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Women's Underwear

Especially for the ladies -- womens’ underwear in the 1950s.

Before her marriage Mum had worn a corset every day. Grandma thought she should continue to wear it every day, even in the dairy… which made Dad angry. But Mum did wear one to go out in public.

Mum’s corset was strengthened with vertical ribs of whalebone, constrained with horizontal band of heavy medical-grade elastic, tightened with laces from above the waist to below the groin. It pushed your abdomen up under your diaphragm, so that breathing was difficult, physical exercise impossible. It compressed your stomach so that eating and drinking led to uncomfortable feelings of ‘bloating’. And urinary problems were common, because there was always pressure on the bladder.

My first ‘corset’ was a tube of strong elastic. Before I put it on, I first turned it inside-out, then upside-down. I stepped into the tube, then I rolled it up over my butt, over my belly, and settled it at my waist line. –‘a roll-on’.

One of the fashionable bras of the time was promoted as ‘cross-your-heart.’ It had a band of strong elastic that went across the back, under the arms, and also across the front, and two ribbons between the breasts, which tended to force them apart. The advertisements said it ‘lifts and separates’, which it certainly did. I very much doubt it was designed for a woman’s comfort.

The corset compressed the belly and butt, but left a roll of flesh between the top of the corset and the bottom of the bra. Solution? – wear a long-line bra that extended down to the waist, and was clipped to the corset. Or else wear an ‘all-in-one’ costume [a ‘corsolette’] of bra and corset combined, which locked you into body-armour… hot and devilish uncomfortable.

Six ‘suspenders’ to hold up stockings, were attached to the bottom of the corset, 3 for each leg, front, back and the outside. Each was a button about the size of a thumb-nail, at the end of a ribbon, and a matching circle of metal on another ribbon. If you pushed the button through the circle, and twisted the button flat, it would not slip out again, just like a button in a button-hole. To use the suspenders, you pulled the stocking well up your thigh, then caught the stocking top with the button, then forced both through the loop, and turned the button to lock it. So the stocking stayed up. Each stocking had 3 of these anchors. When you sat down, of course, you sat on two buttons, one under each thigh, which was very uncomfortable and left deep painful impressions in your flesh. As school girls, we often cut off the back ones, and relied on the two remaining ones.

At boarding school, we did not wear corsets, but wore ‘suspender belts’ around the waist, circles of elastic with 4 or 6 suspenders on much longer cords. In 1957, when I first wore school uniforms, my stockings were made of heavy cotton ‘lisle’. How I envied schoolmates whose parents provided them with nylons. I soon convinced Mum to change mine to match. Of course, nylons soon developed ‘runs’ or ‘ladders’, which were difficult to control. We quickly learnt to use a drop of nail-polish to seal the ends of a ladder, even if the polish stuck to our skin.

As boarders, we were required to wear stockings to our evening meal. Then someone discovered that if you twisted the top of your nylon stocking into a tight cord, and tucked the cord inside the stocking against your shin, the stocking would stay up without suspenders. This was hidden by the longer skirts we wore then. However, the teaching staff disapproved and took to standing at the bottom of the stairs as we came down from the dormitories. Then they could see the knots, and send us back upstairs to put on suspender belts.

The person who invented ‘panty-hose’ was heartily cheered by many thousands of women of my day.

So before we women went out in public, we pushed and pulled our bodies into these unnatural ‘ideal’ shapes, promoted by the manufacturers, and obviously expected by men. While we were out, we suffered heat and pressure. When we got home, the first thing we did was to shed this agonising ‘armour’. There was a strong, unspoken belief, that any woman who did NOT constrain her body into the accepted regime of corset and stockings was ‘loose’, of questionable morals, and very unlikely to marry a desirable husband. As Mum always said ‘You have to suffer to be beautiful’.

It certainly was not easy being a woman in the 1950 and 1960s!

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