My lovely guest writer, Elide, covered the foundation garments that preceded garters during the 1910s in Part 1 of this Everyday Vintage subject. Now, lets delve into garters themselves and the many variations they took during the 20s and 30s!
Even though women's fashion changed dramatically from the 1890's to the 1920's, the need for an undergarment to help achieve the ideal figure did not. It seems that corsets merely evolved to follow the fashion and never completely went away. A woman could therefore hold up her stockings in the twenties by clipping them to these new foundation garments with suspenders similar to the ones that were attached to corsets.
Because of the popularization of the slender, boyish figure, many women who were not naturally proportioned in this way (ie, the majority) wore a foundation garment that came down over the hips. These girdles had much more elasticity than the traditional corsets,and advertised greater freedom of movement.
I also uncovered another option for keeping up stockings; roll garters were used by folding the welt of the stockings over the elastic and rolling tightly down. These garters were made from an elastic core with a woven exterior of cotton or synthetic threads.
The term 'rolled stockings' refers to this method. As compared to the corset, I found there is far less readily available information on this particular accessory. So far I've been unable to find much regarding their degree of comfort or popularity, although a patent search on garters yielded up some great information.
First, most of these patents were applied for in 1925. Rolling one's stockings was done in warmer weather and all mention of the practice I found in the patent documents indicates that stockings were rolled below the knee. It makes sense that if one's stockings were going to be worn that low, clearly the girdle/ garter belt option wouldn't be the best one. What also seemed to be consistent was the desire for ornamentation at the top of the rolled stocking, if it was going to be that low, it was going to be very visible. Most of the patents discuss a need for keeping the stocking up, the back seam centered, the roll in position and a decorative element to add appeal. One of the most surprising things I learned in reading these patent files, was that the roll at the top of the stocking was desired as a part of the ornamentation. I really thought the thick roll of fabric was an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect, but I found patents alluding to "the rolled effect now in fashion" (patent 1,575,631).
I found a patent for a garter made from a sponge rubber ring intended to "fill out the roll handsomely" producing a "smooth roll...that will be ornamental and will not wrinkle or ruffle the stockings".(patent 1,682,912)
There was also more than one patent for a silk garter wide enough to cover the roll in its entirety. I come away from all this information with the thought that non-elasticized hosiery was enough of an issue in the 1920s for there to be several patents filed for devices that allowed women to not wear a girdle or garter belt. Second, having some type of ornamentation at the top of one's stocking was extremely popular and wearing silk garters in addition to elastic garters was very likely.
Curiously, you can still find roll garters today through costume supply companies. So in the name of research, I ordered a pair. I personally found them to be like wearing socks with a strong, heavily elasticized top. Since I have yet to experiment with wearing them all day (humid summer days do not lend themselves to all day experiments with stockings), I don't know if they hold up well. However, I think the combination of roll garters with silk garters would be pretty solid and I found an illustration depicting this method.
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I want to thank Elide for writing these two posts and sharing all her vintage garter knowledge. You can find Elide on her blog and her Etsy shop. Chicagoans can see Elide & her garters in person this weekend at the Randolph St. Antique Market.