Genuine vintage fan-laced girdles/ corsets are unfortunately becoming very difficult to find, and there are very few good modern replicas on the market. I am lucky enough to own a lovely collection of vintage girdles, in various conditions and sizes, as well as one modern version. All of my vintage pieces were found, quite by chance and I would like to help you to identify the different styles, different shapes, where to find them and how to not pay over the odds so that you can own a beautiful fan-laced girdle!
Styles and how to recognise them
The first fan-laced girdle was invented and created by Samuel Higby Camp in 1908, but as time progressed they were custom fitted by corsetieres who would go from door to door. These girdles are typically made out of peach or salmon coloured material, often with satin embroidered flowers.
The main characteristic of a fan-laced girdle is that it has…fan lacing. This style was invented at the beginning of the twentieth century due to the social and economic changes which meant that not every household could afford a maid who, as part of her responsibilities, would previously have laced up the ladies traditional corsets. The main purpose of this revolutionary new design was to allow women to lace themselves up without any assistance, this means that the fan-laced section is attached to a strap that the wearer can pull and tighten herself.
This style of girdle can have the lacing at the front, the back or the sides, and sometimes a combination of two of these placements. As these girdles were custom made for ladies at the beginning of the twentieth century, they vary a lot from girdle to girdle. Some were designed for straight bodies, some for short or long bodies, others cater more to curvier shapes. The first step to successfully purchasing your own vintage girdle, is to understand your own shape. I have problems with finding girdles that fit me because my waist measurement is quite extreme compared to my hips (see my measurements here). An ideal structure for my body would be to have a three fans, such as the image below:
This would allow me to keep my hips tight as well as pulling the waist section to the correct size without creating a bunch up of fabric. If you have been lucky enough to have found a girdle in person, check the inside and see if there are any words printed on the boning; a lot of the time they have styles such as ‘short bodied’ written in them. It is very difficult for me to give advice on sizing for these pieces, as they all vary so much. As a general rule, treat the sizing like you would with any other piece of shapewear – If you are buying online, go with the size that is closest to your own or a size smaller. The great thing about these girdles is that they are adjustable and it is better to have a piece that is a little bit too small for you can let out a little than having a piece that your body looks like it is swimming in.
Just to give you an indication of where these girdles should sit on your body, the lowest part of the girdle should sit just just under your bum.
The laces on these girdles are similar to flat shoe laces but maybe a little wider. Do not buy girdles with tube shaped laces or ribbons, the entire design depends on the strength of the lacing.
Other features that might not be immediately apparent when looking at a photograph are, boning (usually metal spiral boning), additional panels that fold across the stomach area and are fastened with strong metal clasps, there will more often than not, be at least four garter straps on the item (always check how many there are, as they are usually the first thing to go).
Medical corsets look very similar to the ‘cosmetic’ version but they are definitely not as fancy. Many of the medical back braces have the same structures and the same boning as the shaping version for very good reasons; they are are strong and can be adjusted to accommodate the shape of your body, I should also add they they are very comfortable. The boning is also made out of spiral metal strips but the back is usually also made of solid strips of metal that are curves to the standard shape of a back, such as the example below:
Medical corsets with fan-lacing have been manufactured up until very recently; however the most modern versions tend to consist of velcro straps rather than lacing. They don’t usually have girdle straps attached to them either. The colours tend to be varying shades of brown and also white, which is, if nothing else, one good way of identifying them, they are also not very pretty.
Where to find vintage fan-laced girdles and corsets
www.buygirdles.com – this is a GREAT online shop that sells genuine vintage pieces.
I have found some pieces on Etsy and have listed some of the shops selling them below (this list will change over time so please keep looking at other Etsy shops):
Ebay is pretty good too, check out this item. There are more, you just need to search for ‘fan-laced’, ‘fan-laced girdle/ corset’, ‘vintage fan-laced’, ‘Camp corset’ etc. Some weeks there are more items listed than others, the trick is to always keep an eye on the listings.
Antique/ vintage/ thrift shops
I have been very lucky in Sydney, as I have found just under a dozen pieces in shops around the city. The trick is to look in neglected baskets, under clothes racks, or to just ask, ‘do you have any vintage underwear?’. A lot of the time, people will not know what they have and think they are horrible ‘torture devices’ and shouldn’t be worn, which often means that they are happy to get rid of them for a lower price.
My usual process is to find a shop that looks like it might have some strange pieces, rummage around, if I can’t find anything I ask the owner and regardless of if they have something or not, I give them my contact details and tell them to call me if anything comes in. This technique has paid off and one shop contacted me and asked if I would be interested in a MASSIVE pile of vintage fan-laced girdles. I think I actually stopped breathing when I got the email with the photos of the pieces.
Not into genuine vintage?
Some people get a little funny about owning or wearing second-hand clothes, especially underwear. I get it, I can see how wearing someone’s great aunt’s undies could be weird, luckily you can get hold of new fan-laced girdles.
Girdlebound sells a few replica lace up girdles – They are good but be warned that they are not as pretty as the vintage pieces (I think they do custom dye some the pieces on request though…). Check out this item and this item.
Kiss Me Deadly have made their own interpretation of a fan-laced girdle, which is cool but I doubt this is as structures as the girdles on Girdlebound.
I have written a few other posts about fan-laced girdles, which you can check out here:
As always, get in contact if you need any advice!