Parading before a small army of men and women across the roof ballroom of Manhattan's respectable Hotel McAlpin last week were dozens of smiling young women who wore no dresses, no slips, not a stitch of clothing that anyone could see except a corset and a pair of stockings. Yet the hotel manager was not disturbed and no guest complained at the exhibition.
It was the semi-annual fashion show of corset manufacturers, and every U. S. department store had a special reason for making sure that its buyer got to the McAlpin and to the dozens of other private corset exhibits in Manhattan. Corsets are today the best paying department in nearly every biggish store. No matter how much he may lose on his dresses or his stockings through price-cutting and competition, the store manager can count on a snug income from corsets. Early in Depression he was persuaded by the corset-makers, a shrewd and clannish lot, to protect the corset. The manufacturers promised to keep their prices on quality lines stable, if the retailers would do the same. They even designated how much profit the retailer should makesometimes as high as 50%. Result was that, while other members of the clothing industry were foundering 1 the red-ink bog, the corset and brassiere makers marched quietly along at an amazingly stable pace.
Every year for more than a decade they have grossed an average of $75,000,000. They took in exactly $75,000,000 in 1919. Eight years later when waistlines were low and the tube dress and boyish ngun seemed to have eliminated the corset tor ever, the total gross was $77,000,000. And so much has happened to corsets in the last three years that corset men are willing to estimate 1934 gross sales at near 80,000,000.
Corsets: Old Style. The Florodora girls were but babies when the U. S. corset industry began. For practical purposes the date is 1874. That year two specialists in women's diseases, the Brothers Ira DeVer and Lucien C. Warner, rented a wooden house in Cortland, N. Y., hired some girls to make "health"' corsets. Two years later they opened a factory in Bridgeport. By 1880 their corset business was so prosperous that they quit the medical profession, moved to Bridgeport.
Prime problem in corset making when the Brothers Warner went into it was boning. Whalebones were expensive. Horn was brittle. Iron and steel bones rusted so quickly that one or two washings made the corset as ugly as it was uncomfortable. So in 1894 the Warner Brothers, working with Worcester's American Steel & Wire Co. (now part of U. S. Steel), presented the rustproof steel corset rib. It revolutionized the boning business, made whale-bones obsolete.