Corsets were “unmentionables”
but check these advertisements
from The Ladies Home Journal, October 1904!

No! No!  This isn’t a post about corsets, it’s a post about advertising corsets. About designing and writing advertisements for a product in a highly competitive field, a product that was “unmentionable” in polite society. What ladies wore beneath their voluminous skirts was not discussed in public, in the workplace, in the drawing room. Men certainly didn’t discuss women’s corsets.

It’s 1904. Pic­ture the cre­ative depart­ment of an adver­tis­ing agency that has just acquired a new client, a corset man­u­fac­tur­er. Most of the cre­ative staff—the copy­writ­ers and artists—are male. 

Where to begin! Gath­er the adver­tis­ing of every oth­er corset man­u­fac­tur­er – for inspi­ra­tion, at least, and to be sure that the new client’s adver­tis­ing will be some­what orig­i­nal, hope­ful­ly per­sua­sive. A glib slo­gan won’t do and illus­trat­ing the prod­uct will be chal­leng­ing. Pho­tographs aren’t the answer. Not for “unmen­tion­ables”. Besides, at that time, pho­tographs didn’t repro­duce well in print

The chal­lenge is passed over to the copy­writer who must acquire a wide-rang­ing famil­iar­i­ty with the corset. The facts behind the product—how is it con­struct­ed, what is the mate­r­i­al, how durable is it, what advance­ments have been made in the corset world—are easy to gath­er from the man­u­fac­tur­er. Gath­er­ing facts from users will not be straightforward. 

Obvi­ous­ly women are the pur­chasers and users of corsets. Are they young, mid­dle-aged, or old? Rich or poor? Where do they live? Where do they shop? How often do they buy corsets or wear them? Are there spe­cial occa­sions? Is price important? 

A top copy­writer will do some first­hand research—talk with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive group of women, not friends and rel­a­tives. Why do they like corsets? When do they wear them? Do they like them? Hate them? Love wear­ing them when…?  Wish they nev­er had to wear them? That first­hand research has to end at some time and the cre­at­ing, the writ­ing, begin.

It is time for us to examine advertisements for other corset manufacturers.
Here is a collection of 10 advertisements that appeared
in the October 1904 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Advertisement for Thomson's Corsets

Thomson’s adver­tised “Glove-Fit­ting” corsets, chic shape­ly mod­els called Habit Hip, Bats Wing and Grand Duchess. There isn’t a sen­tence describ­ing the ben­e­fits of their prod­uct over oth­ers.  Per­haps that could be found in the book­let from Geo C. Batcheller & Co of 345347 Broad­way, N.Y

Advertisement for Kabo Corsets

The Kabot Corset Co. down the road from Thomp­son at 399 Broad­way, N.Y. made corsets that “Out­shine them all.”  Kabo offered a book dis­play­ing their 165 Styles includ­ing the “Dip Hip” Mod­els priced from $1.00 to $3.50

Advertisement for Tapering Waist Corsets Corsets

You can­not be cor­rect­ly gowned , you must have a “Taper­ing Waist” Corset to pre­serve the straight effect with low bust, but give a small­er, shape­lier waist and do away with severe lines.

The R & G Corset Co “were for­tu­nate in antic­i­pat­ing the season’s styles, and prompt in man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing the spe­cial­ly designed corset we knew (the styles) would require.”

These corsets “have long been the choice of a major­i­ty of Amer­i­can women…absolutely nec­es­sary to the prop­er design­ing of a mod­ish cos­tume… the only means of obtain­ing the desired defined waist line.”

“Fash­ion says, waist must be well defined; close fit­ted rather close­ly to the form; full, round­ed effect about the hips — and the R & G Taper­ing Waist has every fea­ture nec­es­sary to the exact and com­fort­able fol­low­ing of this style.”


Two points about typog­ra­phy in this adver­tise­ment: the head­line, “Taper­ing Waist” has been designed and drawn by an artist; the R & G logo was enhanced with the aid of Ben Day dots 

Ben Day dots were avail­able on trans­par­ent over­lay sheets in a vari­ety of dot sizes and dis­tri­b­u­tion.  To apply the dots to a draw­ing the artist would place the over­lay mate­r­i­al on the draw­ing and rub the dots onto the spe­cif­ic areas of the draw­ing. A sim­ple tech­nique used in many of the adver­tise­ments in our Print­ing Times.

Advertisement for Erect Form  Corsets

The artist was the pri­ma­ry cre­ative tal­ent in the pro­duc­tion of this adver­tise­ment. Sad­ly, the art­work is not first-rate. The illus­tra­tion is busy; the bor­der is exces­sive­ly ornate;  the “mod­els’ look out­ward and look like  fig­ure­heads on ships; the Erect Form logo­mark is seri­ous­ly malformed.

 The copy­writer wrote that these corsets were made with “Flex­ile” Steels, “The great­est boon ever bestowed on woman since she has worn stays. Absolute­ly no more press­ing or cut­ting into the bust—but lux­u­ri­ous com­fort when stand­ing or sitting.”

This adver­tise­ment for Amer­i­can Beau­ty corsets pro­motes a “spiff”– rewards amount­ing to $1,000 giv­en to Salesladies sell­ing the great­est num­ber of Amer­i­can Beau­ty corsets from Sept. 1st to Dec. 31st, 1904. The term is slang for a ques­tion­able under-the-table attempt by sup­pli­ers to influ­ence employ­ees. To give the offer a cer­tain valid­i­ty the Kala­ma­zoo Corset Co says the plan also includes large rewards to mer­chants whose salesladies sell the most Amer­i­can Beau­ty Corset. Details of the so-called unique plan was avail­able, on request, by mer­chants and employees.

Advertisement for American Beauty Corsets

This Fos­ter Girl adver­tise­ment fea­tures ful­ly-dressed women. It’s the only adver­tise­ment in this group that doesn’t attempt to illus­trate the corset. Artists for oth­er adver­tis­ers have drawn corsets seem­ing­ly worn over, not under dress­es and gowns.

In an age when women wore thigh-high stock­ings, this adver­tise­ment pro­motes “a safe Hose Sup­port­er that lends sym­me­try and grace…assists nature in devel­op­ing a shape­lier form and pro­duces a more per­fect fit of corset and grace­ful hang of skirt.

“It reduces that promi­nence of the abdomen and helps give grace and erect poise to the imper­fect fig­ure. It does not draw the corset and gives a smoother effect to the skirt, no mat­ter how worn the corset ends may be.”

Advertisement for Foster Girl Corsets

See how the creative departments of other advertising agencies handled the challenge for their  clients manufacturing and selling corsets.

Advertisement for American Lady Corsets
Advertisement for Justrite  Corsets
Advertisements for Corset Covers and FP corsetsCorsets

And here’s an advertisement
for men’s corsets

Advertisement for  Corsets for men

Men’s corsets — appar­ent­ly an absolute neces­si­ty —were adver­tised in the Sep­tem­ber 1903 issue of The Delin­eator, an Amer­i­can women’s mag­a­zine of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies. The month­ly mag­a­zine fea­tured But­t­er­ick sewing pat­terns and pro­vid­ed an in-depth look at the fash­ion of the day.

It seems that the Amer­i­can Gen­tle­man corset “sup­ports the abdomen, strength­ens the spine, per­suades upright shoul­ders and increas­es the chest.” Fur­ther­more it has been “accept­ed and adopt­ed in Paris, Lon­don, Vien­na and Berlin.” And if that isn’t con­fi­dence build­ing the men’s corsets are “Dic­tat­ed by Physi­cians, Com­mon Sense and by Fashion…”

You could buy them for $3 from local deal­ers or mail your mon­ey with your waist mea­sure­ment. Bet­ter qual­i­ty cost $5.00

The orig­i­na­tor of this foun­da­tion gar­ment for men, and who claimed to be the first to show them in Amer­i­ca, was the Amer­i­can Lady Corset Com­pa­ny of New York, Detroit and Chicago.

The com­pa­ny offered 150 styles of corsets for ladies – a shape for every fig­ure, they said. The Longfe­lo Mod­el, style 475 above, “is the cor­rect corset over which to mould the new fall gown. Its con­struc­tion is based upon an ide­al con­cep­tion of the essen­tials required to pro­duce the smooth, round-taper­ing hips so nec­es­sary with the new modes of attire. The long skirt secure­ly encom­pass­es the hips. The hose sup­port­ers attached pre­vent the corset from ‘work­ing upward’ on the body.”

Con­struc­tion! Says some­thing about corsets, described as laced or hooked under­gar­ments rein­forced with steel or whale­bone ! Ladies could buy Amer­i­can Lady Corsets in White or Drab, sizes 18 to 30, for one dol­lar.  Drab? An 18 inch waist?

One last asser­tion: Amer­i­can Lady Corsets “are pro­duc­ing good fig­ures every­where. Nev­er before has any par­tic­u­lar make of corset been so unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend­ed by fash­ion­able modistes.”

printers devil

Print media in 1902, and for decades after, wouldn’t accept pho­tographs or illus­tra­tions show­ing women wear­ing only under­wear. Not even swimwear in some instances. These were strait­laced times. 

We rec­om­mend Nan­cy Millar’s book The Unmen­tion­able His­to­ry of the West described as “a fond romp through the under­wear that men and women wore in days gone by. Think of corsets, navy blue bloomers, long under­wear with its trap door and brassieres that could kill. Think also of the oth­er unmen­tion­ables that came along with being sex­u­al beings. Women had to hide their preg­nan­cies, talk of birth con­trol was ille­gal, seduc­tion was a crime, pros­ti­tu­tion like­wise. There were so many silences, so many secrets about the pri­vate lives of men and women.”