Foundation Garments

When I was a very little girl, I was simply fascinated with my mother’s girdles.  If you’re younger than 40, you might not even know what a girdle is.  Women in the 1940’s and 1950’s referred to them as “foundation garments.”  They were like a huge pair of rubberized underpants that squeezed your stomach and hips into a nice, smooth shape.  (For you younger women, think of industrial strength Spanx.) You really had to work to get into a girdle, wiggling, pulling, and straining, shifting your weight from one leg to the other until you got all your various rolls of fat smooshed into place.

Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?

I got the biggest kick out of watching my mother put hers on every day – and yes, she wore the thing every day, under the housedress that cinched in at her waist and flowed out in a puffy skirt which fell just above her ankles.  My mother had a nice figure, and the girdle supported her in all the right places, so her waist looked tiny, her stomach nice and flat, and the folds of her voluminous skirt lay gracefully around her hips.  I have to admit, they did great things for the shape.

Girdles came to mind because of the book I’m reading – No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a history of the “Home Front” during World War II.   Goodwin, writing about the various shortages and rationing during that time, notes that most American women were happy to conserve on foodstuffs, and nylons, and gasoline, and whatever else it took to support the Boys overseas.

But they drew the line when it came to their girdles.  You see, girdles were made largely of rubber, and rubber was in very short supply because the Japanese had conquered the rubber producing countries (Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.)  According to Goodwin, when this rubber shortage threatened the continuing manufacture of girdles, a “public outcry arose.”   The government gently suggested that women “grow their own muscular girdles through exercising.”  Women countered that “neither exercise nor any other known remedy” could restore aging muscles to the “their original youthful tautness.”  Journalist Marion Dixon argued that “without proper support from well fitted  foundation garments” there was no way that a woman over the age of thirty could “stand erect or do any physical work” without tiring.  “Certainly Uncle Sam would not want women to wear garments that would menace their health or hamper their efficiency, especially during wartime when every ounce of energy and effort is needed,” Miss Dixon concluded.

Believe it or not, the government caved.  The War Production Board deemed girdles to be “an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe,” and, as such, could be manufactured despite the rubber shortage.

Score one for foundation garments.

Although I was fairly intrigued by girdles when I was five years old, by the time I was a teenager,  I was plenty happy to forgo the whole foundation garment experience in favor of panty hose ~ although my mother was scandalized by the whole idea (which was, of course, part of their appeal.)

But I did wear a girdle – once.  The dress I picked out for my bridal shower  had a straight skirt and was very clingy.  My mother suggested it would look “so much nicer” if I wore a girdle underneath it.  I agreed – admittedly, I had put on a bit of weight at that time and could benefit from some smoothing out in the figure department.

I suspect she was hoping I’d be converted and take to wearing foundation garments under my bell bottom blue jeans.  But let me tell you dear reader, the four hours I was squeezed into that girdle were the most miserable four hours of my short life to date.  I came home from the bridal shower, peeled off that rubberized torture garment, and stuffed it into the trash can.   Since that day I can happily say the most constricting foundation garment I’ve worn is control top panty hose, and I only wear those on rare occasions.

The rubber industry is safe as far as I’m concerned.

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27 thoughts on “Foundation Garments

    • Becca – the key to comfort in wearing a girdle is to be fitted by a professional corsetier who can fit you in the right kind of make and model girdle. It is well worth it. Once you are properly fitted you will experience a real comfort, you will be amazed.

  1. I was physically uncomfortable just reading this! I know about girdles, but don’t think I’ve ever seen one. It reminded me of that scene from Gone with the Wind, when Mammy is lacing up Scarlett’s corset to the point she could hardly breathe… all in an effort to preserve her 15 inch waist.

    Wonder what the girdle generation would think about thongs? 🙂 I remember my mother-in-law was slightly offended I didn’t wear pantyhose under my wedding dress.

  2. Deep breath.
    I don’t think I took a breath while reading this. My mother wore them, too. I don’t know how they did it. Can you imagine doing housework in one of those? No.
    Doris Kearns Goodwin is great. What would we do without historians to give us perspective, especially during difficult times?

  3. Oh, my gosh! Never HEARD of them? My mother wore one all the time and I wore one in high school. College was the end of it, though…for a whole generation!

    But my goodness, did this make me laugh!

    Journalist Marion Dixon argued that “without proper support from well fitted foundation garments” there was no way that a woman over the age of thirty could “stand erect or do any physical work” without tiring. ”

    Right.

  4. I’ve heard of girdles, but never really focused on the fact that they were made of RUBBER, of all things. I’m amazed that the government caved during the war – although I expect that an army of angry girdle-less women wouldn’t have been great for Home Front morale – but glad that the things have gone out of style. Control-top stockings are uncomfortable enough. I cannot imagine wearing a version made of rubber.

    • It feels just like you’d imagine it would ~ I can’t believe those women were so eager to hang onto the things!
      I thought is was humorous that the government responded that way as well.

      • Wearing girdles back during the “Golden Age of Girdles” was actually a “Woman’s best kept secret”. The key to wearing one of the vintage girdles boned and zippered was to first be fitted by a professional corsetier in the right kind of make and model girdle. The corsetier will also help you to learn how to properly put on a girdle, trust me there is a right way and a wrong way. Also what is very important to relax your stomach muscles while in a girdle and let the girdle just hold and support you. Then give wearing a girdle about a week or so. What you will find to your pleasant surprise is a dramatic increase in energy and confidence, plus you will love how you look with a firm flat stomach great posture, and your clothes fit fantastic. Eventually over a few days to a couple weeks you do become very comfortable in a girdle, and when out of a girdle once you have become use to being girdled surprisingly enough you do feel very uncomfortable if you are not in a girdle. Just have to be somewhat open minded about wearing a girdle you will find you will love it. Woman back in the 40 ties, 50 ties, 60 ties knew this and that is why they loved wearing a girdle every day.

  5. I remember my mother putting on white cotton gloves to put on her stockings which attached to the little rubber (and steel?) grips dangling from the girdles…Maybe we’d all look a little more like Marilyn Monroe wearing those darn things, but at what price? I was interested that your mother wore one every day. It seems that during that era there was no effort too small to be gorgeous; my mother wore heels to the heavens, and still does. I thought that naturally, when I got older, I’d wear them as well. Alas, my teacher tired feet are better suited to Birkenstocks. But, do I get credit for red lips? I loved this post. Brought back so many memories, as you can see I’m waxing on ad nauseum.

  6. Grandma Crawford also wore a corset or girdle all her life. That’s probably why your mom felt she had to. I wore one in the sixties and even though at that time I was slim and trim, I remember “foundation garments” as being not very comfortable. And, you had to have fasteners for your hose and if you lost the fasteners – ugh! Then came pantyhose – what a gift to women! There should be a shrine to the woman (man) who invented them.
    Thanks for the little gift down memory lane.

    • The reason a girdle can be uncomfortable is that you propably were never properly fitted by a professional corsetier. The problem is that if you go too tight with a girdle obviously they can be very uncomfortable and you can not wait to take it off. If you go to loose you will not receive the benefits of wearing a girdle. The idea is to go just tight enough not too tight that a girdle will give enough comfortable need support figure control and shaping. Once you experience a properly fitted girdle what you do find is a dramatic increase in your energy level, and you really are rather comfortable in a girdle.

      Do not knock it till you have really tried it and have been properly fitted you will find you will love being in a girdle daily.

  7. OMG Becky….This one brought back so many memories of me wearing the ever-famous girdle too. Now I wish I was that skinny because I wouldn’t be caught wearing one………I used to wear the “control-top pantyhose” but now…even they feel constricting……..NOW….it is just the freedom of very pretty Victoria Secret panties……LOVE IT!!!!!!! love & hugs, Auntie

  8. OK, this is my favorite true story of a girdle, I’m embarrassed to say. You’ve seen me. I’m not exactly small of girth and in high school and college I often wore a girdle — at times this thing that now they’d probably call a body shaper but back then it was an all in one girdle. Bra to thighs. And if you had to go to the bathroom, the whole thing had to come down because I could never just go through the slit.

    So, my mom, a fellow all-in-one-er and I are in London at a lovely department store. Can’t remember which — maybe Selfridges or Liberty’s. And we both have to go to the bathroom. And we have few coins and we both have to go to the coin-operated toilet. So, we go in together. Now, in London, the WCs are indeed that — instead of the half-doors we have here, they are narrower and the walls are floor to ceiling. Truly a closet. Here are two not-small women trying to get off the clothes to get out of the all-in-one to go to the bathroom in practically zero space. I still wonder why the one of us who least had to go didn’t go get change…

  9. Actually contrary to opinions girdles are very comfortable. If you are uncomfortable in a girdle the problem is that you have not been properly fitted by a professional corsetier in the right kind of make and model girdle that is right for you. It also takes a little education as to how to properly put on a girdle, how to relax your stomach muscles. In truth wearing a brand new girdle can be very much like breaking in a brand new pair of shoes. It can take a few days to even a few weeks. Is it worth it – very much so you once you have been properly fitted in the right kind of make and model girdle, and you are consulted on how to relax yourself and let the girdle just support and hold you in, you will find a dramatic increase in energy and confidence you have never experienced before, you will love it and you actually get to the point where you are very uncomfortable if you are not in a girdle. Just give wearing a girdle a chance learn something about being girdled and find a really good corsetier who can help you, you will find it is well worth it.

    In the past during the golden age of girdles a girdle has always been a woman’s best kept secret.

  10. Oh how I remember foundation garments! The picture says it all. I wore those things as a teenager, although I transitioned to panty hose in college. I really enjoyed that little piece of cultural history about the war department and the ruling foundation garments were necessities. Fascinating.

  11. I am trying to help a woman that came to me and asked me about a corsetier— She is in her middle 80’s and had corsetier or has died. Now jean is looking for one that can make them for her.

  12. I have worn and still wear a girdle every single day. I am not at all uncomfortable wearing it. If you are properly fitted by a corsettierre who knows their business they are quite comfortable to wear. If you select yours bypays yourmoney and takes your chances you WILL have a lot of problems with it. I also suspect that the newest form of foundations are in the category of quick and easy to select and wear. Everything has to be done quickly and easily or it gets chucked out as a failure. And by the way I am 64 and have been wearing girdles daily since I was 16. JinianVictoria

    • Keep on wearing them honey , I am 56 and wear my girdle every day all day and love the way they feel on me and makes me feel slim and trim. I wear stockings with reinforced heel and toe but having a hard time finding them. I love my girdle with 6 garters high waist long leg and open bottom. Love to find a site that carries vintage ones with 6 garters, they hold my stockings up great. Love to know what you wear also,,our days it’s hard to meet more women like us that still wear them. Love to hear from you. April slimmer55@yahoo.com

  13. I’m a man. I enjoy wearing them. I feel supported and hugged. If a high waist, longleg panty girdle is not too tight, wearing one can feel great. Just my two cents.

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