LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[The narrator is Beauty Editor at a fashion magazine]
The corset boys were very different from the hairdressers. They were good solid businessmen, easy to deal with and enthusiastic about their trade…
“Delighted to see you, Miss Gaskell,” [Mr Attenborough] greeted me one morning. “Have a glass of Madeira with me. I’m glad to say you’ll be the first person to see our new brassiere cups.” He pressed a bell. “Miss Simpson, bring me the new Dainty-Cup samples, will you please? Now Miss Gaskell, here we are. Five cup sizes – two more than the usual number – so there’s one for every figure. Egg Cup. Coffee Cup. Tea Cup. Breakfast Cup. Challenge Cup.”
He selected one of the larger cup sizes and held the bra up against his portly chest. “See what I mean?” he said. “But I can show it better on you.” And he transferred the bra from his chest to mine. Lovingly stroking the Dainty Cups into place. “We must find your exact fitting, so you’ll be the very first young lady in England to wear one. I should think you’d be a Coffee Cup.”
“How lovely,” I said enthusiastically. “Perhaps Miss Simpson would show me the fitting-room later on.” I was afraid he was going to insist on fitting me then and there…. “I must plan a special corset feature right away.”
observations: Where to begin with this? First of all, we should quote our lady journalist further: “he had no impure motives, he was just an enthusiast for his new product.” But really! It’s hard to think of a worse idea than calling your bra cups by these names, but fitting them onto a business acquaintance is probably one. Plus telling her she’s Coffee. Interesting that five cup sizes was seen as a lot – nowadays even the most routine bras come in far more sizes than that.
The book is a lightly-fictionalized version of the author’s life and career – a top journalist in her time, she also had several marriages. In the Mink has featured before: this Dress Down Sunday entry containing more details of the author's life; this entry has a fabulous photo; and a spot of orientalism here.
Links up with: Joe in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was another corset manufacturer, and in general corsets feature a lot on Dress Down Sunday – click on the label below for more. Louisa M Alcott was very exercised by the question of corsets, and we illustrated her with a very popular picture of a corset shop. And 135 years later, Laura Moriarty’s book The Chaperone also takes them very seriously.
The picture is an advert for Warners’ underwear (we used another of their ads on the blog here) and can be found at Wikimedia Commons.