photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum
This angelic creature seems, by modern standards, to be an odd choice as an underwear model.
Our modern recipe for beauty places a strong emphasis on ideals of health and fitness that see contemporary underwear models as thin, athletic-looking and bronzed. However in 1930, when this photograph was taken, the ideals of beauty were very different. Here, our protagonist is soft, pale and feminine, her hair neatly coifed around her face in carefully formed curls.
Leaning against a column, her body gently angled from the camera to show off her Berlei girdle (product number 80), Berlei brassiere and stockings, the model’s eyes lift towards the sky. The photograph shows her girdle laced at the sides, with the stockings attached to it using suspenders.
In the 1920s, Australian corset manufacturers Berlei, in conjunction with the University of Sydney, had conducted an anthropomorphic survey of 6000 women, creating a metric Figure Type Classification. The survey measured the women using 23 individual measurements, with the results forming the basis of the Berlei Figure Type Indicator that, according to Berlei’s own website, changed the nature of corset-making across the world.
Further, as Rob Shields writes in his book Lifestyle shopping: the subject of consumption (p175), by 1930:
the corset was a high-fashion garment synonymous with contemporary womanhood… any woman could chase the persona of the desirable modern woman simply by buying a Berlei corset and the ‘true-to-type figure beauty’ it promised. A Berlei corset both literally and figuratively moulded her body into a standardized modern femininity.
The black and white photographic print is marked with “B-80” in black pen, and also in pencil on reverse.
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Post by Susan Cairns, Digital Services volunteer