Before modern "miracle" foundations encased and squeezed women toward perfection there was the all rubber girdle. If you find foundations like Spanx suffocating, be thankful you're not wearing a rubber girdle. That's right, we're talking full on, all rubber girdles.
The origins of the all rubber girdle are hard to pin down. As one story tells it, in the 1920s Paul Poiret, a Parisian corsetier, handmade a special all rubber corset for dancer and trendsetter Irene Castle. The boneless garment was fashioned from glued and stitched surgical rubber, and allowed her to move with the fluidity, ease and grace that she and her husband Vernon were famous for. The flexibility and comfort promised by the revolutionary technique quickly gained popularity and it wasn't long until similar designs made their way into mass production.
On a side note, Irene and Vernon Castle truly were incredible trend setters and some of the first celebrities to license their names to product manufacturers. At the height of their popularity the Castle's had their name on everything from dance shoes to straight razors and a host of products in between. Irene Castle may also have been one of the first women to bob her hair, thus the style was christened the "Castle Bob" in her honor. Women throughout the world followed suit in her cutting edge Flapper footsteps. If you love dance, check out the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers flick "The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle, c. 1939. It's a great film with fabulous dance and awesome costumes. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog....
Rubber girdles were mostly produced in the 30s-50s along side other elastic and later nylon styles. Not all women were fans of the garment but those who were appreciated the smooth lines, tight compression, light weight and easy wear it offered, especially in comparison to the heavy-duty boned designs of the past. These girdles were marketed as being highly scientific and especially effective in shaping the body. The new designs quickly appeared all over the market from the high end English brand Charneaux to the Sears catalog, which featured styles made for the everyday woman. Poured from natural latex the girdles were often perforated allowing the skin to breath, lending slight comfort and an attempt at hygiene.
A Lane Bryant advertisement for all rubber girdles in 1937.
The most famous and collectible of the rubber girdles were made by Playtex. In 1940 Playtex introduced their first rubber style named the Living Girdle. This all rubber closed bottom pantie girdle constructed with ventilation holes along the crotch was billed as a flexible and lightweight modern alternative to other foundation garments.
Photographic advertisements employed a stroboscopic flash to demonstrate the garment's comfort and flexibly. Because doesn't everyone play badminton in their Playtex Living Girdle?
Like most other clothing companies, Playtex was hindered by the restrictions placed on resources during WWII. Nonetheless, as soon as victory was declared the brand returned to production, expanding the styles to appeal to the growing number of young female consumers. In 1949 they introduced the Pink Ice style. Sold in tubes, this design was thinner and paler than the Living Girdle and was only produced for one year. The similarly designed Fab-Lined was like the Pink Ice on the outside, but with the addition of a "fab lining" made of teeny tiny nylon yarn filaments. Sort of like a lint lining. Not very effective in the face of solid latex for keeping you dry. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a vintage Fab-Lined Playtex, but some smart shopper picked it up. Check out the archive for more details and a host of photos.
The Playtex Fab-Lined Girdle.
Playtex continued to make rubber girdles well into the 60s and early 70s. While a number of dedicated followers continued to buy and wear them, the rubber styles lost popularity as new materials such as Lycra forever changed the future of foundation garments.
Stay tuned for the final installment of girdle evolution: Lycra and its impact.