Friday, October 03, 2008

A trip on the wayback machine

When people warn you that anything you post to the Internet is now out there forever, take that warning seriously.

Thanks to Rudy Amid, I visited Google's wayback machine, which is an index of pages from 2001. There, I found an old resume I'd posted online, along with several clips of stories I'd written for the newspaper, back when I worked for a chain of community newspapers.

For your reading pleasure (?), I've copied one story below. It's certainly not Pulitzer caliber, but I thought it was fun to revisit. This story also makes me smile because when it ran in the newspaper, it actually generated a letter of complaint from an older woman who thought it was too salacious for a family newspaper.

Past, Present, Future?

Retrospective show takes a look at the foundations of fashion

By Haley Hughes (Press Publications; Nov. 15, 1996)

The Waist Eliminator, Body Re-Former, Tummy Terminator. The names sound modern, but the idea isn't.

These are current foundation garments to shape the body – an idea that harkens back to the corset and the girdle. But the difference is that these new garments won't make your body do anything unnatural – at least that's what fashion historian and designer Joyce Baran says about today's shaping garments manufactured under the Smoothie brand of Strouse Adler Co.

"It's not like the girdle was earlier. We're not making the body do anything it doesn't want to do," Baran said.

"There's been incredible change [in the industry]," said Baran, who has been in the business for 30 years. When she started her first job, women wore rubber girdles, and in the summer they would put powder on the inside so they could get into them.

On a recent afternoon, Baran presented a fashion show at Nordstrom in Oakbrook Center featuring antique lingerie, current shapewear fashions and conceptual future shapewear.

The antiques turned up while the Strouse Adler Co. was restructuring its headquarters. Behind a wall was found a box of sample foundations and corsets dating back to the company's first garment - the C/B corset, manufactured in 1861. Since the discovery, a fashion show and retrospective was put together and has been touring major department stores around the country.

The corset

In 1861, the "hourglass" figure was the ideal. A tiny waist was desired, and often achieved with the help of the corset.

Worn over a chemise, the corset laced up the back and bones from whales were used for reinforcement. The C/B brand name for the corset reflects this technology – the "C" being the Roman numeral for 100 and the "B" standing for bones – it featured 100 whalebones.

A woman would put this corset on, Baran explained, and every day tighten it more.

"They had an obsession with achieving an 18-inch waist," she said.

Women who wore these garments found some benefits: The corset provided back support and demanded good posture, making the woman stand straight and letting everything fall into its right place, Baran said.

But, corsets were also misused, some women striving for a too-thin waist for their body – sometimes 13 inches – resulting in fainting spells, bruised and broken ribs, and other problems.

"This is what women wore. This is what was going on at the time," Baran said. "If Paris said you had to have an hourglass shape, you did that."

With improvements in technology, the whalebone was replaced by the watchspring.

And, as the desired shape of women changed, so too did corsets. By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of this century, corsets were still in demand, but he desired silhouette was no longer the "hourglass," it was the "kangaroo" shape – full bust, straight front and distended hips.

The '20s and '30s

World War I was over, and women were working for the right to vote – it was time for a change. Gone were the "hourglass" and the "kangaroo." It was now the vogue to have a boyish figure with a flattened chest.

While this meant new freedom for a lot of women, for others it didn't, Baran said. Women with curves sought to flatten their chests and hips, plus, unless you were 18 years old, you wouldn't want to Charleston in just your tap pants.

This desired silhouette was achieved with the help of rubber yarn called Lastex, which had two-way stretch properties. These flattened the chest and hips, and featured a belly band around the waist.

Then the '30s hit, and while the nation may have been dealing with the Great Depression, the fashion world now had the Smoothie brand, foundations that smoothed the figure. Glamour and status were the key words.

The '40s and '50s

Then, the men went away to fight World War II.

"Women, out of practicality, had to take over where men took off," Baran said.

But, when the men returned from the war, they brought home the idea of the ideal women being very statuesque, probably influenced by pinup girls during the war, Baran said.

"Men returned from the war and they wanted the women to look like the bombs they had left behind," Baran said. The bras looked like the nose cone of an airplane, and could be worse to get into than the whalebone corset, Baran said.

Bras and innerwear had never been so distorted since the turn of the century, she said, and such role models as Donna Reed, June Cleaver, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield all perpetuated it.

The '60s, '70s and '80s

By the end of the '50s, Lycra had been introduced, requiring half the fabric as Lastex to provide the same support.

But, by the end of the '60s, foundations saw a huge revolution. Many women wanted more freedom than ever, burning their bras and going au naturel.

Baran said that throughout the '70s and '80s there was confusion about how women should look. Women tried to camouflage themselves and fit in, with the typical business attire being a gray suit with frilly bows at the collar.

The '90s 'attitude'

But things have changed. The words to describe the shapewear business today are "comfort" and "attitude," Baran said.

"If it's not comfortable, you're not going to wear it," she said.

That comfort is achieved by having panels that help the body's muscles achieve a toned look. For instance, Baran said, a garment may have panels corresponding with the back and abdominal muscles to help achieve a tiny waist.

"We're using these panels to imitate your muscles," she said.

And, the women who wears these garments isn't necessarily overweight or flabby. Instead, she is a woman who wants to look sleeker, more toned, and have her clothes fit better, without a lot of lines showing, Baran said.

"Our customer today is defined by attitude, not age," she said. "It's only been in the past 10 years where attitude has come into play."

That attitude brings with it some new vocabulary, such as the shlipp. "A shlipp is a shaper that lets you slide into your clothes," Baran said.

A lot of women discover smoothing a short time after having a baby, Baran said. The women have lost the weight, but her body needs toning.

Here's where the shaper comes in. "This does what your diet doesn't. It takes over where the gym left off," Baran said.

The shaping garments of today borrow from the past, some of them imitating the look and appearance of the classic garments, but they are definitely modern.

"It took 130 years to get here, and it's not going to go back," she said.

The future?

But if the past was whalebone and the present is Lycra, what could shape the future of shapewear?

The fashion show at Nordstrom featured two garments and represent Baran's visions for the next century.

"I believe technology is racing light years ahead of us," Baran said, but she went on to warn: "This is a total prototype."

The first garment would let the wearer dial in her ideal size, and the garment would do the rest. Since the technology wasn't quit there yet, the prototype just illustrate the concept – measuring tapes around the bust, waist and hips.

The second concept borrows from the space program and law enforcement. It would employ a fiber named Kevlar, with is used in bulletproof vests, plus the panel used to cool the space shuttle as it enter the Earth's atmosphere.

The purpose? A "climate-controlled" shaper that comes equipped with a gauge to regulate the garment's temperature to the wearer's liking.


  1. that was a great article! I love hearing about the roaring twenties, thirties and forties :-)
    who knew there were whalebones in the first corsets?!


  2. I'm almost scared to search what else I've put out there on the internet.... :)

  3. Anonymous10/31/2008

    Great Article. check out this nice lingerie site:, they have very sexy pictures.


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