Although Playtex was not the first company to make latex girdles, it was probably the only company making them to have gained worldwide recognition, and continue to sell them successfully long after its competitors have either disappeared or shrunk into small niche markets. It introduced its first girdle; the Living Girdle -- a latex panty girdle with some ventilating holes in the crotch -- in 1940, and introduced an open bottom girdle in 1941. These garments were made of electro deposited rubber latex (using much the same process still used for making rubber gloves today). The garters were attached to extensions moulded into the girdle during manufacture.
Production ceased due to wartime shortages in 1942, and resumed in 1946.
In the late forties Playtex commissioned the photographer Bartholomew to make a series of advertisements, using his recently developed stroboscopic flash technique, to demonstrate the flexibility of their girdles. This photo is one of the series. It clearly shows the shiny latex used to make the girdles.
These girdles were unlined and had an unfortunate tendency to rip from top to bottom if damaged in any way. They were very popular in the States, and apparently the resulting ripping sound was quite well-known. They could easily be damaged by wandering hands, and this reportedly caused the premature end of several promising relationships. They were expensive, and it was very hard for a girl to explain to her mother how her girdle had split on a date.
In 1949 Playtex introduced the Pink Ice girdle, which was made from a translucent pinkish latex. It would appear that it was even more prone to splitting than the Living Girdle, and it was only manufactured for one year.
Playtex girdles have always been relatively high-priced. For the Pink-Ice they ranged from $3.95 for the pantygirdle to $5.95 for an extra large garter girdle. At the time this was a considerable amount of money to pay for a garment which might rip in half first time it was worn.
All the Playtex rubber girdles were perfumed to disguise the smell of the rubber, and had a very distinctive sweetish smell which was immediately recognisable. It was said that the cognoscenti could immediately tell if anyone in a room was wearing a Playtex girdle.
I am not sure whether these girdles still had the latex exposed on the outside. This ad clearly shows how the garter straps were an integral part of the girdle. It also shows their matching Living Bra.
At this time most girdles were still sold in girdle salons, where most of the stock was stored in drawers, so the customer was reliant on the fitter to produce a girdle that suited her. To emphasise how light and flexible their girdles were Playtex packaged their Living Girdles in slim tubes, and paid the stores to install self-service counters stocked with these tubes in the busiest part of the store.
I remember one of these counters appearing in Myers, in a main ground floor thoroughfare, somewhere in the late fifties or early sixties. However it could not have been profitable, as it disappeared again fairly quickly.
The next development was the Playtex Magic Controller range. These were made from the same Fabricon lined latex, but had reinforcing fingers moulded into the front, to help flatten the wearers tummy. Apparently the integral garter straps had not been satisfactory, and the garters were now on separate straps.
Then in the 1960s Playtex introduced their 18 Hour range, which were supposedly so comfortable that you could wear them for 18 hours at a time. These were still made from latex, but were coated with Fabricon on both sides, and had a rigid front panel. They were perforated with thousands of tiny holes, in an attractive floral pattern. They still had the distinctive Playtex smell, and had a not very pleasant "fluffy" feel.
The 18 Hour range came in all styles from brief to long leg all in one. Several styles, including the long leg all in one, featured a split crotch.They were very popular, and were still obtainable on the Continent in the 90's.
In the 1980s Playtex introduced Playtex Lites, using the slogan "Moderate figure control with comfort". These were similar to the 18 Hour range, but lacked the attractive floral pattern, and were not as firm.
In the 1960's Playtex introduced their I Can't Believe it's a Girdle range. These were made from Tweave fabric; a lightweight but very strong fabric with a high Lycra content. These were very popular in Australia, largely replacing the 18 Hour range, but do not seem to have been as popular in the United States. They were firmer, but reasonably comfortable, and much more durable. The early models had a rigid stomach panel, attached with decorative stitching, and had a narrow semi-transparent ‘window’ down the centre line, and lace cuffs on the legs, as shown in this illustration. I thought that this design was quite attractive.
About 1975 the window, and then the lace cuffs, were dispensed with. I felt that this made them much less attractive. The fabric also felt a bit rough.
In the eighties Playtex introduced a Fits Beautifully range, made from a poorer quality cheaper fabric. This range was very similar to the I Can't Believe it's a Girdle range, but the garments were not as firm and did not last nearly as well. They were sold in parallel with the ICB range over a long period, with very similar models in each range, but the Fits Beautifully models were typically half to two thirds of the price of the equivalent ICB models. I think that both ranges have finally disappeared in Australia.
Sometime about 2003 Playtex introduced an 18 Hour Comfort Stretch bra and control brief in an attractive satin woven fabric. My wife bought a pair the first time we saw them, but when we went looking for more the brief had disappeared, and I have never seen it since.
In about 2002 Playtex introduced an ultra stretchy long legged pantygirdle under the name Second Skin. This was a slightly more substantial version of the Butt Booster type of brief originally introduced for pantyhose, with the same knitted in reinforcing bands to flatten the tummy and lift the bottom. They were quite firm, and did an excellent job, but I found them quite comfortable.
They were introduced at $A20, but subsequently increased to $A25. For the quality of the garment this was an absolute bargain, as the nearest equivalent Nancy Ganz garments sold here for about $A60. I believe that the style was very successful.
Interestingly their advertising did not use the dreaded word girdle, but it did not say what they were at all; you were left to decide this for yourself from the illustrations.
They came in a full range of sizes, but there was no visible difference between a size 14 and a size 18. I am tempted to think that they were all the same size, but they just stamped on a random size to keep the customers happy.
There was also a Second Skin brief, but this was a flimsy garment that was not remotely comparable.
The Playtex brand disappeared completely in Australia in about 2010
The Art of Corsetry Ed: Bunyip Bluegum
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