Help me Betty Draperize myself, sartorially speaking!
March 18, 2014 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to reduce my waist measurement temporarily, in order to wear dresses from the 1950s and early 1960s?

When I wear vintage from the late 1950s and early 1960s, my waist is on occasion a bit too large, proportionally. This is not a problem for me in modern clothing (in fact, in modern clothing my problem is quite the reverse), which suggests to me that the issue could potentially be one of undergarments rather than one of my body shape. A while back, I had toyed with the idea of getting some sort of corset or waist-cincher, but they seem expensive, uncomfortable, too hot for summer, and probably overkill. Is there anything more comfortable and less extreme that I could use to take 1-3 inches off my waist, temporarily (probably closer to 1")? I'd prefer it just for my waist, as I also don't want to take any inches off my hips if possible. If it matters, I'm a medium size (I generally wear dresses with a 28" waist - sometimes 27"; many of the 50s dresses that fit elsewhere would be better on me if I had a 26" waist). I thought about looking around on Etsy/Ebay for foundation garments from that period, but I'm not sure where to start, or whether there might be better modern alternatives. What are my options here, if any? I'm open to any ideas beyond undergarments too. Also, what kind of underwear did women wear in the Mad Men era, anyway, to make the dresses I'm finding fit - or were they just shaped differently 50 years ago?
posted by ClaireBear to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What about a maternity belly band? It's basically a compression sleeve for your abdomen.
posted by stopgap at 12:07 PM on March 18, 2014

Corset or waist cincher is exactly what you're looking for. It is not comfortable.

Another option would be to go in the opposite direction and use crinolines/padding/etc to make your bust and hips appear larger in proportion to your true waist size.
posted by telegraph at 12:07 PM on March 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have one of these and it's surprisingly not awful.
posted by janey47 at 12:11 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

A girdle or a long-line bra is the era-specific option to smooth and slightly narrow the waist.

The conventional wisdom is that women ARE shaped differently than they were in the 50s and 60s - most of us are heavier overall, but we're also more active and have more built-up abdomen muscles than women did then.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:25 PM on March 18, 2014

I've also heard good things about the Flexees. I have one of these and don't find it uncomfortable. YMMV, of course - it might help to either try a bricks-and-mortar place or pay close attention to a web store's return policy. And make sure to take accurate measurements.

If you go the corset route, that's one place etsy can be your best friend. A properly-fitted corset or steel-boned waist cincher, custom-made for your body, can actually feel great.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2014

Yup, a girdle/corset/flexees kind of thing is what you need to wear The New Look.

I found some nice corsets at Fredericks of Hollywood of all places.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:38 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Girdles are era-appropriate, and sweet heavens to betsy how women wore them every day I don't know: I'm just glad I came in on the tail end of the dang things! And they wore stockings, not pantyhose: pantyhose hadn't been invented yet. But back then, girdles all came with clips for those stockings to hook onto.

By the way, if you haven't noticed, '50s bras were built to give a different shape than modern bras: back then, the goal was to get a pair of clearly separated, very high and sharply-pointed cones, in comparison to the somewhat more curved and natural shape desired nowadays.
posted by easily confused at 12:43 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are going to do a full-on corset that you lace up, you'll need to be properly fitted and/or have it made for you. And (a problem that I hadn't thought of when I first got measured and paid half the cost for a custom-made corset) you'll need someone to help lace you up when you put it on: this isn't something you can put on on your own!
posted by jrochest at 12:47 PM on March 18, 2014

I found you a source for Fifties lingerie. Lucy B's seems to do this. Including the aforementioned "Bullet Bra".
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:36 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A well-made custom-fitted corset can actually be quite comfortable (it supports good posture, so your back will hurt less) if you don't go overboard with tight-lacing.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2014

Credentials: I'm a corsetiere. Small-time, but I know my corsetry. And this is definitely a girdle situation. Corsets, the real ones, are some pretty serious underwear. They will suck you in and they won't move. I'm talking about the spring steel and coutil kind, mind you, not the cheap plastic-boned stretchy lace things most lingerie stores are pleased to call corsets. Those will fail to help you in the opposite direction-- they won't change your waist measurement at all, they'll just stretch, because that's not what they're for.

A girdle and long-line bra may not be comfortable compared to the complete freedom of movement we're used to, but they're going to be a lot less unpleasant than actual corsets can be for the inexperienced or occasional wearer. And, again, that's what's actually period. You might need a waspie to go full-on Dior magazine ad New Look, but normal people didn't do that. And a long-line bra and girdle, while I've never checked the price, will definitely be cheaper than a quality custom-made corset. Unless you have a friend who makes them. One can often get away with off-the-rack for waspies or cinchers, but I wouldn't try it for an underbust. (Well, I wouldn't try it again. I did try it. That is precisely why I learned to make my own.)

In short, totally girdle. A corset is so very much overkill for this application. (They are awesome for others, however.) And yay garter belt and stockings! I wear those a *lot*. And for you, they're even period!

(BTW, I always lace up my own corsets. But my shoulders may be especially flexible.)
posted by Because at 2:15 PM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Well, as someone with a lot of dresses from that period and a very flat chest, I think you're just buying the wrong dresses. The nice thing about dresses from that period is that you can buy them online and as long as they match bust and waist (and free hip) you're fine. I am absolutely sure there are dresses that match your measurements whatever they are. Maybe not as many as you would like, but enough. You can certainly wear a girdle but I really would not recommend trying to squeeze into an inch smaller waist, you'll just end up hating the dress after an hour or two and eager to get home and take the damn thing off. No fun. I've made the mistake of thinking I can just squeeze in for a night and ended up wasting too much money on stuff I never wore because of it, so take my advice and just don't buy it.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:10 PM on March 18, 2014

What about "shapewear?" I think it's more designed for heavier women, but maybe they sell something that does what you want. It's sold in the lingerie/underwear section I believe.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:18 PM on March 18, 2014

I can highly recommend the Rago 21 Waist Cincher. My waist is about 26.5" and this gets it down to 25" (I wear the size XS). It's not too uncomfortable to wear and is very era-appropriate if you like 50s silhouettes. The garter straps are detachable so you don't need to wear stockings with it.

I read an article awhile back which mentioned that the female cast of Mad Men wore Rago foundation garments. The company has been around since 1945.
posted by RubyScarlet at 2:55 AM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can second the Rago Waist Cincher recommendation. I wore one 24/7 for a couple months earlier this year, and it was surprisingly comfy-- still felt nice to get it off every now and again, but on a day-to-day basis I didn't really notice it.
posted by Bardolph at 5:25 AM on March 19, 2014

Hi, a bit late coming into this but if the dresses do not fit your waist, they don't fit. This is less to do with undergarments than it is to do with everyone's measurements not fitting standard sizes (for example, I have the opposite problem as you in that 50s dresses that fit my bust are often too large in the waist).

Generally you need to buy a size that fits your largest measurement of that size, not the smallest. For you this is the waist so you can get dresses that fit your waist (and then alter the bust if it is too large, or even just wear a very padded bra).

It may also be that the style you're looking at just isn't the best for your shape and you may need to try various dresses until you find the right type for you, if you don't want to have any tailoring done.
posted by Polychrome at 4:38 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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