The Return of the Corset:
The Merry Widow
by Amanda Brown
In 1947, acclaimed fashion designer Christian Dior introduced the "New Look" to the post war fashion world. This trend included a cinched waist and rounded hips under a long flowing skirt, unnatural proportions that required the coaxing of an effective undergarment. In response, the lingerie company Warner's developed the Merry Widow corset in 1952.
It was a full-length, strapless, boned corset with semi-cups for the breasts and long garters for the stockings. There were panels of black and white lace, including slim panels of black elastic yarn net. A heavy duty zip was inserted behind a velvet backed, hook and eye flange and the whole garment was lined with nylon voile.
Nine long spiral wires were cased in black satin. The traditional Victorian corset was discarded in the 1930s as women demanded more freedom and as new fashion required new lines underneath the fabric.
Warner's timed the release of this corset with the third film adaptation of Franz Lehar's operetta The Merry Widow, starring "sweater-girl" Lana Turner.
Turner donned the Warner's corset in the film. Regarding this new corset, Lana Tuner was rumored to have remarked, "I'm telling you - the 'Merry Widow' was designed by a man. A woman would never do that to another woman."
As her character shifted between the personas of a sincere, grieving widow and a wayward prostitute, Turner switched between black and white Merry Widow corsets. Warner's perpetuated this good girl/bad girl theme by advertising the Merry Widow in print ads with the copy "Just a wee bit naughty — but so nice!" and "It's simply wicked what it does for you."
The advertisements which ran in mainstream magazines like Life
and Ladies Home Journals showed the corset worn over a tulle underskirt but this was only to give more drama to the garment.
In the 1950s, the Merry Widow retailed for between $12-$15. Today, the term "Merry Widow" is used when referring to any modern corset although thankfully, the corset never became en vogue again for daily wear.
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