In the service of femininity: American foundation garments from World War II to the 1970s Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Nelson, Cristina R.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • The gendered practice of shaping women’s bodies into culturally-accepted feminine silhouettes is a historical and universal practice. It is a practice that is fundamental to the construction of femininity. Beginning with corsets, which were supplanted by brassieres and girdles beginning in the early twentieth century, foundation garments are one of the objects that shape female bodies. This dissertation examines the intersection of foundation garments and the impetus to shape and contain women’s bodies from World War II to the late 1960s. During World War II foundations assumed additional meanings; discourse focused on their role as protectors of a femininity that was endangered as women assumed male work and social roles because of the war. In addition, foundation ads and discourse took on patriotic overtones. By the dawn of the 1970s, foundations had become smaller and less-constricting, thanks in part to the fabric and technological advances begun during the war, which relevant industries connected to advances in femininity. Advertising was key to promulgating visions of control and containment during the 1950s and early 1960s, redoubling the foundations industry’s traditional emphasis on connecting its goods to youth and beauty. Corsetieres were other key contributors to the foundation industry’s construction of femininity. Key among their customers were young baby-boomers. Beginning in the late 1940s, affluence gave teens unprecedented spending power, and the foundations industry seized upon them as god mines. As much as they sought to shape young teens, both physically and as customers, corsetieres reached their apex during mid-century, only to fall prey to the vagaries of self-service shopping, a trend especially prevalent among the youngsters they courted. From corsets to the light garments on the 1960s, and the adoption on internal girdling through diet and exercise, the idea of shaping female bodies to current standards of femininity has been an enduring process. Foundations consumption took place within the complex interactions among a number of actors: the fashion and foundations industry (including corsetieres), technology, and advertising, all of which operated within an ideological framework.
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  • In Copyright
  • Filene, Peter G.
  • Open access

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