Thursday, 1 September 2011

Underwear on Display

Funny enough the other night Vivien and I attended the Women's Institute meeting where the speaker was an amazing 74-year-old woman named Sadie the Bra Lady.  She started maybe 40 years ago with a dress boutique that sold bras, then realised that the need for fitting expertise was a gap (is that a pun?) she could fill.  Her energy - not to mention her figure - was inspirational.

However, this is still about the holiday that we took in June.  

Does anyone else remember quilted nylon robes?

Norma was quite surprised when I told her my Dad had been adopted.  Apparently his father's family didn't know, but his mother's did.  Anyhow, I asked Norma to help me find out more so she did the navigation to get us downtown to the Minnesota Historical Society.  The family history library wasn't open until later and so we browsed the museum and found this underwear display. 

It was entirely appropriate in my mind because I grew up knowing about the Munsingwear factory in Minneapolis.   This was part of my family history, not just about underwear or the history of Minneapolis!  I increasingly find things that are relevant to my life in museums.  I must have reached that time in life, eh?

Notice how this 1920s silk Step-in skims the body, contrasting with the figure-hugging Foundette from the 1930s.  During the Roaring Twenties, short, straight cut dresses allowed young women to do without the boned corsets their Victorian-era mothers had worn.  By the 1930s, however, clingy bias-cut dresses revealed more curves and required more control.

When Grandma and Grandpa would go up north to visit family, she always brought back a brown paper grocery bag or two full of nylon strips, usually in black and white, but one year in a bright orange. I've told you all about this before - probably several times. I'd forgotten the name of the factory, though, until now. 

The "New Look" introduced by Christian Dior in the 1940s emphasized a cinched waist and an hourglass figure.  As a result, corsets made a comeback... After glamourous Lana Turner wore a form-fiting corset in 1952's The Merry Widow, the nickname stuck. Legend has it that Turner found her version (not made by Vassarette) uncomfortable. "I am telling you," she is said to have proclaimed, "the merry widow was designed by a man. A woman would never do that to another woman."

 Anyhow we wandered around looking at old underwear to pass the time. 

I love the old fashioned adverts and of course most of this is from that 'inter-war period'.

Munsingwear made undergarments for everyone, not just women.  We saw plenty of these numbers on display at the State School.

It was this circular knitting machine that revolutionised the Munsingwear factory. The machines were made in the US between 1920 and 1939 and were part of what was called a 'vertical factory', meaning they did every step from raw material to finished product. This is in contrast to the way mills worked in Britain, where each had its special part of the entire process.  How do I know this?  From watching history programmes on the BBC...

Reminds me of an outsized overlock machine (serger).
Bill often remarks on the wide infinite variety of things I can get interested in...  I'm not always sure he means it as a compliment!


Rick Stone said...

Wait, I was just in Minneapolis and missed this? Aw shucks!

Mollie said...

I've heard of Sadie and I want to benefit from her expertise, she's so close!