Corsets, and Girdles, and Garters, Oh My!

Hello Darlings!

Once upon a time my Mr. and I were week-ending in Vegas with friends. For some ridiculous reason we decided to dine at the Planet Hollywood formerly inside Caesar’s Palace. I know what you’re thinking, “with all the unbelievable restaurants in Las Vegas, how in the world did you end-up there?!” Well, let us just say, when it’s late (or early, depending on point of view), good decisions are hard to come by. At any rate, while waiting for a table, our little party wandered about eyeballing the Hollywood memorabilia, when what to my wondering eye should appear, but the loveliest little suit worn by none other than Lauren Bacall! Now friends, when I say little I mean little! I couldn’t fathom how a woman, who in my mind, was  larger than life could fit into a garment so small!

The suit in the Planet Hollywood exhibit was this Milo Anderson number Laren Bacall wore in “To Have and to Have Not”. It is frequently confused with the houndstooth suit she wore in The Big Sleep. This suit, however, has a much more exaggerated New Look waistline. 

The answer, one word, shape-wear… or is that two?

Now, I’m not suggesting shape-wear was the ONLY reason vintage clothes are so small. We were, generally speaking, smaller way back when. We were more active, we ate differently, and we were shorter too! And Ms. Bacall was indeed, a tiny woman. But shape-wear did play a significant roll in how clothes fit.


Sophia Loren in the Millionaires wearing all the things!

Yes, ladies, there was once a time when women put just as much thought and care into what they wore under their clothes as the clothes themselves. Different fads in fashion called for different undergarments. And, with the introduction of Dior’s New Look, the structured female form was back in a big way! It is for this reason why so many women become frustrated by vintage shopping. Many of the really high quality dresses seem to have an impossibly exaggerated hourglass shape. Frustration comes when we look for vintage fashions with modern eyes and forget our fashion history. If you, no matter what your size, want that lovely vintage silhouette, then you’ll need to invest in some really good shape-wear. (Don’t you just love an excuse to shop?) After-all, those nipped in waists weren’t held by willpower!

The Corset

The Grand Dame of all shape-wear is the corset. No other undergarment is steeped in as much history and controversy as she. I could devote an entire diary entry (or eight) to the corset… perhaps someday I will. But, for now, I shall stick to the basics.


What I wouldn’t give to pay $14.75 for a real steel boned corset!

To acquire real waist reduction, a quality steel boned corset is a must. Depending on the wearers body type, a reduction of two to six inches can be achieved. Corsets come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and infinite style combinations. Corsetry is a true art-form, so when looking for a quality corset, be prepared to pay handsomely for it! Most are made by hand to your measurements and are extremely labor intensive. I also HIGHLY recommend going to an actual shop to be fitted in person for your first corset. Once you’re more familiar with fit and wear, you can go crazy shopping on-line. Sure, you can get a cheaper corset with flimsy plastic bones from a mass production lingerie dealer at the mall, but with a little research , you can find quality corsets for close to the same price.


As attitudes towards fashion began to change (thanks to the likes of designers like Coco Chanel), so too did the attitudes towards undergarments. The rigid form of the corset began to morph into the more flexible corselette thanks to new innovations like “lastex”. Seriously?! $1.98?! I need a Delorean and a Flux Capacitor.

The Girdle

A little less drastic, but no less alluring than the corset is the girdle. “Egads! Did she say girdle?” Yes, honey, I did! I realize the name sounds decidedly unsexy (kind of like “granny panties”), but the girdle, especially the open bottom variety, oozes with sex appeal and pin-up charm. The girdle comes in as many styles and sizes as the women who wear them—full body corselettes, or open bottom half girdles, girdle panties, with or without garters—the options are endless! Most girdles use mesh or power net and spandex and/or rubber to slim and smooth the figure. The corselette has a built-in bra to aide in the enhancing of the bust while eliminating any bulges in the mid section. The girdle is by far the best way to hold up those fully fashioned stockings as it will not move or sag no matter how active you are!


Jantzen today is mostly known for their swimwear, but they were also makers of lingerie. The two aren’t so very different.

The Garter Belt

If the girdle is a bit much for you and you want something a bit more diminutive to keep those stockings in check, then a garter belt is for you. Those flimsy little things one finds in standard lingerie retail shops will not do the job! Those are for the boudoir, not for galavanting around the city streets. In no time at all that poor excuse for a slingshot will start to fall and you’ll be stuck with sagging stockings… not sexy! Instead, opt for a garter belt made specifically for holding up fully fashioned stockings. They are just as (if not more) lovely than their scant counterparts and a whole lot more effective!


I love vintage advertisements. They are a window into a world long gone.

The Bullet Bra

No feature on shape-wear would be complete without mentioning the holy grail of vintage lingerie… the Bullet Bra! The mere mention of it invokes the memories of Bettie Paige and scandalous B movies like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Kitten with a Whip. Paired with a waist cincher, the bullet bra creates dynamite curves—protruding bust, nipped in waist, full bottom—the thought just curls my toes! Now, you may not believe me when I say this, but the bullet bra can actually minimize the larger bust, sometimes even a whole cup size. Because it pushes out rather than up, a slightly subduing effect can occur. So, for all you busty dames out there, it’s best to go up a cup size and down a band size if you can. For the same reasons stated above, the bullet bra will enhance the smaller bust. No matter what size you boozums, you’ll want to use bullet bra pads to fill in the ends of the bra cups. This will keep your sweater from mashing in your bits!


Look closely and you will see the spiral stitching on the bra cups. This is the hallmark of a true bullet bra. Also, can we just take a moment to admire the alligator’s terrific form and turnout?

If a bullet bra is a bit too extreme for your tastes, look for bras with a three seam cup (my go to bra). They give a perkier and more pointed shape keeping in-line with a vintage look without poking anyone’s eyes out. Avoid molded cups. A round bust is a decidedly modern silhouette.


A corset I had custom made years ago, still very much in fantastic condition. This one was used for a fetish shoot, so I requested to have the modesty panel left out. 

Well, there you have it, dearies. I trust you’ve enjoyed our little tete-a-tete on shape-wear. I do hope you find fabulous pieces to spice up your wardrobe and your life! Hang the recession! Go shopping, you deserve it! I leave you with a few of my favorite places to shop for shape-wear.


Dolly Marlowe

Now for some of my favorite places to shop:

What Katie Did – The Morticia corset is on my wishlist (Blast you, spending freeze!).

LoriAnn Costume Design – from gothic to steam punk & everything in-between (my pictured corset was made by Lori Ann).

Melon Sweet Cheeks – Hand made (super cute) lingerie… LOVE her bullet bras!

Dottie’s Delights – If you crave vintage inspired couture, Dottie’s Delights is for you… oh how I wish I lived in Chicago!

Secrets in Lace – Not only do they have a magnificent section of shape-wear, but a wonderful stocking selection as well!


Orchard Corset – A new favorite of mine. Beautiful and functional steel boned corsets at unbelievable prices (that sounds a bit car salesmany, but it is nonetheless true). 



3 thoughts on “Corsets, and Girdles, and Garters, Oh My!

  1. Even though I have most of these, you are making me want to spend more. But, I need to save my funds. I’m purchasing a vintage suit this Friday! Whoot!

    It took me a while to find one with a skirt I could wear. Made me wish I had a waspie. I have corsets, including a customs, girdles, garter, longline bras, etc. The hour glass used to be so extreme that in most cases, they fit my bust and hips, but not my waist. I’m already pretty much a natural hour glass. It’s just my waist is thicket.

    I actually don’t like extreme bullet bras and I despise the look of rounded modern bras. What? Are you wearing two cereal bowls on your chest? I tend to look for bras with that center seam that have more of a natural boob shape. Hello lingerie world, our boobs aren’t round!

    • I know what you mean. We just bought a new house and I’m on a spending freeze until we move. When researching for new lingerie companies to feature, I was drooling over all of the lovely dainties! When this freeze is lifted, I may need another dresser for all the new shapewear I’ll be hoarding!

  2. Pingback: Baby it’s Cold Outside | The Dolly Marlowe Diaries

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