Fashion goes in cyles. Not so long ago girdles and corsets were objects of mirth – the lingerie that granny used to wear. Yet shapewear is suddenly cool again, clothing to be seen in!
Several factors underlie this growth in the popularity of shapewear – and the resurgence of burlesque as an entertainment plays a big role. The designer Jean Paul Gaultier also had a major influence when he resurrected the bullet bra, and satin shapewear generally, featuring them both on his perfume bottles and in his costume designs for Madonna. Suddenly shapewear is no longer an embarrassing secret but clothing to flaunt – underwear worn as outerwear is hitting the catwalks and nightclubs. Much of the current shapewear designs are modeled on fifties designs, for it was in this decade that Dior launched the ‘wasp waist’ look.
His couture fashion demanded a well-defined silhouette – at a stroke it was essential for any well-dressed lady to wear a girdle or corset simply to be able to wear what was currently fashionable. Retro shapewear, whilst paying homage to those fifties designs, brings them up to date with more modern materials. The rubber content of the material originally provided the elasticity of shapewear, but today lycra has supplanted rubber, offering controlled stretch. Lycra also eliminates the not uncommon problem of latex allergy and, importantly, can be made to offer increased support selectively in different places on a garment. However the features that typify the fifties shapewear, girdles, corsets and corselettes (all-in-ones) have been retained – the satin panels, the lace detailing and sexy sheer panels.
Girdle garter clips – how many? Look round the internet and you’ll find suspender belts (or garter belts if you are American!) with four six eight or more garters. Of course the minimum four will work fine, although six is probably ideal, and more than six will add a sexy frisson to the garment, but will take far longer to clip to the stocking top! Do remember that if you are looking to recreate the fifties look that six to eight garters will be preferable as you’ll also be wearing seamed stockings (fully fashioned if you are a purist!) – by wearing a garter belt with six or eight garters will give your stockings stability. It does not matter if a seamless stocking rotates a little in wear, but nothing looks worse than a stocking seam that snakes unevenly up the back, or side, of the leg!
Garter clip materials Much modern lingerie uses garter clips, with plastic both for the ‘frame’ and for the middle garter ‘button’. Be very careful ordering online as the buttons on some of the cheaper designs are poorly designed, and the frame is flimsy – making it almost impossible to hook the stocking to the garter, or the garter pops open during wear which can lead to embarrassment! The original designs used a metal frame for the garter with a rubber button. The better retro designs still use this arrangement that ensures that garter clip can hold the stocking securely, even when the welt of the stocking is relatively thick.
Attaching the stocking Yes there is a correct way to attach the garter to the stockings! It is sensible to wear thin cotton or nylon gloves when putting on stockings as particularly the genuine fifties vintage stockings can easily be snagged by the slightest roughness of the hands. The stocking should be put on the foot, then the material gathered and gently pulled up, carefully checking that the seam runs straight up the back of the leg. Now the rear garter should be clipped to the stocking – the garter and the clip should be positioned above the keyhole in the welt if the stocking is a fully fashioned variety, otherwise in line with the stocking seam. The remaining garters should then be attached, ensuring each strap drops straight down and not at an angle.
Retro or real vintage lingerie? Some people will only wear the genuine vintage whilst others are happy to wear the retro shapewear copies. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from knowing you are dressed in underpinnings with direct historic links – and it really makes an interesting topic at dinner parties – strangely enough it seems to intrigue men as much as women (or maybe not so strange!). However if you are thinking of going down the fifties lingerie route, be aware that lingerie of that era is not easily found in all sizes, it may have slight discolorations or other storage marks like rust spots. The flip side is that such vintage lingerie is likely to hold its value and if well looked after can be looked on as an investment you are able to wear!