Lace 'Merry Widow' With Swing Tags By Warner

Lace 'Merry Widow' With Swing Tags By Warner, c.1957, England. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Date: c. 1957

Origin: England

Fabric: Nylon

Brand: Warner


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.

This garment is made a mix of plain nylon tulle, nylon mesh and stretch panels.  Nylon tape is used to encase underwires and vertical boning. Satin encased padding is stitched over the ends of the underwires for comfort. The boning throughout the garment is 5mm spiral steel.  A picot edge elastic encases the top and bottom edges of the garment, with hook and eye tape fastening at the centre back. There are four suspender straps, detachable with metal hooks through elastic loops stitched into the bottom edge of the garment.

Although this Merry Widow is extremely similar to this other example in our collection, there are a few noteworthy differences. This one was made in England, whereas the other in the US, suggesting that Warner licensed the Merry Widow style to different manufacturers depending on geographical location. This Merry Widow is made with a lace exterior fabric rather than an embroidery, the bone and wire casings use a nylon tape rather than satin ribbon, and there is no built in waist tape. It is also interesting to note that this English example references the branded ‘Bri-Nylon’ in its fabric content, whereas the US counterpart simply references ‘Nylon’.

This Merry Widow is also noteworthy for the fact that it is completely unworn and has its original store branding. The attached swing tag also contains extensive wash and care instructions, arranged into a ‘Warner’ anagram.


From the collection of Karolina Laskowska

Museum number: KL-2017-115


Adverts keep The Underpinnings Museum running! Please consider visiting our sponsors if you enjoy this website.