Originally the term "girdle" referred mainly to a liturgical attire that closes a cassock. Since the 20th century, the word has also been used to define an undergarment for women made of elasticized fabric. In this sense it is a foundation garment that may also serve the purpose of holding up stockings. Widely used by women in the mid 20th century, they became less common after the late 1960s but remain in use.
Constructed of elasticized fabric and sometimes fastened with hook and eye closures, the girdle is designed to enhance a woman's figure. Most open-bottom girdles extend from the waist to the upper thighs. They often include suspender clips to hold up stockings.
Girdles were considered essential garments by many women from the early 1920s to the late 1960s. They created a controlled figure that was seen as appropriate 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. In the 1960s, traditional girdles were partly replaced by the panty girdle, which resembles a tight pair of athletic shorts, and more so by the introduction of pantyhose. Pantyhose replaced girdles for many women who had used the girdle essentially as a means of holding up stockings. Those who wanted more control purchased "control top" pantyhose. In addition, the very short skirt fashion of the late 1960s tended to reveal suspender clips, which hastened the transition from wearing girdles and stockings to pantyhose.
Girdles and "body shapers" are still worn by women to shape their figure with a garment. Some of these garments may incorporate a brassiere, becoming functionally equivalent to a corset (girdle corsets). However, they do not incorporate boning and hence do not produce the constricted waistline characteristic of Victorian-era corsets.
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