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Lingerie And The History Of Underwear
( Orginally published November 1933 )
Part 2 - Undies Remake The World
"After all," Emerson once observed, "the greatest meliorator of the world is selfish, huckstering trade." Among the seven admirable books from the hand of Mr. Earnest Elmo Calkins, the accomplished dean of the American advertising business, is one entitled Business the Civilizer. "Advertising," William Allen White has commented, "is the Archimedean lever that is moving the world." "Advertising put it across---the underwear business. It became great when advertising became great." These are the words of the advertising and production manager for one of the largest manufacturers of hosiery and women's knit underwear in the world.
Thus it had its birth, this huge industry, along with that of the business in patent medicines. The earliest advertisements were simply brief notices, such as, for instance, announcements of the arrival of ships. Then we find advertisements concerning runaway slaves. The first articles advertised to any extent for sale seem to have been, in the words of an eminent advertising man, "nostrums and cosmetics." So concern for Marjorie apparently had a good deal to do with launching the advertising business.
When other commodities began to break into the advertising field early comers were such articles of feminine under apparel as Matinee Skirts, hoops, and braided wire bustles. ( Corset advertisements, of a morally innocuous character to be noted later, also began in the eighties. Not until around 1890 did advertising count as a business to be reckoned with, it is said by those of the craft.
During the period beginning with the opening of the eighties and extending into the second decade of the nineteen hundreds, one of the most important articles of Marjorie's under-wardrobe was the silk petticoat. A woman of means generally had a silk petticoat to match or to contrast fittingly with each costume of cloth or velvet. Almost invariably the silk petticoat was trimmed with a deep pleated flounce.
The pleating of this flounce was sometimes done professionally. But families in which there were several women found it a saving to own a small "knife-pleating" outfit, consisting of a board and several "knives" of varying widths. With such an outfit the entire petticoat could easily be made by the home sewing-woman.
Just the thing, then, to meet a wide need for a substitute more durable and more economical than silk was the Hetherbloom material. With so much enthusiasm did its promoters reflect their inner vision that the famous petticoat, in gigantic outdoor advertising, became one of the sights of the town. As one of his first impressions of the wonders of the great city, the Professor remembers the girl, with petticoat lifted and leaning against slanting rain, outlined in electric lights on enormous hoardings mounted high on buildings. Among the first things of the kind, he believes-with the lights going on and off to produce an animated effect.
Later, in the second decade of the century, the fame of Hetherbloom was magnified by Edna Ferber's story of Emma McChesney, "knightess" of the grip, who sold petticoats. And it was further increased by Ethel Barrymore who played the part of Emma McChesney in the stage version.
Let us listen to our old friend, the Britannica: "The evolution of modern feminine dress, corresponding closely to the emanicipation of women at the beginning of the twentieth century, provides one of the most captivating pages in the history of modern civilization." This observation opens an account of the fashions of the first score years of the present century. Coming events, however, cast their shadows before.
Though even in 1900 Marjorie was, most of the time, restricted in her breathing by attire seemingly designed largely with the object of interfering with her movements, she had begun in the nineties to emancipate her legs. The point of the story seems to be that silk knickers sprang from suffragettes.