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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Ladies Only: 1920

Ladies Only: 1920

Washington, D.C., circa 1920. "Interior, Wells Corset Shop." Where that hourglass figure is just a whalebone away. National Photo glass negative. View full size.

On Shorpy:
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Corsets in the 1920s

It is a common misunderstanding that women did not wear corsets in the twenties. There were flappers that gave up their corsets but they were considered "loose" and were not the norm. I have many original and reproduction mail order catalogs that feature true back lace, busk front corsets. This style was seen up until the mid to late 1920's where it was then replaced by the younger generation by either a simple non-boned corselete that smothed the body and flattened the breast or a bandeau and girdle both with garters for hose support. In the thirties the corselete adopted a more formed bust "cup" offering support and shape and two piece sets became the favorite. Call it what you will ladies, spanks, support hose, girdles, body shapers, etc. were are still wearing one form or another even today.

Stealth Corsets

Corsets never went completely away so much as they evolved into other shape-controlling undergarments that were given other names, such as "foundation garments" and "long-line girdles." These later corsets usually replaced whalebone with heavy elastics, but their function was the same as that of the older corsets, as seen in the 1950s ad illustration below. Right into the 1970s and 1980s, these "stealth corsets" enabled women to conform the natural shape of their bodies to the fashionable shapes of the moment. A well-written illustrated history of 20th Century corsetry can be found at


Fascinating. I'd thought that the corset was dead and gone for fashionable women by 1920, which made me wonder if the photo wasn't mis-dated. Judging by the dress on the mannequin at center, it looks more like 1917. Still, not everyone drops a style simultaneously. I'm baffled. I'd still guess that this was a few years before 1920.

[The photo is from 1920 or 1921. Washington's independent corset shops (Wells, Payne's, Ivy) lasted into the mid-1920s. Ads below from August 1920 (left) and January 1926. - Dave]

Contemporary source for your corset needs

Miss Wells's establishment is no more, but the Dor-Ne Corset Shoppe is open for business, just a few miles north on Georgia Avenue.

Miss Wells's Secret

Corset Style Show, eh? I wonder if she called her girls her "Angels."

Corset Auditorium

No mere shop, salon or studio, the room we witness here is a genuine corset auditorium. The front window of Miss E.B. Well's shop was previously seen on Shorpy here.

From a 1916 advertisement:

Demonstrations by living models, of all the style-approved Corsets that mark the fashion trend for Fall and Winter Wear. For the ultimately authoritative in Corsetry - the uniquely distingue - your eyes must needs turn to the modes as exemplified here.


Fit to be tied

It looks like the shop is set up for a fashion show, with that runway down the center. Since I'm obviously here early, I think I'll just sit down and peruse the gigantic catalogue on that table on the left. A girl can never have too many corsets, you know.


This looks like the classic representation of a Salon, not just a "shop." What a pedestrian word to describe such an elegant space.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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