Body Magic: The new old corset
I like thumbing through old advertising cookbooks and was eyeing one by the Gold Medal Flour Co. at auction recently. It was part of a lot, and when it came up for bid, the auctioneer held up a peach-colored corset that was lying on top of the cookbook.
I had completely ignored the corset because it wasn’t something that I was interested in. But an auction regular – who buys vintage clothing, tablecloths and other such items – was. She outbidded me.
The corset reminded me of a conversation I had had with a friend who had recently bought the hot new diet-less way to trim your figure: Body Magic. That was the second time I had heard about this new undergarment. It purported to do what corsets had always promised: Give women an hour-glass figure.
I’ve worn a girdle or two in my adult life to flatten my tummy. Now, I try to eat the right foods, and I’m on the floor every morning doing yoga stretch exercises, along with stomach crunches. My tummy isn’t completely flat, but it’s not embarassing.
As women, how we look defines to a large degree who we are. If we don’t look good, we feel bad. And if our bodies bulge from the front, sides and upper arms, we hate ourselves.
That’s why a corset – not diet and exercise – is a quick fix that we eagerly latch on to.
I found Body Magic and the whole concept of corsets intriguing. So I paged through a few of my old women’s magazines from a half-century ago looking for ads telling women how to achieve the perfect look. Fashion magazines from around then were notorious for showing women’s clothing with tiny waistlines. (Take a look at the corsets and the waistlines of the models in this Sears ad from the 1930s.)
Life magazine, Sept. 11, 1950: Bestform told women to “put your curves in their proper place” with its new girdle for $5. “… give your good lines a chance to show, do it firmly and with flattery.”
Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1948: “Darling, you’ll never be ‘average’ to us! Warner’s 3-Way-Sizes make standard sizing downright old-fashioned.” The Le Gant Corselette – $29.50. On the facing page was a fashion layout of tiny-waisted clothes.
McCalls, November 1949: “If your ‘support’ only fits your faults – get rid of your faults in a Spencer!” Spencer designed special-made girdles that it said improved posture and put your organs “in position to function normally.” Like Body Magic, Spencer also recruited women to sell their product.
Early on, corsets were worn mostly by women of privilege, and were seen as a sign of gentility. Remember “Gone with the Wind,” when Hattie McDaniel’s character tightened the lacing on Scarlett’s corset as Scarlett held onto a column? Remember Scarlett’s slim waist in those bountiful dresses?
“Corsets inhibited free motion, including any that might excite ungenteel sensations in the woman herself or the men watching her,” noted the website Victoriana. “The corset at once froze the female form and exaggerated its femaleness in a way Victorians, on the run from earthy realities, found attractive.”
By the 1800s, they had spread beyond the well-heeled to everyday women. By the 1920s, they were replaced by girdles.
I found them selling for various prices on Ebay. One Body Magic garment plus four bottles of Levive Juice (it’s one of the products sold by Body Magic’s manufacturer, Ardyss International) sold for $280. Others went for considerably less.
Ardyss International was founded in Mexico in 1991, and the popular Body Magic reached our shores about two years ago.
My friend went to a party similar to a Mary Kay or Avon party, where someone did a before-and-after with the garment. She didn’t see much difference, she said. It took about 10 minutes to lace up the garment the first time, my friend said, but subsequently it is supposed to be quicker. It’s also supposed to be comfortable. My friend found it uncomfortable, as did a reporter for the Virginian Pilot newspaper who tested it out. After the article was published, she wrote again about the response.