Flatteners appeared on the fashion scene during the late 1910s and 1920s, around the same time as brassieres. However, while brassieres were designed to lift and support the breasts, flatteners had a different purpose: to press the breasts tightly against the body in order to give the wearer the flat-chested look that was popular at the time. Flatteners were made of cotton and elastic. Some laced up the sides to pull the breasts flat, while others had wide elastic bands at the breasts, stomach, and hips to hold the entire body in a fashionable slim shape. The latter type combined the features of the flattener with the corset.
During World War I (1914–18) women had worked in important jobs during the war, replacing men who had gone to fight. These newly independent women were reluctant to return to their former places in the home, or in poorly paid work. They began to demand more independence, and this included fighting for the right to vote and dressing in fashions that gave them more freedom of movement. While during the late 1800s and early 1900s, women had laced themselves into corsets that emphasized large breasts and hips, the ideal young woman of the Roaring Twenties was tall and thin and boyish. The silhouette was called "tubular" because dresses were meant to be one straight tube hanging loose from shoulders to knees. Women who did not naturally have the popular boyish figure were still required to strap themselves into restrictive under-garments. Because small breasts and hips were fashionable, many large-breasted women could only achieve the fashionable look by wearing flatteners that bound their breasts tightly against their bodies. In 1927 Sears sold a typical flattening corset called the Abdo-belt for $1.98. The corset reached from just above the breasts to just below the hips, had garters at the bottom for attaching stockings, and had wide elastic bands that slipped tightly over the bust and hips.
All the Rage. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.
Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.
Blackman, Cally. The 20s & 30s: Flappers & Vamps. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Incorporated, 2000.
Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade: The 1920s. New York: Facts on File, 1991.
[ See also Volume 4, 1900–18: Brassiere ]