Dress Down Sunday: Miss Pettigrew and the corsets

Dress Down Sunday -
a look at what goes on under the clothes

the book:

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

published 1938  chapter 13


Talk just happened….There was Joe’s career.

Corsets!’ said Joe. ‘There’s a lot of money to be made in corsets. If you can get in touch with the right people. I did. If you can take an inch of a woman’s… well, I won’t mention the place, but you can guess… you can make a fortune. Talk about the age of corsets being done! My eye! You’ve no idea how these society women fly to me to give them the perfect figure they lack naturally. Do you think Julian’s gowns would look the way they do without my groundwork underneath? No, sir, they wouldn’t. A protruding, well, dash it all, you can guess… back or front, could ruin the look of any creation.’

Miss Pettigrew sat fascinated. This was an amazing topic of conversation between a man and woman meeting for the first time, but she found it a thousand times more interesting than discussing the weather. It was not indelicate. It was Big Business.

observations: An earlier entry showed us Miss Pettigrew getting dressed to go to the nightclub where she meets Joe, and should be read to keep up with the plot. Joe tells her she has a splendid figure and asks how she does it. Miss P thinks ‘short food and continual nervous worry’ but replies ‘it’s natural.’

Figure-forming underpinnings change dramatically over the years – particularly with the development of new and lighter materials. It’s also true that whalebone was for hundreds of years used in corsets, and modern sensibilities would no longer allow that. But Joe is right that there’s a big difference between what people say and what they do – you can find 1930s writers busy saying corsetry is finished, but Joe is more convincing. (A future entry will feature another writer taking a line that Joe would disagree with.) And girdles and corselettes were disdained by young women in the 1970s, but somehow corset tops (which would have been seen as Victorian instruments of oppression to 70s feminists), and
Bridget Jones’s Big Pants, and items called bodysuits, all come calling these days.

Links up with: Corsets featured before
here and here, and Sylvia Plath describes the underwear needed to make a dress look good.

The picture is an advertisement for a corset company, and can be found on
Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I've just enjoyed devouring this book while recovering from surgery (started it in Pre-op room and it was PERFECT - so relaxing, amusing and engaging. Any qualms I had were banished as I was distarcted by Miss Pettigrew's hilarious observations.)

    Joe is easily my favourite character.


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