Date: c. 1940-1950s
Origin: United States
Fabric: Nylon and elastic
Brand: De Luxe / Kleinert’s
Sanitary belts were most commonly worn for menstruation between the mid-19th century to the 1970s, and were used to keep a sanitary pad in place between the legs before the advent of adhesive sanitary pads. The belt would commonly be worn at the hips, with special clips or safety pins attaching to the pad. Although tampons were commercially available from the late 19th century, unmarried women were discouraged from using these (they carried connotations of being sexually improper, despite the fact that the use of tampons is not at all sexual, nor does it affect one’s state of virginity. Sadly this is a belief that is still carried today and adversely affects many women’s lives). Sanitary belts were comparatively cumbersome and uncomfortable compared to many modern menstrual products, as the pad would have a tendency to twist and move during wear.
These two examples were likely from the 1940s and 1950s. The Kleinert’s belt uses nylon (a fibre that, although invented in the late 1930s, was heavily rationed until the 1950s due to World War Two). The inclusion of elastic fibres would have lent these belts a level of comfort and fit flexibility that earlier styles lacked. The design of both belts is relatively simple, comprising of a band of elastic, and nylon tabs at the centre front and back, with safety pins to be affixed to separately purchased pads. The Kleinert’s belt has a slightly more sophisticated design, incorporating enameled metal adjusters to allow for a flexible fit.
It is important to note that the branding of both belts does not actually mention menstruation anywhere, instead choosing to focus the copywriting on topics such as sanitation, comfort, security and ease of washing. Menstruation and women’s reproductive health was, and unfortunately to a lesser extent still remains, a taboo topic.
The packaging of the De Luxe belt advertises that the brand also makes girdles, garters, sew-on supporters, shoulder straps, ‘bra-baks’ and hank elastics, firmly placing its manufacturing specialty as women’s underwear.
From the collection of The Underpinnings Museum