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Lingerie And The History Of Underwear

( Orginally published November 1933 )



Chapter 1 - Undies Remake The World
Chapter 2 - Flaming Youth Becomes Dignity Conscious

[Lingerie - Part 1]  [Lingerie - Part 2]  [Lingerie - Part 3]  [Lingerie - Part 4]  [Lingerie - Part 5] 

Part 2 - Flaming Youth Becomes Dignity Conscious

Again, as has been said, Marjorie's role changed. The moral paragon of nineteenth century tradition had gone clown the chutes of time. The belle, that social axis from the period of the Civil War, had become the pal. This metatnarphosis, however, had begun on the dance floor sometime hcfore Marjorie's participation in the World War.

By 1914. criticism of the change in her behavior was a feature of the press. In a very tight skirt, she was exercisitig her "desire for new experiences" in the tango, the foxtrot, and, most alarming of all to those apprehensive concerning her welfare, the "sinuous debutante slouch." And thc day was at hand when the old boned corset, though still purchased, was "parked" for the duration of the dance-a signal to the inflexible of mind that morals were melting fast.

Mr. Ned Wayburn has given us an account of the advent of the shimmy dance. A one-time pupil of his, now a dazzling luminary of the stage and screen who at the moment is nnuh agitating Fashion circles, goes back of Mr. Wayburn's account in her relation of the origin of this dance so potent in its effect on fashions of a past era. In the Fox vaudeville houses, Miss Mae West relates, while prancing through no less than twelve shows a day, she writhed and trembled in her invention of the shimmy, later taken up by the famous shimmy-shaker, Miss Gilda Gay, and by Miss Bee Palmer, credited with mothering the first of the hotcha dances to be seen on Broadway.

In convention assembled, the dancing masters boosted and predicted a return to old dances, and a farewell to tight skirts. This merely became a habit with them. It was the corset that was being given the farewell. In igao the President of the American National Association of Masters of Dancing, declaring that "exhibition dancing" belonged to the stage and not the ballroom, commanded, "Don't dance from the waist up; dance from the waist down," and added, "All exaggerated movements, especially of the upper part of the body, are in very bad taste:" And jazz, it was being widely agreed, was on the way out, "having done more to eliminate itself than all the campaigns against it."

A couple of years later the Association in convention at Atlantic City again decided that the shimmy was a "muscle dance" and was "tainted," and decreed that this dance together with several other creations should fall under the ban of the "professors." You'd think sometimes from their pronouncements that the dancing masters, more than Schiaparelli, Augustabernard, Mainbocher, Molyneux, Lanvin, Vionnet, et al., made the styles. It might, indeed, reasonably be deduced that the dance impelled twentieth century Marjorie to discard her clothes, and that some time later, as we are to see, it did much in causing her to resume her corset, at least in a new form.

The trade, apparently, little more than the dancing masters perceived that the now historic Flapper Era was on for an extended run. In 1922 a trade publication editor, addressing the annual convention of National Hosiery and Underwear Manufacturers Association, asserted that the hem of Marjorie's skirt had reached its highest altitude and predicted that within a year there would be a return to "somewhere within the immediate vicinity of the calf."

With the reduction of her hips, Marjorie had also reduced her legs. When men now middle-aged were lads, the thrill had been to get a glimpse of "big legs." Legs had become slim-at least, that was the ideal. But many shops, it was known to the trade, "in order to cater to the vanity of women" marked their hosiery a half size smaller than it really was. And the rainbow was applied to hosiery. In the Flapper Era, according to a statement of the trade, stockings were hrocurable in 18,000 kinds and shades.

As underthings, too, growing slimmer along with legs, had begun to be much more accessible to general observation than ever before, rainbow shades had been introduced into lingerie. A shell pink had been the first to "take"; then a deeper pink was used. This was followed by maize and a deep yellow. Orchid and Nile came next. For some unknown reason a delicate blue which was offered failed of popularity. When, however, early in the nineteen twenties, Marjorie stood in front of Fifth Avenue shops and stared greedily into the windows at the charming models in black underwear, she felt, momentarily, a thrill of rather horrified fascination.

In the twelfth century, the Professor tells us, the devil was rcpresented by an old illustrator in the costume of a fine lady with the long hanging sleeves and tightly laced bodice of the time. A century later English preachers denounced the laced openings through which Marjorie showed her costly under-linen and designated then as "gates of hell." "W. C. T. U. Condemns Filmy Attire of Girls." "Girls Never More Sinful, Says Priest." "Bare Knees Shock School Principal." So ran newspaper headlines in 1922-25

The W. C. T. U. was of the opinion that feminine clothing "instead of being safeguards seduce the mind." The Reverend Father found the female form being made to "appear as attractive or seductive as possible." Certain schools ruled that skirts must come four inches or more below the knee, petticoats must be worn with all light skirts, and the girls must abandon the wearing of fancy garters below the knees, or rolled down stockings.

Bare knees were followed by the idea of bare legs altogether. But, as reported in the trade, most women declined to follow the Bare Leg fad "for obvious reasons." But forthwith they were "demanding" a Bare Leg Stocking, which was forthwith supplied.

1926. The world ablaze with Flaming Youth. Mr. Scott Fitzgerald still the contemporary historian. "Youth Revolt as Science Sees It"-Current History Magazine. "What About Our Young People?"-Nerv York Herald-Tribune. Necking. A passion for petting parties. "Jazz-mad" boys and girls. The Charleston. Pocket flasks. Etc., etc., etc. Parents, educators, publicists, and the clergy, alternately assailing and defending the Younger Generation, the Youth Movement-its manners, morals, speech, actions, and thoughts, and, perhaps above all, feminine dress.

Aesthetics and even morality here and there found a voice raised in defense of the new order. As an instance, a designer of gowns lecturing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1922 predicted that future generations would be likely to remember the period for its turn to "natural clothes for women." "We have," he declared, "brought freedom of nature to our styles."

And the high-minded opinion expressed in 1926 by the "national director of social morality" of the W. C. T. U. and president of the National Council of Women's Clubs was that women were "not seeking to stimulate the interest of men through new dress creations." "It is harder," she said, "to arouse a man's interest now in an exposed knee than it was twenty years ago in the flash of an ankle beneath the billowy folds of a crinoline dress. The whole situation is more healthful, more frank. The principle of most girls' dress is simplicity, not sex appeal."

At any rate, Marjorie had welcomed the new order with such enthusiasm that to many it seemed for a while as if she were determined to divest herself of clothes entirely and clcnionstrate the longest and most complete fashion cycle of history-from nudity to nudity. Dr. Havelock Ellis observed that it would require but little arithmetical skill to calculate, by a careful comparison of the average weight and length of women's garments with those a decade before, the precise date at which, other things being equal, there would be nothing lo(t. "Needless to add," he added, "other things will not be equal."

This eminent sociologist, of course, was all for such an issue--Marjorie's arrival automatically at a state of pure Nacktkultur. On another occasion he declared: "Some day, perhaps, a new moral reformer, a great apostle of purity, will appear among us, having his scourge in his hand, and enter our theatres and music halls to purge them. It is not nakedness lie will close out, it will more likely be clothes."