Australian dress register ID:407
Owner:Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
Owner registration number:A8211-47
Date range:1932 - 1934
Place of origin:Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
This corset is part of the much larger Berlei Collection, which contains underwear and corsetry from 1869 to 1980s. Most of the underwear in the collection was designed and made by Berlei in either Australia or England, while pieces that predate the company were part of Berlei's own collection of historical undergarments.
The Berlei Collection reflects the changing nature of women's fashion in Australia, and represents the history of a highly successful Australian company and all its achievements; from surviving two World Wars and the Great Depression, to successful expansion overseas.
The company also contributed to the development of standardised clothing sizes with the comprehensive National Census of Women's Measurements, and the promotion of Australian industry during the Depression through their involvement with the Great White Train.
Clever promotion maximised Berlei's sales. Popular afternoon events for women presented the latest styles on models against the most glamorous sets. Berlei also used pseudo 'medical' expertise to convince women that their backaches and sways could be resolved by wearing special, individually tailored, braced corsets. We now know physio and exercise is much more beneficial to correct a woman's posture.
Berlei also manufactured a number of different goods for the Australian Armed Forces during WWII.
Berlei's success can also be attributed to their liberal approach to hiring and promoting women, as well as adapting their products to meet the needs of women in their ever-changing roles during the twentieth century. Author: Melissa Tito, Lindie Ward, 08/06/2012.
Corset "Type Fit A" (1932 - 1934)
This corset has two main parts, the main body is made of pink rayon brocade at the back and peach elastic at the front. The back has three pairs of boning encased in pink bias tape channels. The center front closure is straight busk with five loop and post closures, with an additional two metal hook and eye closures below, and separate from, the busk.
On top of the peach coloured elastic panels at the front, are four brocade panels; two on either side of the center front busk closure. The panels closest to the center front busk closure are joined to the outer panels with fan lacing, that ends in a strap.
The brocade panels closest to the center front busk closure are stiffened with a pair of bones.
There is a buckle, with three pointed teeth, attached to the bottom of the brocade panels closest to the center front busk closure.
The second part of the main body is the flip-over bodice of pink open weave cotton, that is partially lined on the inside with pink brocade. The flip-over bodice closes at the wearer's left with nine metal hooks and eyes.
There is a strap attached to the centre-front bottom of the flip-over bodice with an adjustable buckle, that possibly attaches to one of the loop and posts of the center front busk.
There are also has six adjustable suspenders attached to the bottom of the corset; two at the back, and four at the front.
At the top there are two shoulder straps that are partially elasticised on the inside at the back, and a single neck-brace strap from the back of the corselet, on the wearers left.
On the back of the corselet, at the wearer's right, is a single metal buckle, to which the neck brace strap is possibly secured.
"Type Fit A" means it was designed to fit and improve what Berlei classified as the Average Figure, following their extensive study into women's measurements.
Link to further information about this object
History and Provenance
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
In 1910 Frederick Richard Burley purchased E. Glover & Co., a small underwear firm in Market Street, Sydney. With his brother, Arthur, he set up Unique Corset Ltd. in 1912, operating out of premises in Wilmot Street, Sydney, with a staff of 12 people. Despite wartime, staff numbers grew to 60 and they moved to bigger premises in the Commerce Building, Liverpool Street.
On 9 October 1919 Unique Corsets Ltd., became Berlei Ltd a frenchified version of their surname. In 1922 the company moved to 'Berlei House', a new seven-storey office and factory, at 39-47 Regent Street (now part of Curtin University). The 500 staff produced 2500 garments a day. Dr. Grace Boelke was appointed Medical Superintendent ensuring that Berlei garments were 'anatomically correct' and monitoring the workplace.
By 1923 Berlei acquired one of its main competitors, Australian Corsets Ltd., established Berlei New Zealand Ltd. and started specialised training courses for retail corsetieres.
In 1926 Fred Burley initiated a £10,000 national survey of women's statistics collaborating with Professor Henry Chapman and Dr. S. A. Smith from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Medicine. 23 measurements from 6000 women were tabulated and analysed, resulting in the 'five figure type classification scheme': Type H. (Hip); Type S.B. (Sway Back); Type Ab. (Abdomen); Type A. (Average); Type S.B.W (Short Below Waist): and an accompanying 'Figure Type Indicator' device for retailers. Simple measurements of bust, waist and hips would determine which garments were the most appropriate for a woman's shape. This 1926 anthropometric survey ensured Berlei's success in achieving the perfect fit.
Berlei UK Ltd. was founded in 1930, with the head office in Regent Street, London, facilitating exports to Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, the East Indies & South America.
In 1939 war rationing slashed Berlei's fabric allocation but an outcry by women arguing they needed supportive underwear to work heavy machinery, effected a raise in allocation to 60%. Berlei won contracts to supply the Australian and American forces with undergarments, khaki shorts, anti-flash masks, tape for gas masks, and pillow slips.
Fred and Arthur returned to Australia in 1947, retiring in 1949 and 1948 respectively. They maintained positions on the Board of Directors until their deaths in 1954 & 1957.
Dunlop Olympic Ltd., acquired Berlei in 1969 and was renamed Pacific Dunlop Ltd. in 1986. Berlei is now part of Pacific Brands.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
Berlei used women intelligently, and in key roles; even in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women were generally excluded from senior positions, Berlei had many women designers and women on its management team.
Some designers of note were Lady Desolie Hurley (nÃ©e Richardson) who developed the Sarong Girdle and handled many licensing agreements, and Mary Craven, who was famous for the extravagant fashion shows she directed and compered all around Australia.
Also of note is Clare Stevenson, who was a senior executive of Berlei when WWII broke out, and became the first Director of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (W.A.A.A.F.) in 1940. Her success in building up the W.A.A.A.F. has been attributed to her background in retail management and training at Berlei.
In 1923, Fred Burley founded the 'Australian Made Preference League' with the aim of encouraging Australians to support Australian industry. The League went on to organise the Great White Train travelling campaign. The train hosted numerous Australian companies (including Berlei), in fifteen carriages, that travelled across New South Wales twice; once in 1925 and again in 1926.
The Berlei Collection (epitomised in these 3 garments) is indicative of the changing nature of women's foundation garments, which in themselves reflect changes in fashion and wider social attitudes towards female roles and appearance. The clever use of 'medical' advice on women's posture gave credibility and prestige to the range of remedial garments with braces such as corset (2) when in later years exercise was to become the key to women's health and posture.
Where did this information come from?
Interviews were conducted by Lindie Ward with Michael Hurley and Desolie Richardson at the Powerhouse Museum in 1990.
This garment has been exhibited
Has never been exhibited.
Place of origin:
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Berlei Ltd. and gifted to the Powerhouse Museum in 1982.
Designed by Berlei Ltd.
Made by Berlei as reference sample for manufacturing.
Fibre / Weave
Pink floral brocade, peach coloured elastic panels and pink bias tape, possibly cotton or cotton/polyester.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
This corset was a manufacturing sample which would have been used as a prototype for manufacture.
Markings inside the garment reflect this:
Stamped or printed in black ink is
'This Berlei is made in Australia
for Australian Figures
Type Fit A
Berliebone (Rustproof) Protected by Patent No.s 8424 & 6437
6023 - 32'
Next to this, stamped or printed in red ink is
On the strap connecting the fan lacing at the wearer's right, stamped or printed in black ink, is
'PROTECTED BY PATENT No. 8424 21/7/27'
On the inside back of both shoulder straps, stamped or printed in black ink, is
'Protected by Reg. No. 4802'
See manufacture notes.
No alterations evident.
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
Fastens with 3 sets of lacing at side and front and straps which fasten with adjustable buckles.
- Hook and eye
Stiffening / Lining / Padding
Flip-over bodice is partially lined with pink floral brocade.
The boning is probably metal.
|Hem circumference||855 mm|
|Back neck to hem||470 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Neck brace strap is 925mm long.
Shoulder strap, wearer's right, is 430mm long.
Shoulder strap, wearer's left, is 440mm long.
Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions
'Berlei Advertisements' 1920s - 1960s AustralianScreen
'Berlei extravaganza' 7/11/1930 The Register News-Pictorial
'Corset revue on living models' 6/11/1930 The Advertiser, South Australia
Other related objects
Berlei Type Indicator chart
Navy issue khaki shorts, made by Berlei, for the Australian Navy.
Also view the large collection of Berlei garments and archive in the Powerhouse collection.
Link to collection online
Discolouration on the two front peach-coloured elastic panels, particularly on the bottom hem; the pink brocade panels at the back, particularly on the bottom hem; along the center-front busk closure, both inside and outside; on the suspender belts, shoulder straps and neck brace strap.
The pointed ends of the fan-lacing straps and the neck brace strap are slightly frayed.
The elastic on the inside back of the shoulder straps has lost its stretchiness.