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The History of the Girdle

Updated on January 10, 2017

A girdle is a a belt, cord, or sash that usually encircles the waist. The term also refers to a woman's undergarment. In many primitive societies the girdle is often the only apparel. In most civilizations it holds up skirts or loincloths or confines tunics. Frequently the girdle supports knives, swords, spinning implements, or various objects such as purses or keys. It may also have ceremonial significance, being assumed as a sign of religious initiation in India or of knighthood in medieval Europe. In some societies the girdle was believed to have magical power.

The ancient Cretans bound their wasp waists with tight, wide belts. The Japanese wore the obi, a belt that developed into a deep, stiff, brocade sash. In early medieval Europe, girdles were narrow strips of cloth or leather, buckled or knotted, and sometimes embroidered or studded with metal or gems. Gentlemen wore extravagant girdles made of jeweled gold plaques in the late Middle Ages, and sashes in the 17th century, retaining the sword belt until about 1800. Ladies' girdles were high-set, narrow cloth belts in the 15th century, jeweled chains whose ends hung to the hem in the 16th century, and silk sashes tied high in the 1790's and early 1800's. Deep belts accentuated tiny waists in the 1830's and 1950s. Later, chain belts became popular.


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