Saturday, June 23, 2007

Book passage/No Ordinary Time

After hearing this in my current audiobook, No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I was as amazed as I've ever been. Can you believe it? I am speechless.

In the summer of 1942, the accustomed rhythms of daily life were disrupted in every factory, business, and home by the institution of rationing and price control.

To ensure a sufficient amount of cotton and wool to supply the army with more than 64 million flannel shirts, 165 million coats, and 229 million pairs of trousers, the War Production Board mandated a new "Victory" suit for civilians, with cuffless trousers and narrower lapels. Reductions in the amount of cloth allowed also led to shorter, pleatless skirts, rising several inches above the knee, and to the creation of a new two-piece bathing suit.

Women took the loss of pleated skirts and one-piece bathing suits in stride, but when the rubber shortage threatened the continuing manufacture of girdles, a passionate outcry arose. Though government sources tried to suggest that "women grow their own muscular girdles by exercising," women argued that "neither exercise nor any other known remedy" could restore aging muscles to their original youthful tautness. Without "proper support from well-fitted foundation garments" to hold the abdomen in place, there was no way, journalist Marion Dixon argued in a contemporary health magazine, that a woman past thirty could keep her posture erect or do physical work without tiring. "Certainly," Dixon concluded, "Uncle Sam does not want American women to wear garments that would menace their health or hamper their efficiency, especially during wartime, when every ounce of energy and effort is needed."

The government heeded the women's cries. Not long after the first public discussion of curtailing girdles, the War Production Board announced that foundation garments were an essential part of a woman's wardrobe, and as such could continue to be manufactured, despite the precious rubber involved!

Ad in Good Housekeeping, 1934


  1. Nan - I guess the government had nothing to do with it this time, but I do not know of any women who wear 'girdles'. I used to wear a 'panty girdle' in my 20s and 30s, but why would we women want to wear such torture - it was worn with the mechanisms to hold up our 'nylons'. We have come a distance - I do wear panty hose or tights, but not a girdle in sight.
    Of course, I also remember when at 'that time of the month' you did not take a bath or wash your hair! So you see, the good old days were not always that good!
    We had a prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau who said words to this effect - "The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation!" I agree!

  2. Amazing, isn't it. I'm not a big one for the good old days. There was a lot of bad. I was astounded that women made such a ruckus about the girdles. At this time, some were working in factories and not getting paid what the men were. Why not protest that instead? And a "health" magazine telling readers what it did. Makes you wonder about all we hear now. :<)

  3. Did you know there was a shortage of nylons? Nylon was needed for the war effort, so nylon stockings were not available. Mother and other women I know, used makeup on their legs and an eyebrow pencil to draw on the seam, at the back of their "stockings".

    I haven't worn a girdle in years! Thank goodness!!

    Back Porch Musings

  4. Okay, that's an absolute hoot. I've read a lot about that era, and had never discovered this! Wow.

  5. Pat, I did hear about that in a book set in the 1940s. Amazing. We have come a ways, yes?! I can still remember my mom putting on her girdle. Think how hot summers must have felt for these poor women.

    Me, either, Grace, till this book. Imagine wanting to wear a girdle that much. I even hate the word. :<) Of course, when I mentioned this to my 22 year old son, what he remembers is Danny Glover in one of the Lethal Weapon movies wearing one and Mel Gibson making fun of him. :<)

  6. Nan, this is just so funny. My mom wore a girdle forever and got me my first one when I was about 12. Why I needed one at that time, I cannot know. Mom was one of the ones who drew the line on the back of her leg when she couldn't wear nylons during WWII as well. I don't even own a girdle now and I really, really hate to have to put on pantyhose. I try to get my skirts long enough that if I have to wear hose (not often at all), I can wear those kneehigh ones.

    Isn't it sad that we are all past 30 when women "can't" regain any of their muscle tone? Ha!

  7. Thanks for writing, Kay. While looking for a photo of a girdle, I came across a store manual for employees which told the difference in women's bodies at different ages and how to deal with customers of all ages. Fascinating. A piece of the past well over with, I'd say!


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