“Without proper foundations there can be no fashion.” Christian Dior
Dior may be referencing many things here but what caught my attention is just how little attention we pay to that most important clothing item of all, our underwear. And no I am not necessarily talking about the thong versus the granny knickers debate, although that scene from the first Bridget Jones’ movie will forever be indelibly inked on my mind, thanks Hugh; but more the role said undergarments ought to play in creating our overall look. Historically underwear was designed with three goals in mind – for modesty and hygiene purposes and to change the shape of the body. These rules applied to the underwear of both genders and the latter adapted to the fashions of a particular time. The word corset entered the English language around 1828 when the popular and fashionable silhouette was the hourglass; a narrow waist and exaggerated bust and hips. The corset, albeit in changing styles – the girdle, the waist cincher – has remained popular since that time until the late 1960s when a more free flowing mood seeped in and the idea of such ridge undergarments became synonymous with a type of misogyny akin to the feet binding traditions in Asia. And although I am not in favour of a return to clothing that in any way limits a woman’s movement or capability, I do lament that when we threw out the bath water, the baby and all the fun toys that keep them occupied and entertained, went with it. Talking about corsets can result in a litany of potential health hazards as for some a corset automatically conjures up that image of the lady’s maid tightening the strings until such a point as to making breathing difficult. But that is a misconception. Foundation garments like a corset or a girdle, not only help create a shape, they also and more importantly, effect the way you stand and carry yourself. They can create the illusion of a smaller waist or accent the existing contrast between the bust and waist. It isn’t so much about entering the Guinness World Records for the smallest waist,( which by the way is currently held by American Cathie Jung who is 5 foot 8 with a corseted waist measurement of 15 inches!) but about smoothing out the middle and giving the proper support to the female or male body. For lovers of vintage clothing the importance of the correct undergarments can not be understated. If you want to pull off a look, whether it’s 20’s, 40’s or 50’s you need to go beneath the surface and wear what they wore, be it a girdle, a crinoline or a bullet bra. Clothes from times past were made to be worn with such underwear and really don’t look so good without them. When I first got into vintage I remember trying on a few 50s dresses and couldn’t figure out why they just didn’t look right, especially around the bust. Surely not everyone from that era was blessed with bigger boobs? Then I discovered the secret – the right bra, aka the bullet or the torpedo bra; bras that offer full support with cups in the shape of a paraboloid with an axis perpendicular to the breast. Suddenly even I would have been able to give Lana Turner a run for her money, and that I can assure you, is no small feat! But what lies beneath isn’t just relevant for wearing vintage, the right foundation is just as important for anything you wear, just like the right foundation is important for anything you build. There are plenty of options from Spanx, a brand of body shaper some folks swear by, to the more traditional girdles and it is important to get the right size so that the desired result is achieved. But when you do, you will realise that not only do you look more shapely, more toned, you will feel more womanly(or manly) and proud of your curves, your body. It’s an instant lift, literally and metaphorically; the ultimate pick-me-up!And let me assure you that if you can suffer through the pain and discomfort of thongs and the Thong Song, a corset or girdle will seem like a walk in the park!