What is a Girdle?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

In today’s usage, a girdle is most commonly known as a support garment worn by women to give the overall appearance of a flat tummy and more shapely buttocks. It is often called support underwear, or support panties. Many nylons incorporate support elements or a control top, like strong elastic around the stomach and the hips, which make wearing a separate support garment superfluous and less popular.

The girdle replaced the uncomfortable corset.
The girdle replaced the uncomfortable corset.

Actually, earlier girdles, prior to the advent of nylons, generally did not have a panty component. They were a tight garment, made to flatten the tummy, and often had straps that attached to the top of thigh high stockings and held them up.

Women wear girdles to help give the appearance of a flat tummy.
Women wear girdles to help give the appearance of a flat tummy.

The word actually predates this sort of garment, and in Ancient Greece and Rome, it was used for a thin belt worn around the waist, most often by men. Both women and men might wear such a belt during the Middle Ages, and one is famously mentioned in the West-Midland English Poem, “Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.” The wife of the Green Knight offers Sir Gawain the red girdle wrapped round her waist, which is supposed to protect him from injury.

A girdle can be worn to reduce the appearance of back fat.
A girdle can be worn to reduce the appearance of back fat.

Men or women may still wear certain types of girdles as a form of back support. Since the term has come to be associated more with women than men, however, ones of this type might simply be called a back supporting belt.

Undergarments including girdles use elastic support elements to hold in excess skin or fat.
Undergarments including girdles use elastic support elements to hold in excess skin or fat.

The girdle replaced the more restrictive corset worn by women. It still provided some waist control and tummy control, but did not cinch the waist in as tightly as corseting did. This resulted in a more comfortable garment, though many women still find the pressure from shape underwear too tight for comfort.

Some shapewear with an underwear component do reach above the waist, and they may start just below the breasts to give the appearance of a smaller waist. Others are more like teddies, and they incorporate a bra with underwire and underpants in one garment. These may be harder to fit on women who have a greater distribution of weight on top than on bottom, or vice versa.

The modern undergarment has benefited from the development of spandex, which is lightweight and can hold the stomach or buttocks in with relative ease. Wearing too small a girdle, however, generally does not accomplish much. Excess skin or fat is usually merely pushed above or below the garment.

Shapewear garments may provide a little support, and may be especially helpful in close and formfitting clothing. Many women prefer a natural shape and more comfortable underwear, however, so the traditional girdle is not as popular as it once was.

A girdle is a support garment worn by women.
A girdle is a support garment worn by women.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon1003836

It's the greatest feeling of relief one can ever experience when my girdle finally comes down each night at bedtime.

But it's a great feeling of relief too when it's on again the following morning. And I love being back in my nylons for the day ahead as well. Though I like to toss off the pointy high heels that are pinching my toes under the school desk.

I use any excuse to stand up from my desk every once in a while too, as sitting in a girdle for too long feels a bit too tight around my bottom, though we're talking in terms of supreme tightness here. It's good too, with the waistband pressing all the time, to get to stand up too.

A tightly girdled hard bottom doesn't sit happily for too long on a hard desk or chair. But as the day wears on you forget noticing such things and it even begins to strangely feel nice to be so tightly squashed and held in and up. It becomes most reassuring too.

I find it very easy to breathe normally in a girdle. I just let my belly and bottom and all 'sag' and be held up by the girdle. I love the suspenders, the best way ever invented to hold up and wear nylons. And oh, I adore those fabulous stockings!

And what a figure! Simply awesome in my A-line school skirt. That's why my thighs have to be held in tight by the lower hem of my girdle, to finish that lovely figure in the pencil skirt. Nothing else can do that.

Above all, the constant wearing of a girdle needs the right mentality. You have to see yourself as privileged as a girl, becoming a lady, to be allowed in the first place. Once you realize this you see how happily different you are from the male. Then the girdle even begins to feel good, if that's possible.

You think on to realize that you are indeed very privileged to be allowed to wear all the other lovely accoutrements like the brassiere, suspenders and nylons, silk panties and high heels, all along with the all the lovely style. A thousand times better than letting it all hang out like a floozy, like those peasant women of long ago, ugh.

Do you know, I'm even beginning to feel good now in my girdle though it's been on for hours today.

anon1003459

Yes wearing daily a vintage girdle like the Rago 6210 is actually, contrary to what you hear, very comfortable and quite beneficial.

I am from the Golden Age of Girdles -- 40s, 50s, 60s. I was raised in a home with my mom, grandmother, and aunt. They were all three daily either well girdled or in a corset. I use to over hear them talking about how much they really loved being girdled, and they did not feel dressed unless they were well girdled, or they would never leave the house unless they were girdled. I used to wonder about this and is wearing a vintage girdle that beneficial. I decided to find out, I located a Spencer Training Professional Corsetiere, she told me that it didn't make any difference male or female once you are properly fitted and you go through girdle training, you will, without question, discover the wonderful benefits a vintage girdle will give you when worn every day.

Back during the Golden Age of Girdles, wearing a vintage girdle every day was considered a "Woman's Best Kept Secret". Trust me: once you discover this secret you to will really loved being every day well girdled.

I've even created a couple of websites to explain the real benefits of being well girdled every day and how to experience these benefits, and how to learn this “best kept secret that women knew during the 40s, 50s and 60s.

I have chatted online with a few women who followed these and went through the girdle training. They told me they now really love being in a vintage girdle like the Rago 6210 every day. The benefits are truly amazing.

anon996750

What gets me is why women just refuse to experience the wonderful benefits of daily being in a vintage girdle. You not just look great, but you really feel great with much more energy. The benefits of daily being girdled are real, but you have to give it a few weeks to months, and wow you will find you love being in a girdle.

anon952199

I love to wear a girdle. So nice that it gives me energy. And with stockings, what a feeling. Guys, get with it. You will always enjoy it, so be a man and wear a girdle. Also, a garter belt underneath is great, so do it. --Tanya

anon340036

Once I experienced that held in feeling you get from wearing a girdle, I became completely hooked, and now I wear a girdle every day and I love it. It takes a little getting use to at first. You have to be fitted in the right kind of make and model girdle that is right for you. Once you can learn to keep those tummy muscles well relaxed and let the girdle just hold and support you, will be completely amazed as to how great you feel in a girdle.

anon305350

Well it's finally happened. I forgot today for almost half an hour that I had my girdle on! So the old TV commercials were right after all.

I've grown to love being in my girdle nowadays. I get a fabulous hug to my bottom and my belly gets the most exquisite support you can imagine from the girdle front panel. And as for the nylon stockings I get to wear with the girdle, they are the icing on the cake for me.

I feel so well held together in there and I love to look in my full length mirror at that shiny front panel where my belly used to be!

I look forward now to the day when I forget I have it on all the time. Or do I? It feels so nice around me now. Yes, it was well worth all the effort. I love all the firmness too. Thanks for reading. Maybe you'll get one too. -- Gilliane

anon281626

I know exactly what you are talking about letting your stomach relax against the front panel of the girdle. That is the biggest secret. It takes a little getting used to, but after wearing a girdle for a few months, my stomach muscles are now completely dependent on the support a girdle offers, and I cannot go without the daily support.

Here is another part of the secret: once your stomach muscles need the firm support a girdle offers, you feel a dramatic increase in energy and confidence every day. This is just a very small trade off for looking great and feeling great all the time.

anon257768

I just don't know what people mean by a girdle being "uncomfortable." Surely they must have never worn one?

Getting up mornings, my body, normal figure, just longs for the support so much so that I relax in the sheer support when I get it on and it is fastened to my stockings.

The biggest secret I find is to let your tummy relax out against the front panel. Then it really becomes beautifully snug but firm all around, and strangely, event though it's the tightest thing in existence that anybody can wear around their bottom, it becomes nice and snug there too.

If it's an open-bottom type girdle, the circular lower hem that ties your thighs together will seem strange and restrictive at first, but not after a while, since it restricts your legs to do that fabulous "girdle walk" that can't be done without it. Yes, it's always like a little twine tying your legs together, but they're simply fabulous as they move held in like this, and it's very sexy to see, I think. And as for the waistband, what woman doesn't want it good and firm -- and it's usually no more tight than a belt on your skirt.

But overall, a girdle, even a good firm tight girdle, is actually enjoyable to wear.

And there are very few feelings as nice as the way it holds you up so tidily, especially the way it lifts you up from under your bottom. It makes you feel better instantly. In fact, an open-bottom girdle really extends to the tips of your toes through its tightly fastened suspenders and stretched nylons that become part of it.

You're lucky indeed to be able to be allowed to wear such a fabulous thing as a woman. That's why so many males are turning to girdles in recent years, and in truth always did, though surreptitiously before. And you know when you're used to a girdle the first time, you forget you have it on. And that comes soon – in a couple of weeks. It's worth it, not just for the fantastic figure it gives, but for itself, and how it begins to feel. It eventually feels like a pure support frame around you holding you up so much so that when you take it off it's incredible when you begin to feel something's missing. You feel a looseness you don't want, and you actually want to put your girdle back on. It has now become part of you, working so beautifully for you.

Now a bra, and clothes on, then heels, are all lovely, but you feel your girdle the best - when you think of it.

anon233770

I have been in a girdle since my late teens and would not be without one. A well fitting girdle with a longline bra can enhance any woman's figure. Playtex 18 hour girdles, I find, are very good shaping garments and can be worn in all day comfort. Spanx will never replace the classic girdles by Playtex and Rago. Whether you prefer an open bottom or panty style, these girdles will always be the best foundation garments ever made.

anon168459

The key to wearing a girdle is to first be fitted in the right kind of make and model for you. Then make sure you learn how to properly put on a girdle by lying down on a bed, pulling up your legs, leaning way back and pulling on the girdle, hooking up the hooks and eyes and pulling up the zipper.

The other key is to just relax - keep your stomach muscles relaxed and let the girdle just support and hold you in. You will completely amazed as to how great you will look and feel in a girdle; it is really amazing.

anon125117

Gilliane - you were smart to have a saleslady measure. I actually went to a older lady who is a professional corsetier for a fitting. You are correct: it does take a few day to get use to being girdled

I found to my pleasant surprise I have much more energy and confidence, and I have never felt so great. I still claim wearing a girdle is a woman's best kept secret. Do you agree?

anon122939

The key to wearing a girdle is to be fitted by a professional corsetier. There is a lot to learn about all of the different makes and models, plus even how to properly put on a girdle and how to become used to wearing a girdle. A girdle actually is very comfortable and once used to it, you will notice a dramatic increase in energy and confidence.

anon93247

Yes, Playtex are the best by far, or Rago girdles, too

Spanx and such don't do much at all.

Anyway I'm well used to wearing a girdle full time, and folks should train and aim towards this. It takes only a few months before it becomes second nature.

I wouldn't go without my girdles now. They do so much for me that I can't think how they could be unpopular?

I think today's girls know little about girdles and don't give themselves a chance to find out. What a pity for them.

anon36450

I think girdles are cool. They do make a woman look sexy and sophisticated. Can't think why they are despised and unpopular!

Gilliane

Two weeks ago I bought a Playtex open-bottom girdle in Boyers of O'Connell Street in Dublin, Ireland.

I got the saleslady to measure me. That paid off. The girdle fits me really comfortably though it took me a few days to get used to being in there, and to walk "differently" but much more elegantly.

My pencil skirts now fit my fab figure like a glove, I am the envy of every other girl in class, though several of them are appearing in girdles now and looking lovely as well.

I am now off to town to buy two more Playtexes. They are easy to wear, comfy - and take me down two full dress sizes, fabulous !

I now look in the mirror and see a sleek satin panel - where my tummy used to be :-) I love my girdles.

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