I love my Liberty Bodice! – an exhibit at Chepstow Museum, August 10 – October 6 2013
‘I Love My Liberty Bodice’ is a special exhibition that celebrates the undergarment that was loved or loathed by generations of children. The fleecy bodice, with its cotton tapes and rubber buttons, has become a thing of nostalgia for many thousands of people who grew up with it as part of their childhood.
The exhibition tells the story of R. & W.H. Symington & Co. Ltd, the Leicestershire corsetry manufacturer, who developed the new undergarment for children and looks at the way childhood changed at the beginning of the 20th century. The Liberty Bodice was invented by Fred Cox, Marketing Director at Symingtons of Market Harborough in 1908. It was a fleecy knitted vest with rubber ‘mangle-proof’ buttons, re-enforcing cotton tapes and buttons to attach drawers and stockings. The bodice helped to change the way that children dressed.
Through most of history until the later 19th century even very small girls were dressed as miniature grown-ups. Constricting corsets and tight lacing were advocated for even pre-teens in the crinoline era. But from about 1880 there was a gradual change and young people began to have their own kind of clothes. Most middle and upper class children still wore corded bands from infancy that were supposed to help ‘train’ their developing bodies and from the age of about 10 girls wore a more shaped boned bodice. The big breakaway came with the appropriately named Liberty Bodice, a softer, less restricting garment that allowed children to move around and play, at a time when playing and being active were viewed as an important part of childhood.
Fred Cox’s daughter, Freda was pictured wearing the bodice in an original advertising photograph. She appeared as the ‘Liberty Bodice Girl’ in much of the early marketing. It was followed by the ‘Libertyland’ marketing campaign, a land where sweets grew on trees and children played alongside fairy tale characters and woodland animals. By the 1930s the Liberty bodice was such a large part of Symington’s production that they built a new series of buildings at the factory, and developed sophisticated marketing and advertising campaigns around it.
“Come and meet ‘Soccer Sid the Liberty Kid’ and ‘Dashing Dora the Liberty Scorer’” said curator of Chepstow Museum Anne Rainsbury “ they are two plaster figurines that helped sell the Liberty Bodice to shops around the UK in the late 1920s and 30s and are remarkable survivals. Also on display are original Liberty Bodices, advertising artwork, photographs and packaging. The exhibition comes from the collections of Leicestershire Museums housing the archives and products of the Symington factory. The Liberty Bodice was produced in its millions and continued to be made until the 1960s, when manufacturers began to cater for the new teenager’s tastes, and is remembered with love or loathing by many women today.
Did you love or loathe yours – come and tell us!!”