how and where to buy a perfect vintage style girdle and retro shapewear

Today I'd like to talk a little about vintage girdles- what they are, how to get a great fit and where to find quality, affordable girdles. Today, the word "girdle" makes us think of an uncomfortable, confining, matronly torture device reserved for grannies but there was a time when every woman and young girl wore them daily.

where to buy a vintage retro pin up girdle

What is a Girdle?
Most historians believe that girdles were invented in the early 1900s by fashion designer Paul Poiret. Poiret's designs clung to a lady's hips, waist and bottom and demanded a smooth silhouette to look complete. Poiret's modern undergarment quickly took over for the old fashioned corset.

antique 1900s corset girdle lingerie photo and advertisement

Why wear a girdle today?
The girdle is making a come-back as women try to shape their figures when exercise and diet cannot. Shapewear is essential to achieve a vintage silhouette and I find that my vintage garments fit much better. has this to say about wearing girdles: "Even a very comfortable girdle will improve a woman's posture, helping her to stand and sit straighter (this may account, to some extent, for the improvement in alertness). A woman wearing a girdle will walk and sit with a charming, careful grace that is distinct from the impressions produced by ungirdled informality.

In addition to the pleasant tactile feeling of a girdle, many women enjoy the "vintage" feeling, the sense of dressing and moving like the truly classy Hollywood actresses." A girdle is like a great fitting bra. It is the foundation to any incredible outfit and will give the wearer support and confidence to look and feel her best.

 According to frequent girdle wearers, if you have never worn a girdle, be patient and try it at least a few times before deciding to hate them. A proper fitting undergarment is essential to girdle wearing success.

1950s girdle bullet bra garter belt lingerie color catalog advertisement

Girdle Sizes
Although it may be tempting to buy a girdle a size or two smaller, it's important to choose a comfortable, well fitting girdle. If it's too tight, it will be painful, cause bulging and may damage the it.

Modern lingerie shops will include sizing information on their websites and typically go by waist and hip size. They usually mention weather or not their girdles are true to size and how to order if between sizes. Vintage sellers should provide waist, hip and length measurements.

For a firm but comfortable fit, I choose girdles no smaller than 1-3 inches from my original waist and hip size. A note on length- the girdle should hit below the fullest part of your thigh. If its too short or too long, it will be uncomfortable.

Types of Girdles

waist girdle: this girdle slims and shapes the waist and hips. It may extend below the bust or just around the belly button. Waist girdles are typically open bottom and are meant to be worn with stockings.  

 A good choice for- pairing with a long-line bra for the support of an all-in-one and easier bathroom access.

full body girdle or all-in-one: this girdle covers the entire torso, bust  and around the hips. They may have an open or closed bottom.  
A good choice for- slimming the whole body and supporting the breast under that special occasion dress

panty girdle: a knit- type panty with strong tummy support. Panty girdles may extend all the way to the under-bust or go up to the belly button like a regular pair of panties. Some panty girdles have longer legs like shorts to smooth the upper thigh. 
A good choice for- daily wear and smoothing the belly while wearing high waist trousers. Panty girdles may also be worn without stockings.

Washing and Storage
To prolong the life of your girdle, always hand wash and lay flat to dry. Use a mild detergent and be careful to not let metal hooks and zippers rust by soaking too long. I store my girdles folded longwise in a drawer so that boning won't be bent and fabric stays nice

Buying Vintage Girdles
Before buying a vintage girdle, make sure that the powernet isn't stretched out or dry rotted. The elastic in the garters and little rubber bits may also stretch or break down over time. Check zippers and hooks for rust and make sure that seams are strong.

1940s pink french girdle corset vintage advertisement

Wearing a Girdle and Using the Bathroom
This may be a bit TMI but we are discussing underwear here, so let's get real. One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to vintage girdles is "how do you go to the bathroom?" It seems that every lady has her method so here are a few to try:

  • If wearing a panty girdle with or without garters, just pull it down to go, pull up when done and make sure your seams and garters are straight. Some ladies can do this while wearing a regular open bottom girdle too, it just depends on the girdle and the wearer. Also, some panty girdles have a split crotch that can be opened to use the bathroom but I'm not confident enough in my ability to not make a mess so I can't advise much on that subject...pee through the hole at your own risk, I guess! 

  • If wearing a garter belt and stockings, wear your panties or tap pants over the garter belt. Pull the panties down and proceed as usual, without the need to unhook the garters. You can find very affordable cotton or nylon tap pants and bloomers for this method.

  • If wearing a full girdle or open bottom that covers a lot of your bottom, try unhooking the back garters and lift the back of the girdle up as you sit. Hook stockings and garters back when you're done and straighten seams.

  • Some ladies don't wear panties at all while wearing a girdle or if they do, they wear a thong or something small that you can pull to the side without having to remove anything.

 If you choose to wear a girdle, don't forget to wear a slip to protect your beautiful clothes from metal zips and hooks, which may cause snags. This also helps to smooth out any lines or small bumps from hooks and seams.

Girdles During Pregnancy

They absolutely did wear maternity girdles back then and we still have similar products on the market today. Vintage maternity girdles had pleats or laces that could be let out for a growing belly. Like today's maternity belts, they offered back and belly support and even helped to lift the weight of a low-sitting baby off of the pelvis. While I was pregnant with my son, he was so low that I could barely walk without horrible pain so my ob recommended a maternity belt. It helped me so much that I passed it on to my sister in law when she was expecting and she loved it too.

A maternity girdle is not meant to be worn to shape and compress the body but to provide support and relief for the mother from the weight of the growing belly. This ad says

"This easy adjustment provides firm support and yet allows for the natural spread of the waist when seated...Not a heavy harness, it assures mother's comfort and security and allows for normal activity without tiringly restrictive binding."

vintage 1940s 1950s maternity pregnancy girdle corset

modern maternity pregnancy girdle
 Discuss benefits of modern pregnancy supports and when to stop wearing a regular girdle with your doctor.

Where to buy vintage style girdles

There are many online boutiques that carry gorgeous vintage and vintage inspired girdles. Here are a few of my favorite online boutiques.

Rago is a highly praised shape wear brand for their quality, vintage styling and affordable prices. Find these girdles and more from Rago on Amazon

affordable rago vintage style pin up girdles and garter belts

One of my favorite sources for retro underpinnings is Kuhmillion Lingerie. Kuhmillion carries several beautiful full body and open bottom waist girdles with great retro fabrics and details.

retro style pin up girdle and garter belts

You can find a selection of basic  plus size girdles at hips and curves  I'm in love with this beautiful garter belt!

plus size vintage style 1950s pin up girdle and garter belt

 Of course, I can't forget the perfect vintage reproduction girdles and garter belts from well loved lingerie brand, What Katie Did

what katie did vintage style pin up girdle and garter belt

For the brave and daring, you can also sew your own girdles for a custom fit and fabric of your choice. Check out the lovely pattern selection from Mrs Depew Vintage. I'm hoping to sew one of her new corselettes once I find a good source for just the right powernet. I love the idea of sewing your own because you can get the perfect length and firmness too, which can be a chore with pre-made girdles. Save 15% off with code VAVOOM at the register

vintage 1920s ,1940s, 1950s corset girdle sewing patterns

For more vintage underwear inspiration, see my pin board "mentionable unmentionables"

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