Old fashioned nightgown pattern
Whilst compiling the fascinating recollections of the famous Spencer corsetiere, Alison Perry, she made a response to a question about rubber corsetry. I have copied the response since it inspired me to add an extra page to this site.
Perforations had two purposes:- 1) to allow the trapped flesh to breathe and 2) to adjust the elasticity of the garment. One actually suspects that a desire to produce a pretty pattern over-ruled the engineering principles!
The archetypal 'Charneaux' corset advertisement
(courtesy of Bunyip Bluegum - left)
A French Elancia sports girdle from the 1930's.
Even Playtex in the 1950's echoed the elaborate perforations of the early rubber grdles.
On the right (above) is the genuine article. One does not come across these very often since rubber naturally degrades in sunlight and in contact with any oils including perspiration.
Rubber corsetry was rarely referred to as such. "Reducing garments' were the euphemism of the day. From the earliest days of the invention of latex, the term rubber has had so many connotations. Indeed, the word itself has such totally different interpretations on both sides of the Atlantic that a newcomer to the country can inadvertently make the most ghastly mistakes.
Rubber was the first really elastic material and it was embraced by several corset manufacturers who saw the potential of a far more mobile garment than the traditional corset. Even in the earliest days of the 20th century, rubber features in corset advertisements, however, the impression is strongly one of 'novelty value', or perhaps one step up from the extravagant claims of the 'snake oil' salesman!
The rhetoric speaks volumes, for never was there a medium more given to hyperbole than the rubber corset!
As Playtex would decades later, so Madame "X" sought the acclaim from the celebrities of the day. Mind you, a rubber corset after the whalebone contraptions that Helen Ware (1877 - 1939) grew up with, would be a bonus!
As the Madame "X" claimed, so did many others, but to lose 3 inches in the first week takes some believeing!
Dissolvene (1906), Madame X, "Make Reducing Sane" (1924) and "It ventilates" (1925), indeed it needs to, for these garments, freezing to don, were never less than feverish companions after a long day!
One of the first on the 'reducing' band-wagon was one 'Dr. Jeanne Walters'.
During the various renaissances of rubber corsetry, it was not so uncommon for a women to wear a rubber brassiere and corset. Even the stockings could have a high rubber content. Indeed, some manufacturers extolled the virtues of sleeping in the garments. If the women also resorted to the chin straps, nose moulds and the other rubber appurtenances of trying to achieve a fashionable shape (above), one wonders what the long-suffering husband might think of waking up next to such an apparition. As one married man was heard to say about his latex-clad spouse "The old dear used to pong a bit in the hotter weather!"
This precursor of the girdle must have been a heavy and sweaty affair, however, it persisted from Charneaux in the 1920's, through the massively popular Playtex and the traditional Alstons, to pass into obscurity and the fetish world in the late 1980's. Just when it seemed to have died, the Latin American market chose to take up the challenge to perspire for fashion and a whole new range of these garments became available in South America. For such a fundamentally uncomfortable garment to survive so long has taken all the persuasive powers of the marketing departments. I sometimes feel that the so-called 'spin doctors' of the modern political genre were novices beside the marketers and the saleswomen of the corset companies!
The History of the Rubber Reducing Corset
I believe the rubber foundation garment proper (as opposed to a curiosity or medical appliance) started in the late 1920's or early 1930’s with the famous Charneaux corset, constructed from perforated rubber; the perforations allowing both breathing of the skin and varying the elasticity of the rubber itself. However, I have heard the following story from the same period. For sure, the rubber girdle and corset were invented during this time. Irene Castle and her husband were stage performers who were the toast of cafe society in the Paris of the 1920’s. They had a style on stage that reflected none of the stiffness and posed formality that stage performances previously had. When asked how she accomplished the fluid movements of the tango, Irene Castle told the press she credited the corset made for her by the top fashion designer of the time, Paul Poiret. When Poiret was queried, he merely said that he'd made Irene's corset of surgical rubber, glued and stitched to conform to the typical corset pattern of the day, but without any boning. Thus was the first rubber girdle born.
This lovely advert shows the Charneaux styles available in 1936. They have been rendered in black so as to illustrate the patterns of perforations, which were critical to the elasticity (not to mention hygiene) of the garment.
This is an amazing example of 'what lies beneath' advertising from Warners (?) in the late 1920's. It showed all the athletic activities that one might attempt in your new-fangled rubber corsets. Quite a stout matron is shown sitting, standing up, touching her toes and finally mounting a saddle . It's a shame she couldn't have riden off into the sunset!
Unimpressed by the old-fashioned style. "My wife!" he shudders
"Put a pretty young girl inside these, and she needn't be ashamed to go anywhere"
Alfred Hitchcock's "39 Steps" (1935) shows two travelling salesman admiring the latest in corsetry. The rubber Charneaux girdle. "Put a pretty young girl inside these, and she needn't be ashamed to go anywhere". Notice the intricate pattern of perforations and the crude attachment of the suspenders before latex molded suspenders were perfected (Playtex 1950).
The rubber corset, brassiere and girdle became very popular since it was a revolutionary departure from the rigid restrictions of one's corseted Mother and represented a whole new concept of freedom. Of course the marketing department capitalised on this.
At some point, the word 'rubber' must have been perceived in a negative way, since a number of euphemisms start to appear in the advertising literature. 'Slymlastick' was a trade name, but the product looks awfully like good old perforated latex to me. The most lasting and endearing euphemism was the 'reduction' garment. Rubber or latex need not be mentioned, and the mere suggestion that the garment not just squeezed one into a new shape, but actually caused you to shed pounds was a huge attraction. Not that the latter claim is entirely false. Wearing one of these garments in any warm surroundings encourages copious perspiration.
In 1935, the word latex was perfectly acceptable to Sears' customers, but the reducing aspect was strongly advertised. These garments are rather elegant with the brassieres' cups faced in satin. They were marketed by Sears under the title 'famous Gale scientific support'. Note the cluster-lacing on the corset in the middle.
Lane Bryant, in 1937, coined the 'Adaptolette', and covered both sides of the fabric in jersey, that in many ways reduces the reduction aspect of the garment. Just in case the reader of the catalogue might have missed the rubber garments that she was after, the artist accentuates the perforations so characteristic of reducing corsetry.
In Britain, the marketing department of the 'Slymlastick' material were more coy. No mention of the material in 1936, but one doesn't have to be an expert to guess what it is. Of interest is the 'before and after' photographs which were to feature throughout the 20th century in corsetry advertising - (and may have been the inspiration foorr the Michelin Man added my husband!)
Even Beasley's and the famous British firm Ambrose Wilson (below; left) got in on the act as did virtually every major competitor in the corsetry world. In 1939 Beasley's was still into reduction, with the word Latex in tiny print underneath. Ambrose Wilson's fierce looking corsetiere, Mary Armstrong, coined the brand name Nu-Slim and mentioned neither.
At least the straightforward Twilfit, who still manufacture corsets in Britain today, referred to both Latex and rubber in the text. No coy references to reduction or 'wonder materials'. If a woman wanted to sweat it out she wore rubber. No beating about the bush from Twilfit in 1939. I think the zenith of pre-war rubber corsetry is revealed in the pages of the Sears Catalog(ue) from 1938/9 (right). Two pages and goodness knows how many square yards of perforated rubber, laced, strapped and buckled into every conceivable combination. The Ministry of War (or whatever the equivalent might have been in the various countries) was, however, well aware that rubber was more urgently required for the war effort and rather than the support of some matron's abdomen. Rubber corsetry would never recover from this blow.
I know there are students of social history that can expound at great length on the inter-relationship between the tension of a woman's corset and the state of the world's politics, however, one of the side effects of the Second World War was a shortage of rubber, the use of which was reserved for military purposes.
Several companies went out of business during the war, but others flourished. Although the hey-day of the rubber reducer had passed, it was not quite dead and achieved a surprising revival courtesy of Playtex. After the war, the famous Playtex girdle appeared, made from latex, perforated and unlined in earlier versions, lined with a bonded soft fabric in the later versions. The ‘reduction’ aspect was once again heavily advertised in the late 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s in Britain. A few companies, such as Ambrose Wilson and a few specialist manufacturers still made the old styles as well.
In the 1950's, Ambrose Wilson were at it again, although the delightful model (below) holds a rose to her nose. Indeed, one problem of all rubber garments is that unmistakable, pungent odour.
On the right, in 1962, AW has a full-page in their catalogue dedicated to rubber corselettes, bras, girdles and corsets, but note, the original artwork comes from the 1950's.
As an aside, the Ambrose Wilson company used to provide (and still does to a very limited extent) the most comprehensive catalogue of corsetry right up until the late 1980's (they were like a British Lane Bryant). Their chief corsetiere of the 1980's introduced the corsetry section of the catalogue with the depressing phrase, "Let's not romance about corsetry" which might well be the epitaph to a whole industry.
I'm sorry. These garments might be many things, but cool, they most definitely were not! Even Playtex in 1959 (right) admitted that the clammy embrace of unlined latex was losing its sales potential.
Surely rubber brassieres must have been the last word in torture. I should know; I'm a well-built 42F and even with a cotton bra the underside of my breasts become uncomfortably warm. If they were surrounded by rubber I'm quite sure that perspiration would squirt straight through the perforations.
The origin of the phrase "My girdle's killing me" is lost is history, however, Playtex used it extensively in their advertising campaign of the 1960's. The latex Playtex (hence its name) became so popular at the time, and has such a strong collectors' appeal today, that I wouldn't dare to compete with the excellent web pages dedicated to these garments. I will simply include a couple of relevant advertisements and pictures of some examples. For collectors, and even wearers, latex disintegrates over time if exposed to numerous chemicals, perspiration and particularly ultra-violet light. There are numerous accounts of latex splitting at inconvenient moments, and more than one collector has opened the unique Playtex tube to find her old rubber girdle reduced to a sticky mass of decomposition.
The advantage of the garment in reality was its figure-hugging, seamless form. Indeed, many actresses did wear them, for they are all but invisible under the sheerest gowns. Oddly, the garments with suspenders, like all girdles, suffered from 'suspender bump' thus ruining the effect. However, if you could stand the panty-girdle all evening, an enviably smooth profile was yours.
The disadvantage is implied in the last sentence 'could stand', for the girdles were notoriously sweaty. The marketers turned this disadvantage into a positive 'reducing' aspect of the garment, but they couldn't disguise the difficulty of donning the wretched thing, the clammy coldness of it after a night in a unheated university dorm., and its predilection to split in old age. The other disadvantage of all latex sheets is that they bend in a two-dimensional, rather than three-dimensional fashion, and women are very three-dimensional!
An attempt that was partially successful to solve the latter problem was to make a pattern of perforations that would, so said the makers, allow some areas to stretch more than others. In point of fact, the perforations were necessary to allow the body to breathe.
This girdle clearly demonstrates these latex folds; the adverts don't!
The picture on the right is quite a rare photograph of a woman actually wearing one of these contraptions. (The bra had been edited on to the picture since we never publish nudity).
In 1951, Sears advertised the famous Playtex girdle. The model bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Kathryn Hepburn. Kleinerts (middle; Sears 1951) also made such a girdle but never had the advertising pull of Playtex. They persevered with the 'rubber nap' girdle with a fabric outer layer, but Playtex would do the same.
It was amazing what antics you could perform in these perforated wonders!
Playtex mentioned many of the currently famous and beautiful actresses in their advertisements:- Zsa Zsa Gabor, Maureen O'Hara and Jane Russell (below) to name just a few.
Maureen O'Hara, at least for the sake of the advertising revenue, extolled the virtues of the Playtex girdle. It was flexible, it didn't show under clothes and allowed the vigorous exercise required of an athletic actress such as herself.
Mind you, in the film McLintock (1963 - below), Miss O'Hara, sprints down the street, plunges into a water trough and nearly escapes from an irate John Wayne whilst all the time clad in a Victorian style boned corset. I guess when John Wayne's after you, it doesn't matter much what you wear!
The photographs (above left) composed by Gjon Mill are very skilfully crafted and show clearly the perforations:
Honesty is always the best policy:- Once, when Miss Russell was being interviewed, she was asked to what did she attribute her stunning figure. "Underwear," she replied huskily and without hesitation. Miss Russell was associated more than once with foundation garments. Her career started along with a brassiere developed by Howard Hughes to emphasise a bust-line that really required little additional attention ! She advertised both in magazines and on TV for Playtex (left).
In one of her films 'Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' (1957 - right above), her dresser approaches her with a Playtex girdle. "What's that" asks Miss Russell (as if she didn't know); "Your girdle" responds her dresser. "For a premiere; are you mad!" The dresser throws the girdle away. Oddly, Miss Russell has already dressed and the scene makes little more sense than the somewhat strange title! Yet the stars flocked to wear their Playtex girdles, or so the marketers saud!
The inimitable Jane Russell
Less famous names (above) were equally happy to provide testimonials. Even the swimming champion wore her girdle in the pool! Sonja Hennie, the actress and Olympic figure skater, Denise Darcel and Vera Maxwell wore Playtex. But we all wore girdles then, so it wasn't a big secret or anything like that!
Four classic examples of the conventional Playtex, the Playtex Ice and the candid graphics from the Playtex Gold tube of the 1960's. Even the colour is off-putting and can you imagine anything more sweaty than the panty-girdle (right). Why go to the trouble of constructing a seamless foundation garment when you hang four obvious garters beneath the leg bottoms?
We refer to the 'girdle tube' (left). I imagine that packaging these latex girdles into tubes was a marketing ploy to emphasise how flexible these garments were.
As can be seen from the size labelling, these girdles were not just designed for the younger woman unless, of course, that younger women was a bit heavier than she would like and fancied that the rubber would help her lose weight.
Playtex, like so many manufacturers resorted to the before-and-after picture (below) that stretches the imagination, if not the girdle. The picture on the right shows a ghostly 'Five-pounds-thinner' girdle beneath the lady's dress.
Another commonly used ploy, was to have the elegant lady wearing the Playtex girdle whilst her frumpy friend looks on with obviously envy (above). But even Playtex didn't stop the obvious girdle line showing clearly through the elegant lady's dress.
Playtex, like many other brands, capitalised on the glamour of the airline stewardess. Whether she is hot at her tropical destination, working hard in the cabin, or on a date in the coolness of New York, she wears her Golden Playtex girdle with '7-way stretch' (whatever that means). This brings us back to the hoary old question of stewardesses and girdles. Whether girdles were mandatory or not, let us put it this way: women wear what other women wear and in the 1950s most fashionable women wore girdles. To be honest, Playtex realised that wearing raw latex next to the skin could, and indeed did, get very sweaty hence the emphasis on the 'cool' cloth lining.
Sometimes Playtex could get the advertising wrong. Regard the lady in the above left. The intention is to show that granny, despite her years could bend down in the garden since she was modern enough to wear Playtex, rather than the boned contraptions of her generation. Unfortunately, it looks like the poor lady is having a 'funny turn' as she sinks to the ground. Sometimes the heat generated by the latex girdles did have this effect! At least the before and after effort is better than its peers of the 1960's.
Some other odd effects of wearing these girdles is recounted by Alison.
A German Playtex advertisement that really goes for the emotional jugular has been included in the Corsetieres' section.
A word of warning to collectors. We have several of these girdles in the Ivy Leaf Collection, unfortunately one has become brittle with age and another split along the perforations. It was always a problem with these garments. I knew very few women who wore them, although an aunt of mine wore one in the humidity of the Far East and suffered badly from prickly heat until she reverted to a more conventional girdle. (I believe they were far more popular in the USA). Keep the girdles away from sunlight and never, ever let them get in contact with oil.
Latterly, Playtex reverted to making more conventional garments, however, it didn't stop them from producing a range of 'rubbery smelling' foundations from a patterned material. These garments, marketed under the '18 hour' range, had quite a popular following and were still to be found on sale at the end of the 20th century. As the advertisements from the mail order catalogues show, these girdles were 'popular' in Britain, America and France.
Sears marketed the '18 hour' girdle under licence as the 'Timeless Comfort' (or Comfortless Time as at least one wearer commented.)
This example (above) is interesting not just because it is a classic '18-hour' girdle from the 1970s. Observe the detail. It is a very long-leg girdle and possesses all the classic features: the rubbery patterned elastic that always had a slightly blue hue, the silky material between the legs, the oddly contrasting nylon front panel with the chevrons (a throwback to the 'fingertip panels' of the genuine latex girdles and elastic cuff around the bottom of the legs. Amazingly, this girdle is a size 22 - 24 inches. This is a teenage girl's girdle, and like many teenagers, her waist was slim but her thighs were not and the long legs were designed to minimise this. Poor girl, it really is not an attractive garment and that is without the ever-present rubbery odour. Perhaps mother felt that her daughter was safe in such a garment.
The Playtex Brassiere (this article has been moved since it does not directly concern rubber or latex. Oddly, for a company that more than any other associated latex and corsetry, Playtex never inflicted the rubber brassiere on a gullible female population. That was left to other manufacturers.)
The most famous rubber corsetry company in Britain was Alstons. They supplied made-to-measure corsets from their factory in Eastbourne from their inception in 1932 until the mid 1980’s. Rubber was their specialty and they had a wide range of thicknesses, colours and patterns.
Alston's (im-)famous surgical rubber corset
In the letter (left), Alstons allude to the fact that their corsets might feel a bit 'different' to normal corsets. The example (below right) demonstrates another failing of sheet rubber girdles. Basically, if the latex is thick enough not to tear, anything less than a perfect fit results in flesh-nipping creases. At least in this garment, Alstons condescended to insert a few perforations, in some of their garments, there were none.
I have one hi-waisted example (left) which is unlined and unperforated. It is horrid to wear since it causes profound perspiration and once on is so sticky that it cannot be ‘wriggled’ round or adjusted like a normal girdle. This surgical rubber Alstons possessed the famous double zip front that could be removed and replaced for a wider section if the wearer so desired (UK 1976). The advertising literature implied that the wearer might use the extended panel for comfort during a long car journey, for example. Frankly, for comfort, one had to remove the ghastly device.
Alstons' Catalogue 1968
One of Alstons' last advertising brochures from 1975. Wearers could elect to have single or double thickness rubber.
Two interesting features may be noted. Alstons' models are always cartoons, and the remaining garments available at auction today are invariably lowers. I believe that by the 1960's, these garments were quite unpopular, save for a few 'diehards'. What garments were purchased tended to be lowers, the thought of encasing one's breasts in pure latex on a hot summer's day doesn't bear consideration. One presumes that the models, who were usually young simply drew the line at posing in what to them may have seemed a strangely fetish style of garment. With the notorious fragile longevity of pure rubber, few garments have survived.
The garment on the right was acquired in 2007. It had belonged to somebody's granny and was discovered at the back of a drawer. Fortunately, this storage in a dry environment away from the depredations of sunlight had protected the garment. It has been used although not often since some of the (few) perforations still have the little rubber circle attached. It has the full length zip; such garments were almost impossible to don otherwise! The metal zip and suspenders date the garment to the1970's, about a decade before Alstons went out of business. It has lasted well for a 30 year-old garment.
My Lady (UK 1950's - 60's) was a small British firm that made rubber girdles, corselettes and corsets. These latter girdles were beautifully made in cloth lined pink perforated rubber. The embarrassing splitting was mitigated by reducing the size and number of the perforations. The seams between the panels are covered by sewn pink satin ribbon like material.
The girdle in the top left picture is side-fastened by hook-and-eye; the other two by a busk. Once again, the busk seems to be an easier and neater method of fastening. Why did it vanish in the 1960's? As with the Dutch corset (below), the rare laced example was probably designed to accommodate the fluctuating figure of the elderly women. It certainly was not a tight-lacing garment.
Below is an example of the, now, incredibly rare rubber corselette. This garment was purchased, probably worn once by a lady unused to rubber garments, and promptly hidden and forgotten at the back of a little used drawer. Most of these garments were discarded discreetly, their wearers not just embarrassed at wearing such an old-fashioned garment, but one made of rubber as well.
The button-centred suspenders date these garments as relics from the 1960's
An immaculate example of the genre. The metal-centered suspenders, the satin seams and the perforated rubber are classic features. The black, circular label explains how the hooks-and-eyes fasten under the zipper. I would have thought that any woman graduating to this sort of foundation garment would be well versed in the procedure already.
The Charneaux Imitators
On the right are two examples of convergent evolution, as the French make their own, Gallic, attempt at a rubber girdle. It appears, however, that the seams would protrude somewhat! The Australian versions (far right) have the beautifully patterned perforations of the original Charneaux, but to wear one in the heat of the Australian summer must have taken some fortitude.
A warning to all collectors of rubber corsetry is the catastrophic long-term effect of sunlight and oils on latex.
What might have been a highly collectible Australian 'Charneaux' (right) has become brittle at the edges and could no longer be worn for fear of tearing. This depredation plagues older Playtexes and any of the true latex rubber garments. Sunlight causes them to harden and become brittle. Oils can 'melt' the rubber. Of all the girdles and corsets that I have described in these pages, the ones that were known to fail, especially whilst being donned, were the rubber ones.
Dutch Rubber Corsets:
A typical, heavy white perforated rubber corset purchased in Den Haag in 1978
A Dutch company also made heavy-weight, rubber, back-lacing corsets in an unlined but well perforated white rubber. . The strength of the panels provided the structure of this un-boned garment, however the lacing has the odd effect of stretching the corset rather than compressing the wearer. It really is best described as a laced 'girdle'. These corsets were on sale in genuine ladies shops in Holland until the late 1970's (this particular example comes from 1978 and the shop in the Hague offered a made-to-measure service)
I have related elsewhere the discomfort that my Aunt suffered one swealtering afternoon in the Ardennes. She was a victim of her rubber corsets. We all knew what she wore since she was far from coy about dressing and undressing in her bedroom with the door open when we visited her. My husband was quite shocked at this revelation. His aunties did nothing of the sort!!
A brief sojourn in the land of my birth, and a request from my brother to unearth some family photographs brought to mind this auntie who I always referred to as 'the corset aunt'!
My aunt (right) in 1912 and 1964 at the ages of 25 and 77 obviously wore corsets all her life. She would have started before the end of the 19th century and was still wearing laced foundations when she passed away some seven decades later.
Letitia Emerentia van G in 1912 and 1964
My poor Aunt, who wore one of the Dutch corsets (above), although born in the early years of the 20th century, I'm sure would feel for the poor South American maiden pictured below. After eight decades of rubber corsetry, the marketers have persuaded a new generation of girls to aspire and to perspire for beauty. Perhaps in the torrid summer heat of Rio de Janeiro at least the reduction aspect may have a chance of working. More alarming Latin latex can be found on our Latin pages.
The cinch on the right has been well-worn as can be seen from the wear to the hooks-and-eyes. Some sultry maiden, or more likely matron, wore this device regularly!
Get fit immediately it proclaims. Rubber, weight loss and fitness, all entangled in the aspirations of the marketing department and the perspirations of the customer.
My husband has extracted some of the text from the 'Slymlastick' advertisement above:- " --the large perforations form minute suction cups which work constantly -- gently but persuasively eliminating fat --". Wasn't this actually the giant squid from Jules Verne's classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea?
Typical man; no idea about corsetry. A woman must suffer to be beautiful (unfortunately). Ivy
Alison's Views on Reducing Corsets
A number of people have enquired whether Spencer ever sold rubber corsetry. Spencer’s main product line was always custom fitted rigid corsetry, but at one stage on the late 60s they did offer a line of rubber corsets. I don’t think they were manufactured by Spencer but I believe they were imported from an English company (Probably Alstons - Ivy).
For a short time we were given a catalogue and I offered them to my customers. I did not sell many of them, and being a traditional corsetiere, I did not have much interest in them, but there appeared to be a small but steady demand from full figured ladies for these weight-reducing garments.
These controlling rubber garments were very pale pink rubber bonded with a covering of stretch knit cream nylon. Techniques for molding natural rubber were not generally available then, and the panels were sewn together with a fold over seam to avoid any tearing of the rubber on the inside of the garment. The salve-edges were turned over and sewn down and over these, conventional elastic edging/piping was sewn, so there appeared to be a minimum number of seams. When worn, these rubber girdles could almost be mistaken for the normal ones, except there was no lace or brocade, and they had a more tubular appearance (no creases).
The open bottom girdles were made up of six panels; a central back panel, two sidepieces, two front pieces and a wide tummy shaped piece. There was a central seam connecting the two front pieces, which was covered by the stronger tummy panel from the hem to the cuff.
The panty girdle was similar except the tummy panel came to an apex at the crotch. On the panty girdles there was a very unusual zip fastening that came up from the left inside leg cuff, around the groin and then down again on the right inside leg.
Spencer’s advertising stressed the benefits of these garments. "They slim whilst reducing excess flesh whist at work or when just relaxing at home," and, “No dieting is necessary and no tiring exercise, they work for you, all through the day”. I always thought they were very expensive, but Spencer guaranteed results. As I remember a discounted price was offered if you bought two, or a coordinated set, and the ease of laundry and drying was also stressed. “Just wipe over with mild soap flakes, dry away from heat in an airy place, dust with powder, and they are always ready for your new day, each day and every day”. The corsets were designed to give long lasting wear, and if regularly changed, washed and properly dried before being put away, would last until you slimmed enough to require your new set.
We were told to be especially careful to stress the personal hygiene aspect of the garments, as there were no ventilation holes in the back, front, or groin of these rubber girdles. They were designed to create a localized “Turkish bath effect,” and we were told to tell our customers that ventilation holes had a propensity to split or tear.
The ones I remember most were all zippered. The high-rise girdle had an apron front, was conventionally fitted with a side zip, and the usual six elastic fabric garters were sewn on to the hem of the apron front, which had the usual triangular elastic insert in the centre. The long-leg panty had a front zip, wide-cuff waist and wide-cuff leg bands and no garters. The long-line bra had a front zip, wide-cuff waist band and elastic fabric bra straps that followed round the curve of the back panel like a corselet.
I never saw a one-piece corselet. I assumed this was because a tight one piece rubber garment would be very difficult to get in and out of. For women who required a corselet I would recommend a high-rise girdle worn with an extra long-line bra. I this case we were told the garments should overlap by three inches or more to avoid any possibility of a gap occurring at the midriff between your bra and girdle during regular activities.
Recollections from Eastbourne
My brief encounter with Alstons is of a quasi-professional nature – not as a customer, you understand, but as a recent graduate and aspiring copywriter in the unlikely setting of Eastbourne. Among the many accounts that was brought to this small advertising agency, an equally small income (judging by our pay packets) was Alstons, both the retail outlet and the famous rubber reducing corsetry business – although this side of the business was already tailing off even before the advent of the Trade Descriptions Act forced the owners – two sisters, I believe, and a brother – to reconsider the ‘reducing’ aspects of their mail-order offerings. (There was a rumour circulating the ad agency that Mr Alston used on some occasions to appear in our studio to borrow a tin of Cow Gum. Why, one asks? To attach the suspenders of a particularly urgent order. But this may just have been an urban myth.)
One hot summer’s day my friend and colleague, a young, ambitious account executive, was summed to the Alstons shop to collect the garment that was to feature in a front page advertisement in the local paper. The garment was a pink rubber corset, but what my colleague had not bargained for was that it it was already attached to an equally pink fibreglass female trunk. Worse still, he was obliged to the carry the garment and its replica of female anatomy through the crowded holiday streets of Eastbourne – unwrapped. It wasn’t long before his face bore the same bright pink shade of the garment he was carrying. But worse was to come. The garment was duly sketched by one of agency’s small team of ‘commercial artists’, and the artwork sent to the paper. Now this was in the days when a typical advertisement would be made up, physically, of a number of discrete components – heading, illustration, logo, and so on. So this may explain why, when the advertisement appeared in the paper, the corset was rendered upside down, with its six suspender defying gravity and pointing to the sky. Red faces all round this time!
A Letter on the Subject
You wrote on your website that rubber corsetry was introduced in the 1920’s. This is wrong. The famous patented "Medicated Rubber Gaments" by Dr. Jeanne P.H. Walter already came out in 1909.
You wrote that from 1950’s onwards, many girdle manufacturers tried to avoid the terms 'latex' and 'rubber' because of unwanted, fetishistic connotations. That cliche was publicly unknown until at least early 1970’s. The main issue with latex girdles was that the material felt sweaty, ripped easily and decomposed into smelly pulp over time, thus with fantasy material names they wanted to suggest that their expensive premium product was better and more durable than ordinary old-fashioned rubber.
Editor: In David Kunzle's book 'Fashion and Fetishism' (1982), he notes the fetish aspects of rubber as early as 1960. - Ivy
In fact, as these pictures show, there was a 'cheesecake' style of photography where the models wore Playtex girdles (even if they didn't clean their feet very well). The garment below demonstrates a problem with all short-waisted, un-boned girdles and that is the tendency to roll over at the top.
The Playtex Brassiere
Jane Russell, who has managed to look glamorous for more decades than I can remember, extolled the virtues of Playtex brassieres as did the pretty young thing in the silk blouse as she 'crossed-her-heart'. Jane, as ever practical, mentioned that the brassiere displayed had been through a machine wash 65 times!
Miss Russell also appears in one of her less meritorious films, released in the UK as "Fuzzy Pink Nightgown" in a satin sheath dress. Her dresser asks her if she wants to wear a girdle and proffers an obvious latex Playtex. "To a premier" Miss Russell gasps "You must be joking!" at which she drop kicks the girdle off set. I never really understood that part!