By Adam Welsch
Today marks the 88th anniversary of the publication of the inaugural edition of TIME® Magazine, America’s first weekly news magazine. As a fixture of newsstands, libraries, waiting rooms, and coffee tables across the country, TIME® has played a central role in the coverage of political, economic, foreign-affairs, and scientific news. But it’s also covered stories related to pop culture and lifestyles, including the latest developments from the world of fashion. And concerns related to women’s underwear have been no exception. In fact, looking back through the magazine’s archives takes one on a fascinating trip through the history of women’s intimates during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
“Miscellany: Fashions” – July 26, 1926. This brief commentary covered the state of corset demand in the United States during the Roaring Twenties. Though things in the underwear business seemed to be booming (along with the rest of the economy), demand for traditional, heavy, laced corsets was beginning to decline.
“Medicine: Underwear” – June 20, 1927. This story described how 75 women attended a Chicago City Council meeting and asked for the passage of a public-health ordinance requiring women to wear more undergarments when trying on dresses in stores. Apparently, these ladies were upset, and the council members were surprised to learn, that shoppers were only wearing bloomers and brassieres in fitting rooms, leaving necks, arms, and waists exposed.
“Foreign News: Vest and Pantie” – September 11, 1939. Just days after the start of World War II and Britain’s entrance into it, Time® reported on a story in the Women’s section of London’s Daily Telegraph that discussed the types of underwear women serving the British war effort should wear. While the use of “gossamer lingerie” was discouraged, more practical ensembles, incorporating “vest and pantie in fine wool” were recommended. The story also noted that the larger woman was wise to consider donning “a brassiere and well-boned corset.”
“WOMEN: No Panties?” – August 18, 1941. Though the United States had not yet entered World War II, rationing was beginning to affect civilian life. Silk, in high demand for use in war materiel such as parachutes, was in short supply. Not only did that cause “runs” on hosiery, but panties and slips made with silk were becoming scarce.
“ARMY: How Firm A Foundation” – June 22, 1942. This short piece showed how even corset and brassiere production benefited from wartime demands in the United States. When the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps mandated that three bras and two girdles were to be parts of every woman’s WAAC-issued uniform, a lift, as it were, was given to a potentially sagging industry.
“PRODUCTION: Lesson in Problem Dodging” – January 11, 1943. This story described how women’s intimate apparel companies were also surviving America’s involvement in the Second World War by satisfying both traditional consumer demands and military procurement needs.
“Foreign News: A Corset for Mr. Dalton” – August 7, 1944. This short piece provided a humorous look at the daily frustrations of British civilian life during World War II. Hannah Wright was fed up with the inadequacies of her government-designed, cardboard-filled corset and suggested that Hugh Dalton, president of the Board of Trade (and “Minister in charge of corsets”), spend some time in one to understand the problem. As a result of her efforts, the Board released enough steel to make more than a million corsets.
“Fashion: Underneath, Underwear” – September 22, 1961. Here, a technological advance in bra production was announced early in the Kennedy Administration. This story described a new process for creating a molded, seamless bra.
“Circulation: The Panty-Girdle Problem” – February 12, 1965. This piece explained how panty girdles, worn too tightly, could cause circulatory problems in its wearers. In New York City, doctors determined these to be the causes of the foot and leg swelling (edema) suffered by two Manhattan women.
“Fashion: FASHION Zip — and Also Pop” – August 27, 1965. This brief review of the latest in women’s undies discussed the dual trends of lingerie’s shrinking coverage and its increasingly playful design meant “to be seen as well as to gird.”
“Modern Living: The Body Girdle” – March 27, 1972. This article announced the introduction of a new shapewear silhouette – the two-piece body girdle. Though the application of a special cream was recommended prior to putting it on, this nylon/spandex suit promised to combine control with a gentle massage.
“Girdle Grapple” – April 6, 1981. This story told of a patent dispute between an inventor and a large underwear manufacturer. The dispute concerned a chemical process that made the fabric on the inside of girdle legs sufficiently sticky to hold up stockings, eliminating the need for garters.
“The Thing About Thongs” – October 6, 2003. This column conveyed a mother’s angst about the widespread trend, and accompanying peer pressure, among tweens and teens to wear thong and boy short panty silhouettes.
“Top 10 T-Shirt Worthy Slogans” – December 9, 2007. What was one of the best quotes from 2007? According to Time®, it was uttered by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as encouragement to White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino, who had to fill in for Press Secretary Tony Snow during his battle with cancer.