To get a picture of how societal changes impact women’s fashion, one need only look to the girdle. This lightweight, tight-fitting belt for the waist experienced widespread popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, beginning with young women of the 1920s who adopted them instead of the constraining corsets their mothers wore. Girdles sold by the millions in the 1930s and reached their heyday in the 1950s, when vogue dress styles called for such a narrow waist and high hips, women were all but forced to don them. By the time the counterculture came to prominence in the 1960s, the rise of control-top panty hose and a shift toward looser clothing, higher hemlines, and low-rise jeans had resulted in girdles falling out of favor.
The Flagler Museum will go beyond the girdle when it presents “Inside Out: Women’s Fashion from Foundation to Silhouette” beginning October 15. This traveling exhibition includes more than 140 items of clothing that not only depict the evolution of womenswear and undergarments, but also chronicle how women and feminist movements have shaped American society. Visitors will explore eight eras in U.S. history, including the Gilded Age in which Henry Flagler lived, and get a sense of women’s roles vis-à-vis their fashion. While the show focuses on womenswear, menswear will also be on display in Whitehall’s second-floor guest rooms. “Inside Out” will be on view through January 5 as part of the Flagler’s sixtieth-anniversary season themed around style.