The word girdle originally meant a belt. In modern English the term "girdle" is most commonly used for a form of women's foundation wear that replaced the
Historically and in anthropology, the girdle can be a scanty belt-shaped textile for men and/or women, worn on its own, not holding a larger garment in place, and less revealing than the
loin-cloth, as was used by Minoan pugilists.
Constructed of elasticized fabric and sometimes fastened with
hook and eyeclosures, the modern girdle is designed to enhance a woman's figure. Most open-bottom girdles extend from the waist to the upper thighs. In the 1960s, these models fell from favor and were to a great extent replaced by the panty girdle. The panty girdle resembles a tight pair of athletic shorts. Both models of girdles usually include suspender clips to hold up stockings.
Girdles were considered essential garments by many women from approximately 1910 to the late 1960s. They created a rigid, controlled figure that was seen as eminently respectable and modest. They were also crucial to the
couturier Christian Dior's 1947 "New Look", which featured a voluminous skirt and a narrow, nipped-in waistline, also known as a wasp waist.
Later in the 1960s, the girdle was generally supplanted by
pantyhose. Pantyhose replaced girdles for many women who had used the girdle essentially as a means of holding up sheer nylon stockings. Those who want more control purchase "control top" pantyhose. Many women forgo wearing girdles, stockings, and pantyhose entirely.
Girdles and "body shapers" are still sold to women who want to shape their figure with a garment. Some of these garments incorporate a
brassiereand thus become functionally equivalent to a corset. However, they do not incorporate boning and hence do not produce the constricted waistline characteristic of Victorian-era corsets.
Girdle in literature
literature, girdles are often portrayed as magical, giving power and strength if worn by men, and protection if worn by women. Many scriptures in the Bible point to the use of a girdle as a means of protection. Ishtar, a Babylonian Goddess, wore a fertility girdle, which, when it was removed, rendered the universe infertile. Herculeswrestled with the Amazon queen for her girdle in his Greek myth. Aphroditeand Venus also wore girdles associated with lecheryin later poetry.
For men a girdle was often used to hold weapons. It also gave them freedom to move in a fight, unlike other types of clothing. both of these are thought to carry the connection of power to the man's girdle in literature. For example,
Odysseuswears a girdle which allows him to swim for three days straight, and a girdle worn by Thordoubles his strength.
Later on, for women, the girdle became a sign of
virginity, and was often considered to have magical properties. Monsters and all types of evil are recorded as being subdued by girdles in literature, a famous one being the dragon slain by Saint George. Marriage ceremonies continued this tradition of girdles symbolizing virginity by having the husband take the wife's girdle, and prostituteswere forbidden to wear them by law in historic France. Often in literature, women are portrayed as safe from sexual or other attack when wearing a girdle, but suddenly vulnerable if it is missing or stolen. [Friedman, Albert B., and Richard H. Osberg. "Gawain's Girdle as Traditional Symbol." The Journal of American Folklore 90.357 (1977): 301-15.]
Non-clothing uses in literature include Tolkien's "Girdle of Melian", a magical, protective "wall" surrounding an elven kingdom, and the metaphorical "girdle of righteousness" mentioned in the Bible, representing righteousness as a protection as well as something to be worn constantly.
The twentieth century women's girdle attracts various references in literature, often in a disparaging way. For example, Marilyn French in her classic book, "The Women's Room", is very critical not only of the girdle itself, but also of the virtual compulsion to wear one, a compulsion which existed until the late 1960s. In John Masters's "Bhowani Junction", once the mixed-race Victoria Jones decides to opt for an Indian rather than British persona, she rejects her girdle as a "western garment".
Like its predecessor garment, the corset, the girdle attracts a degree of eroticism. Some men like to wear female girdles, and/or find women attractive in them. In addition, the Australian feminist writer,
Beatrice Faust, in her book "Women, Sex and Pornography" refers to a "slight but sustained feeling of arousal" when wearing a "moderately tight" girdle. The subject is discussed in the Web site [http://www.girdlezone.org Zona: The Girdle Zone] .
American football, a girdle is a piece of clothing that is worn under the football pants to keep the hip, thigh, and tailbone pads in place, making the process of putting on the tight football pantseasier. Older girdles resembled chaps, in that they covered only the front of the leg with pads, that snapped on. Modern girdles are essentially a tight pair of compression shortswith pockets for the pads. The girdle was also used in the Mesoamerican ballgameand is used in hockey ( National Hockey League).
As a liturgical
vestment, the girdle, also known as a cincture, is a long, rope-like cord tied around the waist over the alb.
* [http://www.girdlezone.org ZONA- The Girdle Zone] Scholarly site on girdle history
* [http://corsetinformation.com Corset Information Website]
** [http://corsetinformation.com/girdles_images_xara.html Photos of Girdles]
** [http://www.corsetinformation.com/girdles.htm More Girdles]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.