Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Merry Widow

Madonna corseted: 1984-Present.

Ever since she busted out, Madonna popularized underwear as outerwear. Don't talk to me about Cherie Currie and Vanity in their teddies...because nobody saw those bytches on a daily basis or cared. So, here's what I mean when I say popularized. Meaning girls were actually wearing it off stage. CATCH IT! Starting with the peek-a-boo bra from Lucky Star but mainly with the Virgin (Whore) bustiers, or as my mother called them, Merry Widows. 'Merry Widows' can either fasten in the back or zip up in the front and pull in the waist (early days with inserted whale bone, now plastic panels) and enhance the bust (with quilted cup pads) and give the illusion of an hourglass figure.

Madonna had the opposite effect on the lingerie business than the proto- Blonde Bombshell, Jean Harlow, had in the 1930's. Harlow eschewed brassieres therefore her slinky dresses just melded to her sinuous curves. Hollywood legend has it that Jean would ice her nipples before filming scenes so they were erect. So popular was Harlow and her fashion that look-alikes started popping up and the lingerie business plummeted.

Jean Harlow in rare photo.

Madonna, on the other hand, had lingerie sales flying through the roof in the 1980's (till date), donning vintage corsets or The Merry Widow - named after the Lana Turner 1952 film of the same name. The Merry Widow corset was produced by Warner's fashion corporation in 1955.

Warner's 1955 Merry Widow ad.

In 1987, Madonna appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and educated an eager public on these vintage wonders but christened them, to a new generation, as bustiers - a name that has stuck since. Corset, bustier, or whatever but cmon, you know Merry Widow is the best name.

vintage merry widows.

The one on the left is identical to the one Madonna wore on Johnny Carson in 1987 (sans garters) and then again in '89 (with garters) for her MTV performance of Express Yourself. In her typical rebellious fashion, Madonna added men's slacks, blazer and suspenders (to the corset) for her androgynous male/female beat down. The spawn of what Jean Paul Gaultier would later create for The Blond Ambition Tour.

1989 MTV Music Awards


  1. Oh this post is so sweet!!! She has made lingerie popular like no other!

  2. Fanfuckingtastic! My mother called them Merry Widows too. So wonderful! Madonna made them SO popular, that nowadays they are a must-have staple of the official Pop-Star Uniform. Britney, Christina, Gwen, Joanne, Beyonce, Rihanna, and so on.

  3. betty - yes, she sure did and yes it sure is part of the "popstar by numbers" uniform.

    i think our moms called it that cause thats what they called them in the 50's and 60's. did they have another name for them back in the day? thats the only name i knew them by. im getting more obsessed with the 50's - if thats possible. the clothes were so much cooler. by the 70's merry widows were way long forgotten. bra-burning womens lib, hippies and shyt. polyester pant suits, minis and moo-moo's were in!!!! haha!

    did you love the jean harlow pic? scanned it from a rare book! xo

  4. Why do you have to belittle other people's achievements in your articles about Madonna?? We all know what Madonna has done, and everything she's done has always been "borrowed" from somebody else. She just became more popular, doesn't mean that she invented them.

    When I discovered Marilyn Monroe that was the end of me worshipping Madonna as a visionary or original artist. Madonna has copied so much from Marilyn and many others who didn't copy anyone.

    Anyone that says that Marilyn was simply a studio fabrication knows shit about her. She spent her whole life fighting the studio for independence and better roles and got it in the end. She was no bimbo and had a will in her.

    And had a will in her actually, and that dumb blonde character was her creation, someone compared it to Chaplin's tramp character and I couldn't agree more, it was her creation and it's become an archetype.

    I went off the handle, but the point is that it's unfair and naive to belittle the female artists that came before Madonna who paved the way for her, in the same way that Madonna has paved the way for all the female artists of today.

    It's like the internet, it had a boom in the 90's and some people claim that they invented it but at the end of the day no one invented the internet by themselves. It was several individuals with several inventions that came together and the internet came to be.

    It's the same way, I mean many female artists like Cherie Currie did little things that influenced Madonna to do what she did, she is not an island, she did not spontaneously came to be, no one does, so just stop belittling(sp?) everyone else, because Madonna herself can accept her influences, why can't you?? it's sad.

  5. ramon, eat a big stink puss and shut the fuck up.

    1. whats sad is you coming my blog DAILY and telling me what to do - start your own.

    2. from what youve said about marilyn, you know nothing about marilyn. so, really...

    3. 'music' just started on KCRW and im done with conversing with you.

    eat shyt!!!

  6. Monroe, Harlow et al had not been around wearing bustiers for like two or three decades when M breathed now life into them and they certainly didn't ever wear them like Madonna wore them. I LOVED her teaming them with men's formal wear - genius! Pure Madonna. Great to see Madonna's Bustier wearing celebrated. She pioneered the post modern feminism of wearing lingerie and underwear as outerwear.
    Love u Pud x

  7. Marilyn Monroe borrowed the blond hair from Jean Harlow who was her idol growing up, she even borrowed her "naive" and adorable character from her. Watch the "blond bombshell" and maybe you'll stop respecting Marilyn too. :)
    As far as the bustier is concerned and wearing lingerie as outwear even Karl Lagerfeld who knows what is talking about did a nice introduction on a book about Madonna in 1988 saying that she POPULARIZED it and that he found it incredible to see all the salesgirls at the Chanel boutique rue Cambon wearing tied up bows on their head to emulate her ( long before GAGA who copied the hair bow from Paris Hilton of all people since she sported it in 2005).
    I'm so fed up to hear eople who don't know claiming stuff about Gaga as an original.
    I went in an H&M store with my sister and everywhere i looked i could see stuff from Madonna's wardrobe from different eras being sold : cut off leggings with lace, lace tops, tutu à la Who's that girl, gaultier's bras and on top of it all even a wife beater bearing a picture of M from "True blue".
    And concerning Debbie Harry whom i worship, she did not make it on her own, yes she was there before Madonna and M aknowledge her but she did it with a band and not on her own and when they slipt up, her solo career did not go anywhere because she wasn't the driving force behind it contrary to Madonna who unlike PAt Benatar and many other females before her did not have the control of their careers on their hands.
    From another post from this wonderful blog i also want to say that though she did not receive a producing credit on her first album, she wasn't pleased at all with Reggie Lucas production and she went to Jellybean to rework together many tracks on the album. Reggie Lucas wasn't interested in reworking them but did not want to give away is producing credits.
    Same goes for "Like a virgin" and this comes from Nile Rodgers himself who still insists it was a co-production, they had many fights during the recording and producing sessions but he's still pleased and honoured to have made this album with Madonna and still place it as is best collaoration with an artist, still insists on saying that he does not understand why Madonna is not more respected for her musical genius and even go as far as saying that as a fan "like a virgin" is not is favourite Madonna album.
    And yes Madonna borrowed a lot and never hid it, for "Papa don't preach" she channeled Jean Seberg for example but which pop star today knows who Jean Seberg is ?
    Gaultier made conic bras long before making them for Madonna ( Though the bustiers Madonna wore at the AMA in 85 and for the Susan premier were already Gaultier) but she popularized them and put Gaultier on the map at a time when he was about to give up fashion ( his longtime partner just died in 90 and the blond ambition project with M gave him something to hold on to and get back on track).

  8. ivor - jean never wore them - that was my point in including her in this piece and her opposite effect on the lingerie business - sales dove in her era because she was the one women looked to. im sure many women before her, at the same time and whatever did the same - but, historically speaking, it was Harlow that the decline in womens undergarment sales is attributed to. monroe as underwear - not outerwear. love you being here, too. xo

    pheel - love it!!! you speak my language!!! xo

  9. Pud, of course, darling! Love the Jean photo!

  10. to me, madonna is one of the greatest rip off artists of our time. however, she is also the perfect (or should i say, *was* the perfect) definition of a postmodern artist. "there is nothing new under the sun" it's been said (a quote she used in her own Girlie Show tour book), and what she's done is basically taken those people she's admired, loved, and incorporated it into her own style, work, and music---and given it her own spin. and that spin was absolutely incredible for many many years.

    for me, it doesn't matter that the majority of the things she's done aren't "original" per se. if it's been copied, but it's absolutely brilliant, who gives a shit how original, or not original it is? lady gaga has learned this lesson well, and she learned it from the majority of madonna's brilliant career.

    i'll never forget growing up and watching madonna knock 'em dead over and over again, wow 'em over and over again, and shock 'em over and over was an incredible time. copied or not, she was my postmodern hero.

  11. Look at those micorscopic little old lady tits!