More boom than bust for the corset industry

Banbury Cake: Julia Bremble at her studio in North Leigh Julia Bremble at her studio in North Leigh

ACCORDING to the Queen’s underwear makers, Rigby & Peller, corsets are booming.

The upmarket firm says sales of its traditional corsets are up 45 per cent on 2011. Ebay has reported a staggering 185 per cent rise in the number of corsets sold online in the last three months, with 1,900 listed over the period.

The news is no surprise to corset maker and owner of Sew Curvy Corsetry, Julia Bremble, from Eynsham.

“People travel from all over the country and even the world to attend my corsetry courses,” Mrs Bremble said.

“There has always been a market for corsets, though mainly in the alternative lifestyles like goth and fetish wear.

“But in recent years, mainly due to the interest in Burlesque (striptease) and also celebrities like Madonna, Charlotte Church and Lady GaGa wearing them, corsets have developed a dual role – to achieve a smoother shape under your clothes, and also as outfits in their own right.”

Mrs Bremble runs a range of courses and sells corset-making kits, as well as taking private commissions.

She said: “I teach all sorts of people, from middle-aged ladies who want to smooth their shapes, to young women who want to wear corsets clubbing. I even taught a man who wanted to make one for his wife.”

Making a corset can take anything between 20 and 200 hours, depending on the design and level of intricacy, and although she still uses the traditional corset-making materials of cotton and steel, Mrs Bremble uses a ‘modern’ pattern to make her Victorian-style corsets, which are more comfortable for the women of the 21st century.

Great grandmother Gladys Sangster, from Easington, near Banbury, remembers when corsets from Oxfordshire were the choice of queen’s and princesses – because she made them.

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Mrs Sangster, 94, said: “I was 19 when I first went to work for the American firm Spencers in Banbury.

“I had stood and watched the new factory being constructed from the old linen factory where my mother had worked, and got a job working in the design and manufacturing of their prestigious corsets, under the watchful eye of our charge hand, Mr Barrett.”

She continued: “Our corsets were made to measure and cost £3 or £4 – a fortune for someone like me, who earned just £1 a week.

“I was greatly honoured to be one of a small number of girls chosen to design and cut the patterns for corsets for Princess Mary (our current Queen’s great aunt) and Queen Ena Of Spain.

“We were sworn to secrecy about our clients, though, and everything had to be perfect; the measurements, the fabric (which was always a peachy colour and of the finest quality), but I was thrilled that my work was being worn by royalty.”

The Spencer Corsets factory in Banbury was established in 1926 by the Berger Brothers of Newhaven, Connecticut.

The company, already well known in America and Canada, specialised in individually designed foundation garments and its professional fitters, called corsetieres, often visited clients in their own home to measure them.

By the 1940s, the factory employed 600 people and the company had over 2000 fitters.

In the 1970s the demand for corsets decreased and Spencers diversified into making surgical supports.

The Remploy Healthcare Group took over the company in the early 1990s.

Mrs Sangster said: “I’m not surprised corsets are popular again.

“They are very flattering.

“And I don’t think people back in the 20s would have been shocked by women wearing them as outerwear today.

“Some of the ones you see worn as outer garments are very nice.

“Elastic did for corsets though – I buy stretchy underwear from Marks & Spencer.

But when I walk through town now I see lots of women who are clearly not wearing any suitable undergarments – but whom would benefit from a Spencer corset!”

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