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Lessons from Bea Danville: What goes underneath it all


Copyright 1956 by Wilfred Funk, Inc. 

When I was a teenager, my fabulous mother gifted me with this genius vintage book: Dress Well on $1 a Day by Bea Danville. I can't believe I left it behind when I moved, but my mother graciously sent it along to me so that I could remind myself of this wisdom. And now, I share this wisdom with all of you. [Click here to read previous installements from this series]

Today's lesson: Undergarments 
(or, as Bea calls them, "What goes underneath it all")


How important is your foundation? It is perhaps the most important part of your entire wardrobe. The reason for this is that without the right clothes underneath, those on top will appear at a distinct disadvantage, as will your own figure.

Ever girl needs a foundation of some kind, even if she is a size 5 model. [Note: aw, how sweet! Models used to be size 5, and not size 00] It is true that the corsets and brassieres worn by the models bear little more than a superficial resemblance to those which support the size 52 matron. [Note: wait, I don't think I understand 1950s sizing. Size 52??] Nevertheless, however small they may be, all the haute-couture models wear a foundation, which is usually a power net roll-on. (Power net, as its name implies, is a strong, light, two-way stretch elastic. Don't be deceived by its apparent delicacy. A roll-on made in this material is quite effective enough to pull in the small or average figure) [Note: I think this is what they called Spanx in the 1950s]

[Note: If you're thinking, what does this 21st century blogger know about these old-timey undergarments? The answer is: I have done a lot of theatre in my past. Here is a pic from 2009 of me wearing a girdle, stockings with suspenders, a slip, and tying on this crazy fake shirt shenanigans.]

Before you buy a foundation, it is wise to stop for a moment and decide what purpose it must serve. Foundations have a dual function: first, to make your figure seem to be perfect by restraining it into a smooth line and, second, simultaneously to mold your figure into the current silhouette. As the Corset and Brassiere Council says on behalf of its manufacturer-members, "Once a silhouette is established, foundation garments enable you to wear it." [Note: I just did a quick Google search to see if the Corset and Brassiere Council still exists and... there is no evidence that it ever existed at all. Sadness.] So, as you can see, when you buy a corset or brassiere, you are buying much more than something to hold in your stomach or raise your bosom line.

What style of girdle should you wear?

It is rarely necessary for a girl to go to a custom corsettiere to be individually encased in a girdle. While this is a luxury that is pleasant to indulge in [Note: what in the what? Getting encased at a custom corsettiere does not sound as fun as, for instance, a nice mani/pedi], there are so many styles and types of corset available that one of them is almost sure to feel and look as though it were made specially for you. It is only if you have an unusually difficult problem that part of your budget money should be set aside for special corsetry.

[Me again here. Hi! She then goes into the different types of figures: the junior, the average, and the full. I don't think it's super important to post all that stuff here right now, as I don't imagine many of you are wringing your hands about which style of corset to buy.

This whole section makes me very glad to live in a time when you can just wear a big sweater and not worry too much about corsets. Although, Bea and I are in total agreement that if you don't have good undergarments, it can wreck your entire ensemble.]

To prove Bea's point, check me out in this other theatrical photo. You can't see that I'm wearing a girdle and stockings with suspenders, but it is apparent that my dress drapes in a very lovely manner - not being cut off with some sort of gauche pantyline or other grossness.

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