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From Corset to Torsette: 100 Years of International Women’s Day

8 Mar

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By Adam Welsch
Naomi & Nicole®

Today is International Women’s Day.  First celebrated in a few European countries on March 19, 1911, the date was changed to March 8th in 1913 and today is observed in more than seventy countries around the world.  Originally, its purpose was to generate support for the fight by women to obtain the rights to vote and hold political office, end gender discrimination, and improve working conditions, pay, and employment opportunities.  It evolved into a day to note the ever-increasing gains made by women in social, political, and economic realms, and mark their attainment of legal equality (or growing equality, in some countries) with men.  Since this is a blog about bras, panties, and shapewear, however, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to recognize the tremendous improvements in intimate apparel women have enjoyed since International Women’s Day was first celebrated one hundred years ago.

To begin, ask yourself this question: On March 8, 1911, what would I have been wearing under my outfit?  The first thing to think about was that 1911 marked the first year that underwear was advertised in the print media.  Given that radio was in its early infancy, and television and the internet had not yet been born, your knowledge of what underwear options would even have been available would’ve been limited to what you saw for sale in stores, what you saw close friends or relatives wear, or what you heard about via word-of-mouth.

The corset, of course, was still the foundation undergarment worn by women in 1911.  Fortunately, the S-bend corset, which forced the bust forward and the backside backward, had recently dropped out of fashion.  But corsets, still lightly-boned but no longer covering the bust, had by now become longer, extending almost down to the knees.  Wearing these would’ve made it difficult for you to sit down.  1911 also saw the introduction of the elastic corset, precursor to the more modern girdle.  Chemises, or loosely-fitting undergarment tops, were also still worn.

Modern panties, as we know them today, didn’t exist.  On your bottom half, you probably would’ve worn something like knickers or bloomers, baggy underpants (often made of cotton or flannel) that gathered at the waist and fell to the thighs or knees.  You still would’ve worn a petticoat under your long dress, but at least you no longer would have had to wear several at once.

Next, keep in mind that Mary Phelps Jacob’s receipt of a patent for the first modern brassiere was still three years away.  Though various garments for covering the breasts had been in existence since the late nineteenth century, and the bust bodice had now become the primary means of breast containment, none yet were available that delivered the kind of support associated with the modern bra.

Fortunately, your intimates choices today bear little resemblance to those on offer a century ago.  An unbelievable variety of bras now exists in sizes to properly fit and support every woman.  Panties are made in a wide range of silhouettes, colors, styles, and fabrics, most infinitely more comfortable than the knickers and bloomers of the Edwardian Era.  And for those of you who choose to wear modern shapewear (and the choice alone to do so marks a dramatic change from the days of compulsory corsetry), a firm control torsette is about as different from an S-curve corset, as an SUV is from a Model T.  So, while advances in underwear can’t be compared to all of the political, legal, and economic advances women have enjoyed since 1911, they’re a small reminder of how daily quality of life has improved for so many women around the world.

To help mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, here’s a video featuring many remarkable women from the last 100 years.  It runs for a little more than 100 seconds.

Which of the following women do you most admire?

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CC Image courtesy smemon87 on flickr CC BY 2.0
CC Image courtesy Tony the Misfit on flickr CC BY 2.0

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