Not Past It - From Corsets to Climate Change

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Hey, not past it listeners.

It’s that time again this week the historical.

Domino effect is back.

That’s when we tell you a series of mini history stories, each story leads to the next and a chain reaction, and we’ll end up in a completely different place from where we started in the past.


We’ve gone from the Immaculate Conception to Miley Cyrus camels in the military, to the founding of West Hollywood.

And on today’s Journey, we’re going to feel the burn.

From gimlet media.


This is not past it a show about the stories we can’t quite leave behind.

I’m Simone plannin on today’s episode we’re going back 115 years ago, this week the September 28th 1907 when the talk of London was the tiny waist craze.


And from there, we’re going on a domino Journey, exploring, women’s fashion Fitness and the surprising role.

They both play in American politics, Domino’s are all lined up and we’ll knock over the first one.

After the break So we are just about to set off on our Domino journey through More Than A Century of women’s fashion.


But before we get going, I am joined today by aparna nancherla aparna has played characters and Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, HBO search party and crashing, just to name a few her stand-up is all about bringing humor to Serious subjects.


Which will come in handy in today’s episode.

And if you two are Cursed with the burden of a Twitter account, you know, she is one of the few bright spots on that website, welcome aparna.

It’s a true Delight to have a year that very kind by oh well, before we begin, I’m just curious.


How would you describe your personal relationship to Fashion?

I’m very suggestible.

So like I’ll see a model wearing something on like an Instagram add and then I’ll just briefly imagine it on myself and it will generally I always look like it did on the model and that’s not how reality works because I don’t have a model body or proportion.


So I guess I’m an aspirational dresser I would say, gotcha, gotcha.

Well, we are going to venture through a long history of women’s fashion pre Instagram.


Are you ready to knock over the first Domino?

I’m so ready.


Alright, let’s begin with Domino.

Number one.

So, our Journey Begins and the summer of 1907.

When a particular women’s fashion trend was taking over London.


It was called The Wasp waist.


So, you know, women in the early 1900’s were trying to make themselves look like insects.

I guess with this exaggerated version of Of the hourglass figure who doesn’t fancy themselves to have that wonderful segmented body at this particular time, they were achieving that look using the corset.


And the course that wasn’t you, it had been around for a while by that point, but that summer, the style that had come back into Vogue was called tight lacing in September of 1907.

A London, dispatch to the New York Times was cable to readers across.



And the headline read tiny waist crazed seizes on London.

This is like the male booty shorts of then, exactly.

So the paper spoke to a London corset ear, which is a fancy word for a corset seller about the trend and they reported that it was typical for teen girls to come in with their mothers.


And there was one mother in particular, who asked that her daughter’s waist Just be strapped in and shrunk and K-8 rained down from 20 inches to 16 inches.

So small.

I think that’s a bracelet size, but just to give you some contacts, that is literally like, if you were to put your hands, you know, and circled fingertip to fingertip?



I love that.

Women are always, like, can we be more uncomfortable?

Yeah, so you know the corset are sold the mother and daughter.

Three corsets so that she could sort of gradually train her waist smaller and smaller, right?


And as luck would have it that teen girl managed to achieve that 16 inch waist in time for a garden party at none, other than Buckingham Palace and then she was just so happy for the rest of her life.

Yeah, she lived happily ever after.


Yeah, you know, it’s funny, this this garden party at Buckingham Palace was a very sort of see and be seen.

Be seen type of event and I was trying to think of like what would be the modern-day equivalent of like oh I’m just going to take four inches off my waist to go to this party.


I mean, I was just thinking like award shows or the Met Ball.

I could see someone being like, I’m just going to show people that I no longer have a middle.

I just start.

I have a torso and then it just sort of, there’s nothing in the middle and then I Have Hips.


Obviously, there were many, many Sides to this style, you know, when worn over a long period of time, a tightly laced corset could deform your chest and rib cage.

It made it very difficult to breathe and it could even cause your core and back muscles to atrophy.


Wow, a lot of the early corsets were made with wood or even whale bones so just wearing them was painful.

They were like you feel like your ribs aren’t doing enough for you.

Here’s another set of room.

Yeah, pretty much.


However, over the course of the next decade corsets fall out of favor Riders at the time, connected the collapse of the corset to the rise of women’s freedoms and Society.

The suffrage movement was under way more women were working outside of the home.


And, you know, fashion tends to follow political movements and so in this modernizing world women wanted Modern clothing.

Including, you know modernized undergarments.

Yeah it’s brings us to our next domino.


Domino number two.

New and modern women needed a new and modern undergarment.

And I’m curious, do you have any guesses as to what the upgraded to from the corset?


So I’m thinking something, maybe a little more form-fitting, kind of, kind of, on the right track.

That’s not too far off.

So, after the corset came, the girdle, the curdled my girdle, I’ve heard that term thrown around, but I think I always thought it was just also a corset.



Little less restrictive but served a similar purpose as the corset they were warned to quote.

Correct sag fat, bulge and jiggle and it also gave women that the Slender waist that was really the sort of desired Beauty at the time, but I really don’t want women to have a waist.


Yeah, it’s actually illegal.

Women aren’t allowed.

We actually have a picture of what the girdle looked like.

We’re going to pull that up for you.

Right now, I mean, it kind of looks like if you pull the tube top below your breast and we’re like I’m gonna wear this low and then it sort of ends, right?


I would say right past the crotch area?

Yeah it really is like yeah, let’s just shove this woman into this tight rubber sleeve.

It does feel funny that the metaphor for like women getting free Is just like giving them a little more movement in their clothing, like it’s like, literally we’ve been imprisoning them in their girdles, were an improvement on the corset but like we’re saying they weren’t exactly comfortable to wear and there’s one story that is especially olestra t’‘v of this.


So there was a story published in the magazine, Canadian Living that asked A bunch of women to submit their girdle horror stories and there was one of a woman named Rose.

She was going on her first date with a guy and five of her friends had to help her get into her girdle.


If you remember Myspace of like your top eight, like you’re half my friends, are your girlfriend’s.

She goes on the state.

She has a couple drinks at dinner.

Eventually she has to use the bathroom and she realizes.

Oh, I cannot actually Go to the bathroom without fully undressing myself.


The jumpsuit quandary so she does she does she gets fully undressed to go use the bathroom but then realizes, oh shit.

I don’t have my five girlfriends around me and she can’t get herself back into the girdle.

So she breaks down sobbing in the bathroom.


Oh no, and luckily, it kind stranger finds her.

They’re in distress two of them, managed to get the girdle back on Rose.

She has the date and ultimately goes on to marry that man.

That is like the equivalent of like getting a tampon from a stranger, right?


Oh yeah.

Those like moments in the bathroom of like quiet knowing.

Yeah, so as far as the girl went something had to give this came up in a bunch of surveys, that one company conducted, a wanted to know more about woman’s dream Innovations, and there was a resounding answer.


Sir to please, please improve the girdle.

This garment is uncomfortable, it sucks.

We need something better.

And luckily, an improvement on the girdle was just around the corner and that takes us to Domino number 3.

So this series of surveys, finally answered the big question.


What do women want?

And what they wanted was better undergarments.


Because what else could you need?

So, the surveys were put out by the DuPont company.

Does that name ring a bell by any chance it does but now I can’t remember what they made.


So Dupont is a very old.

American Chemical conglomerate.

So they’ve make a bunch of different things when it started in 1802 some of its earliest products were things, like gunpowder and explosives.

Dupont Supply, the US government, and its allies with nearly 1.5 billion pounds of weapons during World War One and Time Magazine reported that because of their weapons business, Dupont had developed a reputation as a merchant of death.



They’re like, dang, we have this awful rep as you know, war, profiteers time to clean up the self-image by catering to women have natural pivot to woman’s passion.

Yeah, yeah.

Um, in 1935, they actually rolled out a new friendly slogan, better things for Better, Living Through Chemistry and around this time, they launched a bunch of products aimed at women.


They invent nylon for pantyhose.

They invent Teflon for nonstick pots and pans.


And so in the late 1940s, Dupont secretly got to work on developing a new fiber that would make a better.

Her girdle and the project became known internally by the codename fiber K.


So a chemist by the name of Joseph, Shivers led the charge and he wanted a fiber that had give that had bounced back.

They worked on developing this for almost 10 years.

Wow and finally, in 1958 fiber K became a reality it was stretchy but I think it felt light against the skin but was strong enough to handle machine, washing and drying and it was used in This Woman’s undergarment Revolution and it is a fabric that you are probably familiar with.


Do you know what it could be?

I’m gonna guess spandex.

Yeah, it was fantastic.

Sore Lycra, fun fact spandex is an anagram of expands because it has it has that give it It’s got back of yep.


And right away, they start adding Lycra to girdles.

And we actually have some ads of these early Lycra girdles from 1962.

Yeah, describe to me.

What you’re looking at here, it says at last a girdle that lets you breathe, even after shrimp, steak french fries, salad, parfait, and coffee, the perfect meal.


Do you feel like you would be swayed by these Lycra girdle ads?

I think I don’t know if it’s that I came up in an era where people are finally.

Like I don’t know about all this women’s product marketing, but I feel like whenever I read an ad for like a woman’s body or beauty product, I like just already feel rage.


Like I just can’t buy into the fantasy at all.

I’m like the worst demographic for them but sounds very A healthy and well-adjusted these ads.

May not have worked on you aparna, but at the time, the Lycra girdle was a huge hit but as the 50s became The Swinging 60s and Beauty ideals shifted, you know, the Twiggy look was becoming more popular and also mini skirts were the latest fashion trend and it can’t really wear a girdle and a mini skirt because your girdle would show plus the politics of the 60s were at play women even burned the girdles and Oh test.


You know, they don’t want to be held in, they wanted their freedom but that just left a bunch of extra Lycra sitting around.

So do you have any idea?

Any guesses as to where this all went High?

I can’t tell what year it is, but I’m like, if we’re in the 70s and 80s, I mean that’s like What did it go into?


I feel like that was the entire mindset of the 80s.

Like, can you make it in like her?

Well, that takes us to Domino number four.

You’re right on the time. 70s 80s Lycra gets taken up by the aerobics crowd right now.


Aerobics had caught on largely because of one woman by the name of Gilda Marx Marx.

As in Marx Brothers, she was actually married to one of the Marx Brothers is Sons.

And the way sort of Gilda describes her background is She says, she grew up a chubby girl who grew into and self-conscious young woman.


And as a teen living in La, she sort of felt uncomfortable, she didn’t feel like she fit in and her sort of solution to that was to lose 20 pounds.

That’s weird though because I feel like La really promotes positive body image.


Weird, I must have been different back bun.

We actually found Gilda and called her up.

She’s is in her 80s now but very much still knows how to take charge of a room.

I think it’s important to begin at the beginning which is what I thought you wanted some own.


I began my journey when I was asked to get the group of women in shape and classes were taught at my home outside on my patio to motivating music And guilders workout was a hit, it got very popular, through Word of Mouth alone and in the mid-70s after training out of a small studio for years.


She upgraded to a baby blue, Penthouse, in Century City, and called it body design by Gilda and it overlooked all of Los Angeles.

And it for me, it was a dream come true and it was here that celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Sylvia Forces alone that Midler carry more Priscilla Presley.


And then so many other celebrities work out in my new exercise Studio.

I knew I was onto something.

Allah is most toned and firmed would work out there in leotards or sweats made out of cotton.


Now this got Gilda thinking, could she create a more perfect aerobics, you know, A form if I could develop a really important fabric that would move with their movements and would cuddle their body.


So that they were really comfortable and felt secure in and I found it.

Hilda found the perfect fabric, a Lycra blend and she called her invention the flex attard and it was just The most incredible thing to see, women wear my flexor, Tardes and want more and more, and more like a blend.


She used in her Flex at ards flattered different body types.

And in Gilda’s words, they were fantastically glamorous and aparna, we’ve got some images of these flecks of Tardes and I think you’ll want to see them because they are quite something.


So tell me, tell me what you see here, I mean just absolutely gorgeous.

Sassy bold print of jewel tones?

Yeah, it starts.

You know, it’s has sort of a bathing suit top and then it ends in like bike shorts.


I was going to say.

I think I was that I’m was that one person like, after the, like were Revolution, still showing up in like my old PE shorts and t-shirt.

Looking like a fool.

Yeah, you know what fine in my book?


I don’t know what gildo would have to say about that.

There is one other famous person who walked into Gilda’s class in 1978, she was looking for a new way to stay fit.

She’s an actress, but as also well-known for her political voice and she sort of takes Gilda’s aerobics and really runs with it.


I think I know who it is.

Who do you think that maybe it might be wonderful.

Lady named Jane Fonda.

It sure is.

It sure is.

And we’ll get into Jane Fonda after the break.

Alright, welcome back aparna can you give us a quick summary of what we have journeyed through so far.


Yeah, okay, so women’s fashion has always been sort of like how can we put women in like a cage but just make them wear it around.

So it started with literal bones which was like the whale bone corset, that morphed into the girdle which More like a rubberized tube top and then that turned into the invention of light, Gras, which helped spur, the aerobics Revolution.


Wow, beautiful recap.

Now, this is where our Domino journey is going to take an interesting fork in the road.

So you know how sometimes when you like you line up your Domino’s and it’ll go into a straight line.

But you know, people get fancy and they like they’ll split the two pads and The Dominoes, will it go in opposite directions?




So we’re having a little bit of that moment in history here, so we’ll follow One path, which is this Jane Fonda path and then we’ll come back around to another strange.

Turn of events.

But first, let’s go to Domino.


Number five.

So Jane Fonda walks through the doors of that Century City Penthouse she falls in love with a guild as workout.

She becomes a regular at the studio with Jane Fonda.


She saw you know more potential and aerobics than just sort of doing jumping jacks in the back row of some studio.

She thought that women across America might want to try aerobics, and so, Jane Fonda struck out on her own and Women with another option.


She published a book, aptly titled, Jane, Fonda’s workout book in 1981, wow.

And the next year, she taped her own aerobics routines and sold them to the masses on VHS.

Are you ready to do the workout?

Women loved the tapes and for the low price of $59.95.




You two could work out with Jane, in the privacy of your living room, you know?

Interestingly enough Jane Fonda happened to launch her VHS Empire at a very opportune time.

This happened to be right around the time when VCRs were becoming more affordable.


There were in, you know, many households across the country.

And her first workout video is still one of the best selling VHS has of all time.

That’s impressive.

Now, Jane Fonda made a lot of money through her work out Empire and that money ended up helping fund her and her husband’s political causes.



So at the time, Jane was married to Tom Hayden, he had made a name for himself as a student activists.

During the Vietnam war and later became a prominent liberal California politician and all of the profits generated by her.


Work out business went to their shared political action committee called the CED or the center for economic democracy.

Wow, so the CED championed causes like rent, control environmental regulation workers rights and as of 1984 Jane, Fonda’s workout had funneled, Millions into the CD.


So, If you paid for a class or one of her books, or a workout tape, you contributed to the couple’s causes.


Take that class pass.

So if you remember our Domino’s had a bit of a fork in the road so we followed one path to Jane Fonda.


But if we go back to Gilda marks and the rise of aerobics fashion there is another direction that we could follow the dominoes in, okay.

And that takes us to To Domino.

Number five, again.

Now because of the rise of aerobics fashion Lycra got really big, like it was worth four and a half billion dollars that’s actually how much the business was worth when Dupont sold it and the rest of its text style vertical called in Vista in 2004 and this new buyer for Lycra was one of the biggest producers of the chemicals required to make.


The fabric and other synthetic fibers that company was none other than Koch Industries.

Sounds like you are familiar with the with the names twist Koch, Industries owns, thousands of miles of oil and petroleum pipelines, right?


It also owns consumer Brands like Brawny paper towels, Dixie Cups and Cattle Company.

Here a trading business there Koch Industries really?

There’s quite a breath of Industries.

Now, the majority of Koch Industries was owned by the Koch, brothers, David and Charles Koch, and their empire.


All started with their Dads fossil fuel business.

Good one of the brothers David died in 2019 but Charles Koch is still alive and together.

They are still well known as conservative and libertarian.

Donors often through so-called dark money mechanisms, that are difficult to trace.


But the part of their legacy That I wanted to focus on for this story is, you know, their work on essentially spreading misinformation about climate change.

They’ve supported candidates and front groups who deny climate change one of their foundations, help fund a 2007 paper that suggested that it’s too early to say whether or not polar bears are actually threatened by global warming.


They actually love it polar bears.

Just want to chill in the sun, yeah.

All right.

Where does lycra fit into all of this?

Well, Koch Industries eventually sold off that business for billions of dollars that sale was completed in 2019, but here’s the punch line for much of the last two decades.


If you bought anything containing Lycra, you are indirectly, supporting Koch, Industries and ironically lots of outdoor brands, use Lycra and other invista fibers in their products.

Companies whose Tough.

We see around all the time.


Like Marmot, The North Face, you know, companies known for their environmental Halos or is bad.

I’m curious like do you feel like you have seen other places where fashion and politics are intersecting in these ways?


A lot of fashion stuff I knew has unsavory like if you trace it it’s going to end in a sweatshop or fossil fuel company.


If I want to participate in the world, I guess I have to fund the unsavory activity but now it feels more like every clothing side.


I go to there’s some sort of pledge sustainability pledge.

So they know people are like what are your dirty secrets like it?

Unless it’s like our corporate pledge is to shut down.

Our company, probably have to take it with a grain of salt So yeah, it’s like we will we will produce with impunity but if you want, you can bring in your old clothes into the store and we’ll dispose of them for you.


But on the other hand, you know, you have a company like Patagonia that seems to be making more of an effort.

The founder recently transferred, his ownership to a non-profit and Trust designed to combat climate change.

But yeah, for the most part it’s pretty bleak the risk, everything and You know, patch what you have.


I’m just trying to think like, how, how do you move the world in that direction?

Great question.

Great question.

This is that something we should try to solve right now, something for your listeners to think about and just resolved.


Why don’t you guys solve that problem?


Think about it, get back to me.

So we saw how fashion changed along with politics you know the corset and suffrage the girdle and women’s lib, but we also saw how fashion is literally political it’s tied to organizations like the CED and Koch Industries.


Alright, well, thank you aparna for joining me.

On a whirlwind journey of fashion and politics.

Oh my gosh.

Thank you for all the new information.

I have and welcome back anytime.


Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and DSP media, this episode was produced by Laura Newcomb.

Next week, we’re bringing you a story from our friends at heavyweight.

This is where I spot.



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Our associate producers are Julie Carly Ramon Phillip and Nick Delle Rose, the supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by an eagle.

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Thanks to Daniel Friedman.

Her book.

Let’s Get Physical is all about the history.

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Thanks for hanging.

We’ll see you next week.

I still run into students 45 years later, that, tell me your your Flex attard never wore out.


I was at an event one time at someone’s home and she dumped a whole drawer full of my garments.