13 Girdles, or Why It's So Hard to Get Rid of Things

18 Feb

Among the many objects that we sent back from my mother’s home after she relocated to a nursing home the last year of her life was a collection of her girdles from the 1960s.

For those of you who were not privy to this form of female torture, the standard girdle was an elasticized, encasing undergarment, extending from the waist to midway through the thighs with fasteners for nylon stockings. Its major purpose, in addition to holding up stockings, was to provide a sleek figure, regardless of the girth of its wearer. The corset of its day, It was de rigeur as part of any respectable woman’s wardrobe from the 1920s through the late 1960s.

My fashion-conscious mother would not have thought to go anywhere in which she wore a dress or skirt without one. Her collection includes five full body shapers with bras (one body shaper is so tight it has a zip), five standard girdles, and three panty style girdles. Even my sister, just three years older than me and thin as a rail, wore one at times. I, fortunately, was born just late enough to be able to settle for a garter belt to hold up my stockings. When pantyhose surged onto the scene in the late 1960s, the girdle declined in popularity. Perhaps it was no accident that its demise also occurred as the sexual revolution was underway. The girdle, which was notoriously difficult to take off, served as a form of chastity belt. I can’t vouch for Spanx in that regard.

So, with this dubious history, why do I still cling to this collection of girdles all these years later? After all, I have many more personal and meaningful items that represent my mother’s life, not the least of which are the various artworks she produced. And, even if I deemed the girdle as saying something about who my mother was, wouldn’t one suffice? Yes, indeed. But what do I do with the rest?

I consider the options and my personal framework for deciding what to do with all my things: 1) sell if easy to sell and worth enough to make it worth my while (furniture, jewelry, antiques, vintage and better clothes); 2) donate if of value to someone but not me (books, many clothes, craft items, kitchenware); 2) throw out if of no real value to anyone (papers, broken items); and 4) keep (at least for the time being) if of personal value to me (joy!) or can be repurposed by me (probably a delusion, but acceptable for now.)  

Applying my framework, here is my internal conversation about the girdle collection:

Throw them away: Argument: No one wears these things anymore. There’s no market for them. Despite their age, they are in remarkably good condition—the elastic still holds up. I don’t like throwing away things that have some possible value to someone. So, I could….

Sell them online: Argument: Check out Etsy. There are a bunch of girdles on there from the 1960s. Yes, but is anyone actually buying them? I decided some time ago that I wasn’t going to get into the online market in my efforts to downsize. The last thing I needed was another business. If there wasn’t a ready and local market (preferably a buyer who would stop by the house), it wasn’t worth my time.  I could put a note out on my local “Next Door.” You never know….

Sell them to a vintage shop: Argument: They are vintage, after all!  I’ve done quite well selling vintage clothing to a couple of local vintage consignment shops. But none of them want these undergarments.

Donate to Goodwill or similar: Argument: Goodwill doesn’t inspect your donations when you leave them. Deposit in the boxes, and they’re gone. Plus, maybe someone would want to use them in a Halloween costume. Gone to the landfill is more like it. I could save myself a step and just throw them away. We delude ourselves if we think that all our clothing donations will be go to those who want or need them, but this is especially true for something like a girdle in this day and age of Spanx!

Donate to a costume department of a college or theater group: Argument: You never know when someone is going to put on a period piece that involves a bit of stripping. Yup, thought of that one. But thirteen??

Repurpose: Argument: Make them into an artwork: Think of the potential feminist statement! I am an artist, but my repurposing is limited to old magazines, etc. for my collages. No thank you!

I share this example of the kind of mindgames that can freeze the best intentions of the slow downsizer. The decision feels complicated, and the targeted item(s) don’t take up all that much room. But after awhile, when the lower-hanging fruit is all gone, you have to deal with these stumpers that don’t fit neatly into your schemes and rules.

HELP! Anyone want 13 vintage girdles (size small), various colors, in good shape (and good for shaping..)? And for a bonus, I will throw in six pairs of genuine nylon stockings, three in colors!

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