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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

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 3 - Flaming Youth Becomes Dignity Conscious

The vested interests, however, the Professor remarks, are very much more to be reckoned with than the school of thought represented by Dr. Ellis's fanciful picture seems to suppose. That is, the vast industries which since Marjorie was an aboriginal nudist have been built up to supply her with clothes will very likely continue to keep her draped in some fashion. Though for a stretch of time the effect on the underwear world of Marjorie's figuring out what she could do without next was, indeed, devastating.

Petticoats followed corsets into the museum of forgotten things. A generation had come into being which wouldn't have recognized a chemise if it had seen one. Many manufacturers in the old feminine under apparel lines went out of business. The survivors, and fresh inventive talent, turned to the study of how to cash in on the tendency of womenkind to wear as few clothes as possible under existing law. The aim was to capitalize "the utter definition of the figure."

The beginnings of the modern brassiere and bandeaux are difficult to trace. However, a matron in the full flower of perhaps a bit more than two score years gives the following account of the matter: "About the beginning of this century among certain groups of girls it was the custom to wear a small garment, cut like a corset-cover but fitted very tightly to the body, fulfilling the purpose of what is now known as a brassiere. This began, among the girls I knew, for use under bathing-suits, but it proved so satisfactory that they extended its use to everyday wear. The garment had, so far as I know, no official name at that time; but I have heard it lightly referred to as a `straitjacket.' Thin girls, naturally, had no need of such a piece of clothing, but wore instead a short panel of white cotton material covered with row of ruffles about two inches in depth. This biblike creation was pinned under the corsetcover or tied around the body just under the arms."

And according to a gentleman long associated with the corset business, the brassiere was not unknown to the trade even in the old boned days, perhaps as far back as thirty ycars ago. Though around six years ago, as expressed by the youthful today, a "girl" would have been "ashamed" to wear even a girdle. A phenomenon of the present century is that about two thirds of the feminine population are "girls." Alas! one third was, as it is put in the language of tlrc Fashion business, "defective-conscious"-and these had to wear corsets of some kind. Recalling the old gag about the fat man, think of that honorable but distrait body the Corset and Brassiere Manufacturers' Association and how it must have loved the fat girl, for she was keeping a number of them in business during that period.

During the Flapper Era, Marjorie-whose figure through the agees had been everything from a Greek column to a huge hourglass-was in effect a can-opener. In 1925 there were signs that the flapper was becoming the dapper girl. Around 1927 rigidity parted from slenderness, and slenderness wasn't smart at all if, in the words of Miss Carmel Snow, it wasn't "as pliant as a wreath of cigarette smoke."

Such underwear as had been worn during something like thc past decade had, of course, been designed, as a trade writer remarks, "to reveal instead of alter the natural lines of the figure." At first, handmade knit goods, not machine maHc, had been imported-from France and from the Philippines. The manufactured knit goods industry had been built up here by Julius Kayser and Company and other wellknown firms.

The mind of one astute manufacturer, seeking to devise something compatible with the prevailing feminine disposition of mind, had turned back in 1920 to the idea of the track suits he had found so comfortable when at college that he had worn them as underwear-the track suit at that time was the nearest approach to the comfortable athletic type of men's underwear now so familiar. The result was a garment at first marketed under the name of Athleeta. But at that moment, it became evident, Marjorie did not like the suggestion of athletics in connection with her underthings. The name was changed to the Butterfly. Marjorie, however, apparently was not attuned to so old-fashioned a suggestion as a butterfly. Then the name of Futurist was decided upon, and the garment soon attained national distribution. That, psychologically, was it: Marjorie was a Futurist!

With the wreath-of-cigarette-smoke silhouette, silk became more and more popular for underthings. "Glove-silk" was soon to come. The Vanity Fair Silk Mills and other manufacturers valiantly seeking to stay in business put on extensive advertising campaigns, which were among the first to strike the note of cleverness and vivacity in such matters. The "second skin" idea, with "Skin-Fits" and "Sprites" and such, was on the way.