Date: c. 1961
Origin: United States
Fabric: Nylon, polyester and spandex
In the late nineteenth century, New York physician Dr Lucien Warner gave up his practice to begin a new career lecturing on women’s health issues, including the effects of the corset. In 1873, he designed a corset that provided the desired fashionable shape along with increased flexibility. The following year, Lucien Warner and his brother founded Warner Brothers Corset Manufacturers. After buying Mary Phelps Jacob’s brassiere patent in 1915, Warner’s went on to introduce lettered cup sizing in the 1930s and released its first line of extremely successful ‘Merry Widow’ foundation garments in 1952.
Named after, but not featured in, Lana Turner’s movie ‘The Merry Widow’, Warner’s expanded their collection and updated the styles throughout the 1950s. All Warner’s ‘Merry Widow’ corselets and cinch-bras were promoted for their ability to create a fashionable hourglass silhouette. Travel was popular in the 1950s and synthetics were not only easy to look after but also lightweight and so wouldn’t take up much of the newly introduced baggage allowance on flights. The Warner’s ‘Merry Widow’ is a good example of an almost Victorian style of corsetry made using the lightweight materials of the 1950s. Usually constructed from embroidered nylon marquisette or lace and lined with plain nylon marquisette, with nine spiral steel bones for structure and shaping, these garments weigh a fraction of a similar garment made from cotton coutil.
The Merry Widow range of products remained in production into the 1960s. This example is noteworthy for its inclusion of polyester and spandex, which were both considered relatively recent and exciting new fibres for the improved comfort and easier garment care that they offered. The front zip fastening also meant that this garment was much easier to self dress in; indeed, a 1961 advert for this style boasted: ‘…the first Merry Widow ever fashioned of ‘New Dimension’ Lycra, the new elastic fiber Warner’s and DuPint worked hand in hand to develop… lighter and longer lasting than elastic’s ever been! And you can zip this Merry Widow… solo… right up its lacy front!’.
The garment features lightly padded cups with a less pointed silhouette than the earlier 1950s Merry Widow products. A nylon lace overlay embellishes the cups and the decorative front panelling. Contrasting red satin ribbon forms the central zip pull and suspender ribbon flashes. This style was originally available in white, black and ‘red pepper’, and retailed for $16.50 (approximately $140 today).
From the collection of Karolina Laskowska