North Devon in 100 Objects 54

54. The Liberty Bodice

This is a garment that older members of the community will remember from early childhood, possibly without much joy.

The liberty bodice was invented towards the end of the 19th century as an alternative to the corset style undergarment that children had been wearing.  They were worn mainly by young girls from the age of about three to eleven, but they were made in adult sizes too. 

The bodice is simply shaped and sleeveless, resembling a waistcoat. It is made of cream coloured light woven wool, has many double stitched seams on the front, sides and back and rubber buttons down the front. These became sticky after many hot washes. There is also a rubber suspender button above the hem on each side, used to hold up knickers or the thick woolly stockings that children wore at that time.

Every girl – and some little boys -wore a bodice all through the winter and especially when the weather was cold to keep the trunk warm.  Liberty bodices were promoted as unrestricting, allowing the exercise necessary for healthy growth and development.

The Peter Pan brand name sought to associate the bodices with the fictional character who is known for his free spirit. The bodices came in packaging with a picture of the fairy Tinker Bell.

This particular bodice was bought in Torrington for 13 shillings and 11 pence, but never used.  Liberty Bodices were still being made in the 1970s.

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