Jenyns is an Australian corset brand that deserves special attention, because the garments were ground breaking, not only with regards to fashion, but also for women’s health and comfort.
The brand was started by a strong and determined woman named Sarah Jenyns (1865 – 1952). Sarah was tired of living in poverty due to her husband’s low income. They would travel from town to town to allow her husband to pursue his ‘career’ as a preacher and rarely had the means to support their growing family. The straw that broke the camels back appears to have been which one of their children fell down a water hole in New South Wales, and drowned.
In 1898 Mrs Jenyns decided to start her own company. She decided to revolutionise the old corset design, which she had had negative experiences with herself. The garments that she designed were done so to both provide comfort for women with back problems, while still providing shaping qualities for women to wear under their clothing. Sarah’s background as a nurse, as well as the work she did alongside surgeons won her support from medical professions all over the world.
This tribute was delivered on Sarah Jenyns’ inauguration to the Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 2014:
The early hardships she had experienced forged an independent spirit with a can-do attitude making her one of the few significant business women of the early 20th century. She created a business involving four generations that lasted nearly 100 years and a product that continues to be produced in Brisbane today in line with her original patent. Sarah Jenyns will always be remembered as a courageous, astute and creative business leader.
Traditionally, corsets were laced back from the back, meaning that women usually needed help to get them on. Sarah Jenyns developed a new style of lacing which meant the person could put on the corsets themselves, called ‘fan-lacing’. The corset (or girdle as I prefer to call them, due to the lack of waist tape), would be fastened and un-fastened with hook and eyes down the left or right side. As with all fan-laced designs, the lacing on each side came together, fastened on another piece of fabric, or fan-lacing slides, such as these ones from Vena Cava:
The ties that were attached to the fan lacing would then be pulled towards the front, until the garment fit her perfectly.
Very much like Berlei, Jenyns identified 12 different body types which allowed for their products to fit a variety of women very well, whilst still being able to sell them off the rack. Tall, short, large hips, slender, stout, it didn’t matter, Jenyns had a girdle to fit everyone.
Jenyns made a variety of styles and designs. Although the company eventually made lighter girdles as well as brassieres, Jenyns is best known for their firm foundations.
The below corset, worn by Cathie Jung in 2012, was manufactured in 1912; incredibly the corset is still wearable after 100 years. I have read that Sarah took great pride in both the materials used in her corsets, as well as the techniques. This corset is definitely evidence that they were made extremely well.
Amazingly, the corset is still very robust, the only sign of age being a slight fragility of the laces.
– Ivy Leaf, Corsetiere.net
Back when these fan-laced garments were first sold, the idea of adjusting the lacing cords from the front would have been a very new idea. Jenyns provided detailed instructions on how to adjust and fasten the corset. Again, this design shows that Sarah was very much concerned with women’s comfort, and the ability to self-lace was a very important one.
As I previously mentioned, Sarah Jenyns worked alongside surgeons to be able to provide the best designs to relieve the symptoms of a bad back, as well as supporting the spine. As such, many corsets had thick steel bones running down either side of the vertabraes. The bones being placed at the back prevented the placement of the fan lacing from being in the same location. Jenyns devised many different designs with the lacing aither being at the sides, or at the front, over the tummy. I wonder if the front lacing versions were tricky to fasten…
Jenyn’s later on started to produce luxurious girdles, still with the fan laced details, but made of exquisite satin. Mr Swish is forever on the hunt for one of these for me, as not only does it look and feel glorious but the sound the satin fabric makes when under a tight fitting skirt is … divine.
The attention to detail that the brand was known for in the early ‘medical corsets’, was also present in these satin girdles. The designs are flawless, as is the execution, and just look at those thick suspender straps! Heavenly!
Due to the extreme difference in measurements between my waist and my hips (currently – waist 30″ – hips 46″), as well as the lenth of my torso, finding a longline Jenyns (or any other brand for that matter!) in my size is very unlikely. I can still dream though, and my dream looks exactly like this…
Unfortunatly, as with the majority of the wonderful foundation garment manufacturers, the brand’s sales declined towards the end of the 1970s. The brand (which had been bought by Triumph in 1969) still sold girdles until the very end of the 20th century. However, Sarah Jenyns would surely have been proud to see her brand last as long as it did!