A girdle is a garment that encircles the lower torso, perhaps extending below the hips, and worn often for support. The word girdle originally meant a belt. In modern English, the term girdle is most commonly used for a form of women’s foundation wear that replaced the corset in popularity. In sports, a girdle may be similar to compression shorts.
Historically and in anthropology, the girdle can be a scanty belt-shaped textile for men and/or women, worn on its own, not holding a larger garment in place, and less revealing than the loin-cloth, as was used by Minoan pugilists.
In fact, using a postpregnancy girdle post-baby is a tradition in many cultures; the Japanese call their girdle wrap a ‘sarashi,’ hispanics call their binder a ‘faja,’ and the Malays call it a bengkung.
Constructed of elasticized fabric and sometimes fastened with hook and eye closures, the modern girdle is designed to enhance a woman’s figure. Most open-bottom girdles extend from the waist to the upper thighs. In the 1960s, these models fell from favor and were to a great extent replaced by the panty girdle. The panty girdle resembles a tight pair of athletic shorts. Both models of girdles usually include suspender clips to hold up stockings.
Girdles were considered essential garments by many women from about 1920 to the late 1960s. They created a rigid, controlled figure that was seen as eminently respectable and modest. They were also crucial to the couturier Christian Dior’s 1947 New Look, which featured a voluminous skirt and a narrow, nipped-in waistline, also known as a wasp waist.
Later in the 1960s, the girdle was generally supplanted by pantyhose. Pantyhose replaced girdles for many women who had used the girdle essentially as a means of holding up sheer nylon stockings. Those who want more control purchase “control top” pantyhose.
Girdles and “body shapers” are still sold to women who want to shape their figure with a garment. Some of these garments incorporate a brassiere and thus become functionally equivalent to a corset. However, they do not incorporate boning and hence do not produce the constricted waistline characteristic of Victorian-era corsets.