Underwear revealed: How spandex reinvented the foundation garment

An expert from the Foundation Garment Council of Canada used a cast of tiny mannequins to educate viewers on the right undergarments in 1963.

Undergarment expert uncovered the latest in fashionable fits with custom made mini-mannequins

Choosing a foundation garment is easy as 1, 2, 3

3 years ago
Duration 2:50
Take 30 viewers are given a lesson on what's available in the market today.

It's a question that has spanned the decades — how does a lady look as good as the fashion designers and advertisers want her to?

Take 30 welcomed miniature mannequin models to illustrate fashionable foundations in 1963. (Take 30/CBC Archives)

The CBC afternoon lifestyle program Take 30 took on the task of educating viewers on the hidden qualities of an item integral to turning out a fashionable look: the foundation undergarment.

Although the process of choosing the right undergarment was still complicated, underwear had come a long way by 1963. 

Long gone were the wasp-waisted fashions of yesteryear and the boned corsets they demanded. 

However, the more recent methods of girdling women's figures were various. 

'Female figure control'

Enter Shaela Lewis, the expert from the Foundation Garment Council of Canada, with a cast of miniature mannequins in different states of dress-up.

According to Maclean's magazine, Lewis innovated the mini-mannequins to get the Council's message out on TV.

"Producers were more determined, for moral reasons, that the fine points of 'female figure control' should never be illustrated on television by live models," read an article dated Mar. 23, 1963. 

The dolls were hand-moulded in papier maché by artist Nancy Hale. 

A careful look at foundations, and how they affect the outer fashion, were seen on Take 30 in 1963. (Take 30/CBC Archives)

The best thing to come along in the industry in a long while was "man-made" elastic, known as spandex. Only on the commercial market for about a year at the time of this broadcast, the new fibre allowed for better washability.   

But its biggest selling point was its comparative lightness. According to Lewis, it weighed in at about one-third of the natural rubber elastics, making it, as host Joan Morrison noted, "almost too good to be true."

One's choice of undergarment depended on three things, Lewis continued: "Your figure, the fashion with which you plan to wear it, and of course, the kind of price you want to pay."

Different figures, different garments

Beginning with a mannequin in gold lamé, ermine fur and jewels, Lewis took her host and viewers through the various types of figures, including a teen figure wearing spandex that was like nothing Morrison had seen before — "Before we leave that," she interrupted, "that's quite a pattern." 

"Yes, isn't it wild," Lewis agreed, adding that its tones of purple and red and green were available "simply because we are able to print on the new man-made elastics."

The mature shopper, shown chapeau-ed and in furs, could also find the right undergarment. (Take 30/CBC Archives)

But all this had to come with a reality check. In the end, viewers had to know that the wonders of spandex did have their limits. 

"What can foundation garments do, and what can't they do for the figure?" asked Morrison at the end of the lesson.

"They can't change your figure dramatically," said Lewis.

But with that bad news came some good: foundation garments could "give you a more glamorous line." 

"Well, that's something." Morrison agreed.

in 1963 foundation garments could only do so much

3 years ago
Duration 0:31
Ladies are told that in the end, what a good foundation will get you is a smooth and glamorous line.