Rubber underwear is something that I find fascinating. Having lived in Australia for just over three years now, the mere thought of wearing a tight rubber girdle under my clothes makes me break out in a sweat! However, such garments were popular for many years, and from what I have learned, served more purposes than simply providing support to problem areas.
It would appear that rubber foundations came about in the 1920s or 1930s, although some of the images of women on advertisements appear to look quite Edwardian.
Many items were available to everyday women, such as bras, open-bottom as well as panty girdles, knickers, corsets and corselettes. The patterns from which the garments were cut were very similar to those that were made from regular fabric. The main differences were that they were glued rather than stitched, and rarely contained boning.
So, if women already had functional foundation wear, why would they need ones made of rubber? Although some saw them as a novelty item, rubber underwear was seen to be quite progressive as it allowed for less restricted movement and was therefore a lot more liberating than the garments the older generation would have worn. Rubber was a step towards elasticity, and was therefore welcomed by younger women.
Some garments combined traditional fabrics such as coutil (tightly woven cotton) with the rubber; although the cotton fabric was usually directly against the skin with the rubber material being visible on the outside. The majority of rubber foundations however, were made completely out of rubber. women must have smelt a little funny during the summer months!
As you will see if you research rubber foundations, they usually had perforations all over them. This was to allow for movement and slight stretch, but also to allow the skin to breathe. Although the holes were functional, designers took advantage of them by creating decorative patterns and motifs. Some of them are actually quite beautiful in my opinion.
As I previously touched on, rubber garments were not only sold as ‘standard’ foundation wear. I have also read stories of women wearing rubber underwear underneath their bathing suits to appear more slender and shapely (foundations for swim suits). The funniest part however, is that they were also marketed to men and women who saught cosmetic improvements to their faces and bodies.
‘Medicated rubber garments’ included:
- Frown eradicator
- Neck and chin reducer
- Bust reducer
- Abdominal reducer
On this particular advertisement, Dr. Walter boldly claims that they are ‘comfortable and never fail to accomplish the desired result’. Never, huh? That is a very big promise to make! I honestly can’t imagine a rubber brassiere or band actually being able to reduce a woman’s bust… Although this may seem like a ridiculous thing to claim and also to believe in, it did remind me of the recent ‘waist trainer’ fad. Women are currently being sold ‘waist trainers’, under the pretense that they will be able to achieve significant and permanent weight-loss and waist re-shaping. So although the idea of wearing a ‘chin reducer’ may seem hilarious to us now, our current generation is just as guilty as believing such ridiculous claims.
Much like the nylon used in nylon stockings, production of rubber garments slowed down dramatically to be able to contibute as much rubber as possible to the war effort. After the war, the rubber girdle experienced a revival and the main brand which manufactured such items was Playtex. The rubber girdle seems to have died out during the 1970s.
If you were to look online for rubber girdles, available for purchase, you will notice that they are incredibly expensive. Many are listed for several hundreds of dollars. The cost is, in my opinion, directly related to the scarcity of these garments. Perspiration would have caused many of the garments to deterioriate, meaning that a very small proportion of the items which were actually worn would have survived.
Although I would love to own my very own rubber girdle, I can’t say that it is something that I would want to wear on a daily basis!