When I first started to get seriously interested in vintage shapewear, there were times when I felt a little overwhelmed by the terminology, brands, styles, purpose and designs of the foundations that ladies of the early to mid 20th century adorned themselves with. It was actually my partner who introduced me to a website that furthered both my interest in and my love of foundations; the author of the multitudes of articles on this site goes by the name of Ivy Leaf and, along with her husband, runs www.corsetiere.net. This site is crammed full of facts and stories from ladies who wore and still wear foundations, and a brand by brand, style by style, era by era walk through.
There are hundreds of articles and even more beautiful photos available on Ivy’s site and I recommend that you go and have a look, as you will find a wealth of information relating to all styles of underwear from when women took pride in their figures.
A couple of months ago I got in contact with Ivy and asked her if she would be happy to answer my questions. To my delight, Ivy emailed me straight back, I had a smile on my face all evening. Below are the questions that I asked, and Ivy’s answers. Enjoy!
The Nylon Swish: Do you wear foundations daily?
Ivy Leaf: Yes. I have to being rather heavy-breasted. I don’t always wear a corset but I would never been seen without a firm panty-girdle.
The Nylon Swish: Could you describe how you feel when you are wearing shapewear.
Ivy Leaf: I have worn them all my life so it’s part of my daily clothing. They certainly make me feel good by making me look good. I was at a wedding yesterday and my husband was proud of my figure. He suggested that some other women present might benefit by wearing ‘proper’ underwear.
The Nylon Swish: Where does your passion for shapewear come from? Is it something that was normal in your household when you were growing up?
Ivy Leaf: I am quite heavy breasted so an upper foundation has always been important. My husband encouraged me with my lower foundations. My husband’s family had more of a history of foundation garments than mine. His aunt owned a corset shop at one point.
The Nylon Swish: If you were being sent to a desert island, which piece of foundation wear would you choose to take with you?
Ivy Leaf: I would take a Triumph Doreen Bra and Spirella 305 corset or St. Michael Satin Elastic Girdle. I believe that these were the sturdiest foundations ever made and a good support would be required for the rigours of life on this island. Furthermore, they can stand repeated washing and the Spirella stays would be rust-proof in the salty environment. Our calendar models have worn the Marks and Spencer girdles for the photo-shoots and these 40+ year old garments are still as strong as ever.
The Nylon Swish: What do you think about modern underwear?
Ivy Leaf: Modern underwear is so flimsy, but going in the right direction. I have posted several times, photos of girdles from the past that literally stand up by themselves. I know of several women who achieve quite a svelte shape by wearing two or even three layers of elastic garments, but if the garments were properly built, you would only need one layer.
The Nylon Swish: Do you think it is a positive or a negative that women today don’t feel the need to wear such structured underwear?
Ivy Leaf: It’s just changing times. There’s a wealth of social theses on the strength of women’s foundations related to social unrest or uncertainty. Structured foundations are not for everybody (nor should they be), but smoothing of the lumps and bumps is appreciated by most I believe.
The Nylon Swish: Does wearing foundation wear need to always be costly?
Ivy Leaf: You get what you pay for usually, however, cost and changing fashion sounded the death-knell for companies like Spirella. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Spirella was charging four times the cost for a girdle compared to the High Street brands that were, apart from being made-to-measure, just as strong. Some still bought Spirella if they were long in the body and had problems with getting bra and girdle to meet correctly in the middle with off-the-shelf products for example, but the cost differential would ultimately doom them. Spirella struggled on as a maker of corsets, but as the number of corset-wearers died away, so did the business.
The Nylon Swish: Can anyone wear shapewear or do they need to have a certain body type?
Ivy Leaf: Anybody can wear shapewear. Very odd proportions can cause a problem that the old made-to-measure houses could handle. That is not so easy these days.
The Nylon Swish: You have put together a calendar with photos of ladies wearing beautiful foundations since 2010, could you tell us how that idea came about?
Ivy Leaf: It was an idea I had to raise money for charity. My husband thought I was mad, but apologised when so many of my friends volunteered as models. There’s a few 2010 and 2013 calendars left. 2012 and 2014 sold out within weeks. What is encouraging is that with every issue of the calendar, we receive more offers from women who would like to volunteer as models. Often the models have asked to buy the foundations that they have worn, but sadly, they tend to be the choice pieces that we won’t sell.
The Nylon Swish: Many men and women have said to me that they think structured undergarments are like torture devices and that they were designed by men to give women the shape that they wanted to see, rather than women choosing their underwear. What do you think about this and have you ever been confronted by anyone for your choice of undergarments?
Ivy Leaf: Take the example of Howard Hughes and Jane Russell. Howard Hughes designed a cantilevered bra to highlight Miss Russell’s obvious attributes. To the end of her days, Jane Russell wore structured underwear because it made her look so good. When asked by a reporter to what she owed her figure and looks, she replied “Underwear!”
Structured underwear may feel like a torture garment, but only if it is badly fitted. Spirella was adamant that a corset should support, not compress. I suspect the ‘torture’ or ‘my girdle’s killing me’ comments came from the 1960’s/early 70’s when the wearing of foundations was dying out, but a woman might still squeeze into a girdle for a wedding. She would be unused to the garment and it would of course feel unpleasant. Regular wearers of foundations find them as comfortable as a well-worn pair of shoes.
*All images taken from http://www.corsetiere.net