdle brief.
  4. The open girdle.
  5. The pants-liner: a special girdle, designed to be worn with pants, that extends to the ankles.

Girdles that extend above the waist are called hi-waisted girdles.

Although many girdles are now available without garter tabs (since most women wear pantyhose now), the classic girdle has garters suspended from it, to hold up stockings. These garters are normally placed under the leg of a long-leg panty girdle and at the bottom of all of the other kinds. If you want to get the full vintage effect of wearing a classic girdle, I would recommend wearing a girdle with regular stockings. Girdles can, however, be worn quite effectively over pantyhose and they are particularly easy to pull on over pantyhose.

III. Buying a Girdle
Girdles are available today from several sources:

  1. Major department stores now have reasonably extensive selections. As recently as five years ago, it was difficult to find a good selection of girdles in a department store.
  2. The old fashioned corset shop still exists and it is worth going out of your way to find one. Look in the Yellow Pages under either Girdles, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Lingerie, or Brassieres. Look for an old-fashioned sounding place, usually with a pseudo-French or campy glamorous name, or the name of the woman who owns the store. These places tend to have the widest selection of girdles. They are an endangered species and are worth patronizing.
  3. Mail-order catalogues.

Girdle sizing is generally done by waist size. Some girdles are sold by even waist sizes. Most are designated as Small (24-6), Medium (27-8), Large (29-30), 1-X (31-2), 2X (33-4), and so on. Girdles are designed to fit women whose hip size is no more than ten inches greater than their waist size. If your hips are more than ten inches larger than your waist, as mine are, what you should do is a matter of controversy. Most sources suggest that you go to the next larger size. Many women, myself included, believe that you should still choose your girdle according to your waist size, since the added tightness at the hips is less of a problem than the ineffectiveness and even discomfort of a girdle that is too large at the waist. If a girdle is firm control, if it contains any boning or rigid fabric, or if you have never worn one before, you should definitely try it on before you buy it. Otherwise, trying the girdle on is up to you. Don't be embarrassed about going into a store and asking to buy a girdle. Every source I've discussed the matter with says that an increasing number of young stylish women with excellent figures are buying them. Virtually every adult female can probably use one with at least one dress in her wardrobe. Before 1970, it was assumed that every woman over the age of 13 needed one to look her best. While no one is likely to make this assertion nowadays, it is still the case that virtually any woman over the age of 13, even women with excellent figures, will find that a girdle will make them look better in many of the dresses, skirts, and pants in their wardrobe.

Some suggestions for men who might wish to buy the women in their life a girdle:

  1. I always recommend that, if a man wishes to buy a woman an article of clothing he is not sure she will like, that he ought to do it gently, tentatively, romantically, and with respect and consideration. Many women who might not otherwise think of wearing a girdle might be willing to wear one if they know that the man in their life thinks it's attractive and if he presents it to her in a romantic, unpressured way (as part of a gift, or as part of a pattern of romantic gift-buying).
  2. Many men who might want to purchase a girdle as a romantic gift for the women in their lives might prefer to order from a mail-order catalogue. It is, however, surprisingly easy and comfortable for a man to purchase a girdle for his wife in a department store or in a lingerie shop. My husband has done it several times and he tells me that saleswomen do not consider it uncommon or unusual. Some of the lines he has used: 1) "My wife called me at work and asked me to stop here to get her a girdle because she's having trouble with a dress she wants to wear tonight, or because she heard you were having a sale on this particular type of girdle, or because she's been looking all over for this particular girdle and she say your listing in the Yellow Pages and was wondering if you would have it and you're near where I work, etc 2) At a place where he might become known, by buying his wife stockings, nightgowns, etc. it would not be inappropriate for a man to mention simply that his wife likes to wear a girdle and he'd like to buy her a nice one, along with a slip or a bra that match, or whatever.


Recommended Mail-Order Sources

(I am not a real expert on this, but these have been recommended to me):
Old Pueblo Traders Palo Verde at 34th Street Post Office Box 27800 Tucson, Arizona 85726-7800 (Excellent selection of classic girdles)
One Hanes Place Outlet Catalogue P.O. Box 748 Rural Hall, NC 27098 (Source for girdles by Playtex and Bali)
J.C. Penney's Catalogue (Available at all J.C. Penney's stores, a diverse selection of girdles)
Roaman's PO Box 8360 Indianapolis, IN 46283-8360
Lady Grace PO Box 128 Malden, MA 02148.
Maitresse A Touch of Elegance Fairport, NY (I don't have the address, but believe it's in the ACL FAQ, a good source for classic girdles)

Recommended Girdles:
Firm control:
Vanity Fair Tulip Rago Lacette, Shapette, or "It's Me" Smoothie "Always 21" and Classique Sears Natural Fit Lily of France Underscene Triple Control Playtex 18-Hour and "I Can't Believe Its a Girdle" Any girdle by Subtract, Glamorise, or Crown-ette
Medium and Light Control:
Sears Tulip Any girdle by Bali, Flexees, or Olga

IV. Wearing A Girdle
(miscellaneous tips and observations)

  1. Girdles may be worn with or without panties underneath. There is no "correct" way.
  2. If a woman has never worn a girdle before, she may find that it feels "different," the first time or first few times she wears one. If a woman is serious about giving girdles a try, she should have some patience, seeing if she likes wearing them after a few tries, rather than after merely one occasion of wearing one.
  3. A girdle must fit right. A girdle that is too tight in the thighs, in particular, can cause severe discomfort in the course of a day.
  4. Although the main reason women wear girdles is to look better in their clothes, many women find wearing a girdle to be a very pleasant experience. The held-in, held-together feeling produced by a girdle makes many women feel more organized, more alert, and more authoritative, as well as more attractive. Many women find that girdles make them feel more feminine, and more graceful. Even a very comfortable girdle will improve a woman's posture, helping her to stand and sit straighter (this may account, to some extent, for the improvement in alertness). A woman wearing a girdle will walk and sit with a charming, careful grace that is distinct from the impressions produced by ungirdled informality. In addition to the pleasant tactile feeling of a girdle, many women enjoy the "vintage" feeling, the sense of dressing and moving like the truly classy Hollywood actresses mentioned earlier.



Last Modified 19 Jan 2002