I figured out very early on that every female had a figure flaw.
But luckily when it came to figure problems a slew of manufacturers had it all figured out.
A good girdle was a must have for every mid-century gal no matter the season.
So despite the fact that the spring of 1959 was a real scorcher, I learned –at the tender age of 4- that sweltering weather was no excuse for a lady to let her figure flaws show.
Memorial Day had come and gone and along with the seasons first appearance of white shoes and wicker bags, revealing swimsuits and little summer dresses made their debuts.
Meaning, m’lady’s silhouette came under severe scrutiny.
Did the fear of midriff bulge cause panic in my mid-century Mother?
While some women panicked, nibbling on celery sticks and cottage cheese, subjecting themselves to the pummeling paws of a Russian masseuse at a fancy milk farm in order to shed winter weight and attain a svelte figure, Mom knew there were more effective ways to whittle your waist.
A well made girdle was all a gal needed to fit in.
Mom had recently purchased a new dress at Orbachs-a Molly Parnis knock off that was as easy on they eye as it was on the purse.
It was perfect for the big June Jamboree Dinner Dance at the El Patio Beach Cub. Despite the endless buffet and Viennese table served at the dinner, fitting into her new figure flattering number would be no problem.
In mid-century America you could have your cake and eat it too…literally. Why deprive yourself of that groaning board of American goodies.
Clever ladies knew that with the right girdle you could take command of your beauty and enjoy a wonderful new kind of figure that never existed before.
Ever wish there were two of you? Warner’s asked provocatively in the 1955 ad for their le gant girdle shown in the ad above.
”One to splurge on shortcake- one to be a fashion plate! Seems like such a shame to choose- but here’s good news: with the Warner’s Le Gant no girl really has to. We’ve styled it in new persuasive elastic for the girl who munches and bunches in just that order.”
Go Figure circa 1959
Saturday night of the big dance I watched eagerly as Mom got herself ready.
Wandering into my parents bedroom, I sprawled out on the fancy quilted satin bedspread, the sounds of “Make Believe Ballroom” on WNEW playing on the GE clock radio, mesmerized as my Mother went through her metamorphosis .
The noisy oscillating fan in the bedroom only seemed to move the muggy air around the bedroom offering little relief as Mom prepared for the evening. Putting her face on would be no easy task as beads of perspiration kept a perpetual shine that no amount of Angel Face powder would subdue.
Mom emerged out of the bathroom shower in a great gust of steam, her fresh from the beauty parlor coif carefully encased in a polka dot plastic shower cap, a light dusting of Cashmere Bouquet on her damp body brought a veil of fragrance scenting the room.
I watched in sheer wonderment as she wiggled into her latex girdle.
With the skill of contortionist or an enterologist at the circus, the fact that she could deftly squeeze her body into such a small rubberized container never ceased to amaze me.
Of course in the hot weather girdle wrestling could make her a raving beauty but she would end that eternal tug of war with a generous dusting of talcum powder, that promised to allow your girdle to slide on smooth as silk.
Savvy Mom knew figure flattery, glamor and comfort began with the perfect fit in a girdle and like most gals had quite a selection to choose from.
Hip Hip Hooray!
For tonight, Mom’s new Perfect-O girdle, a high performance job that put an end to tummy bulges, was so lightweight that it made her just adore being “taken in.” The ads were true-“The wonderful supple design, a neat play of satiny panels to snip off inches where every girl needs it most. Yes, inches. You can tell by the tape-and you’d better because you’ll never feel it.”
Looking in the mirror she thought this was the most flattering girdle she’d ever owned. How heavenly to discover-suddenly that you have the figure you’ve always dreamed about! Such flattering, flattening social security in something so delectably pretty to wear.
Mom could happily indulge in all the duck a la orange and Baked Alaska she wanted, confident of the containment provided by the girdle.
“What you put on first makes all the difference,” she instructed me. “Full skirt or slim skirt, shirtwaist or strapless gown…what you put on first adds the finishing touch. That’s why it’s so important to wear a girdle keyed to every outfit. The girdle that’s so wonderful with your tweeds wont have the same talent for silks!”
As usual she would quote from my great Uncle Bernie: “A girdle frees your step while it sleeks your figure.”
His considerable girth notwithstanding, when it came to girdles Great Uncle Bernie was an expert.
My corpulent Uncle Bernie Posner was the president of Perfect-O-Figure Foundations founded by his father my Great, Great Uncle Max.
Even with his drooping eyes clouded over with cataracts, Bernie had an eye for the ladies and their figures and never hesitated to pass his wisdom gleaned from over 40 years in the ladies undergarment business.
Smoke and Mirrors
Whatever the occasion, Uncle Bernie couldn’t resist the opportunity to proselytize the gospel of the girdle.
Even at family backyard barbecues, while other uncles busily debated baseball , Uncle Bernie, now in his dotage, could rhapsodize poetic about ladies foundations. regalinged whoever was willing to listen.
I was always an eager ear.
His pink fleshy face flushed with enthusiasm, Uncle Bernie would impress me with the importance of a good foundation in life…at least as far as a girdle was concerned.
Sitting on his lap, he would explain to me – always while nibbling on a fistful of Veri-Thin pretzels that -“Every woman needs to be Fit!”
Of course he wasn’t talking about fitness regimes, but instead the importance of the proper fit of a foundation garment. “Figure glamor begins with a perfect fit in a girdle” was his mantra.
Nodding in the direction of my perpetually slim Aunt Lois who was known to hoist a can or 2 of Metrecal from time to time, he continued.
“You need not diet or deny yourself the good things in life,” he said authoritatively, a stinky pre-Castro cigar clenched between his yellowing chicklet teeth. “You need take no dangerous drugs or tiring exercise. You are absolutely safe when you wear a good rubber girdle. You appear smaller the minute you step into a perfect-o-girdle.”
Wide eyed even as a 4-year-old I was tantalized.
Wagging his swollen sausage like fingers at me he warned: “If you are over twenty, you are in danger of ptosis (sagging) of the abdominal muscles. This causes a bulging abdomen and the hips appear too large. You need a good girdle to give you uplift and support!”
He paused long enough for the point to stick, jabbing his wet cigar butt into than ashtray.
Taking It All In
I absorbed this information, storing it away for a future destined to be filled with girdles and garters, just as a previous generations of women in my family had done.
Our family was intrinsically bound up in the world of girdles, a business built on the bulging bellies and swelled hips of women and the ever-expanding cultural expectations and changing fashions.
Bernie’s retelling of his father business was legend in our family and he had a captive audience in me. His watery eye lit up in delight at the telling and I never tired of listening to him, greeting his familiar stories with the same enthusiasm as hearing a favorite fairy tale.
My mothers Great Uncle, Max Posner had been a tailor back in Russia so when he came to NY by way of London in 1883 where he had established a reputation as a skilled corsetier , he quickly found work in the ladies flourishing corset business.
“When Pop first started working here, everyone wanted to look like statuesque Lillian Russell.” Bernie explained describing the popular, amply bosomed, massive-hipped woman.
Plumping Up not Pumping Up
By 1900 plumpness was still fashionable. The Ziegfeld Girls and the Floridora girls, the chorus girls of the smash musical were held up as beauty’s ideal with their full breasts and rears, plump thighs and arms and soft bellies.
“Women may have wanted smaller waists,” he remarked, happily tapping his toes in his gleaming white leather Italian slip-ons, “but you can bet your sweet life they wanted lush curves, 40 inch busts and thighs that could measure 53 inches all around .”
It All Adds Up
What was a gal to do if she didn’t have the luscious eye-catching curves required to fill out a turn of the century dress?
A clever tailor, Uncle Max knew he could help women transform their appearance .
“Posner’s Scientific Perfect Physique Foundations,” Uncle Bernie explained referring to the companies original name, “promised healthfully and scientifically to help round out the entire form until a woman was fully developed.”
“Skinny Minnies,” Bernie continued impaling a deviled egg on a toothpick as he spoke,“could fill out their scrawny bony figures with a number of devises that Pop supplied.” False breasts, thighs and calves were available in addition to rubber backs and hips that had “natural” dimples designed into them.
“And individually constructed corsets took care of a lot, yes indeedy,” he’d say with a satisfied smile.
My great Uncle Max was in great demand.
The New Woman
By about 1908 the voluptuous hourglass figure started to slowly fall out of favor, as the Gibson Girl with her comparatively more slender, youthful figure burst on the scene, becoming the new standard of beauty.
A true gal on the go, this New Woman was as comfortable with a tennis racket as she was setting the table.A well fitting corset was more important than ever.
With Max’s trained hands any bothersome bulges were slimmed down by his stylish garments. His patented armor-lastic stretch corsets were flying off the shelves.
“With the end of WWI,” Bernie continued, “things were changing with the speed of lightning!”
The flapper was just around the corner.
Ain’t we Got fun
As flaming youth roared, Uncle Max began to slow down. Eager beaver Bernie took over the business, quickly changing the name to a snappy Perfect-o-Foundations, more fitting with the roaring twenties.
When the flapper burst on the scene with her new boyish silhouette of slim hips and flattened buttocks , Perfect O-Foundations and other lingerie manufacturers were forced to change tactics to modernize for women who might forgo the old-fashioned corset altogether.
No nudnik, Bernie knew this was no passing trend and jumped on the bandwagon expanding the corset business to include girdles.
What with the popularity of the flapper and her streamlined look, the girdle business boomed. After all you couldn’t Charleston without one!
The die was cast.
The 1930s signaled the return to a more womanly shape and his girdles promised slimming flattering figure loveliness thanks to the miracle of latex.
“The Modern Miss could say goodbye to old-fashioned corset bones and stays.-miracle latex used in all the latest girdles was as easy as putting on a pair of gloves,” he said fairly swooning.
Modern girdles, he explained, made of tree grown liquid latex were designed without a pesky seam stitch or bone yet these new girdles would mould you smoothly allowing complete freedom of action, and controls your figure for your busy active life.
“Slimming loveliness can be all yours!” he promised me, hungrily ravaging his right-off-the-grill burger. I watched in fascination as the rivulets of grease dribbled down the precipice of his double chins leaving an oil slick in its. wake.
“It doesn’t take a lot of money to get the figure you want,” he concluded with big smile. “All it takes is a head on those pretty shoulders.”
“But the best was yet to come,” he whispered to me. A new miracle fabric had been created, one that was very hush hush.
Even as Bernie spoke, chemists at DuPont were hard at work developing the century’s greatest miracle…one that would change the business forever.
Like all fairy tales, this story had a happy ending.
Just as the beautiful princess rode off into the sunset saved by her prince, so helpless women world wide in need of figure control would be rescued with the arrival of that years greatest miracle- Lycra Spandex .
A match made in heaven, they would live happily ever after!
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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