(Since I started this blog, the following has been the most popular entry. Nearly every day, one of more viewers will read it–people from all over the world–Sweden, Brazil, Italy, and of course England.
(It describes an innocent childhood memory, but if you enter “Boston men in girdles” on Google, you’ll find a link to this piece in the fourth spot. Apparently the general topic is of interest to many.
(Similarly, if you look up the word pisherke, the second, third and sixth links are to this blog, ahead of references to Leo Rosten, Pauline Kael, and Mel Brooks.
(Such is the wonderful world of the Internet.)
When I was a kid, one of the Boston newspapers had a section in the women’s pages called “Confidential Chat.” Women readers were supposed to ask questions and provide advice, all of which was published anonymously. I knew it was influential because my third-grade teacher followed directions she found there for turning a lump of coal into something that was supposed to look festive, using household ingredients like food coloring and ammonia. The result looked like a heap of pink and blue fungus.
Also, when our dog had some kind of mange, my mother read that it could be treated with an ointment made from sulfur from the drugstore and lard. I would guess that Crisco or any creamy substance would have worked, but she was sure it had to be lard. She sent me to the supermarket to buy some. I was afraid the entire Jewish population of our neighborhood was observing me as I found and paid for the forbidden substance.
I used to read Confidential Chat—after I read the comics and the weather report—because the readers, with the promise of anonymity, frequently discussed topics like pregnancy and the possibility that their daughters might be promiscuous. The campaign I remember best was the Chat women’s cure for their husbands’ aching backs. Several women recommended the cure, and many more endorsed it after they got their husbands to try it.
You’ll think I’m making this up—and if it had appeared only once or twice, I’d suspect it was a prank by the guys on the copy desk. But it went on for two or three years.
This was the cure—for all back pain, both upper and lower: you bought your husband a woman’s girdle to wear (I don’t know if they told the other Chat readers how to get the right size) and nylon stockings. This was necessary for the proper therapeutic alignment and support. The tops of the stockings were attached to the girdle by its garter clips. Then he put on his regular clothes. As with the lard-based ointment, no substitutions were suggested.
The results, according to dozens of readers over the years, were miraculous. One woman said that her husband, whose muscular back hurt because he drove a truck all day and moved heavy furniture, was pain free and happy now that he put on his girdle and stockings every morning. The Chat women assured one another that the men encountered no embarrassment in rest rooms. In those days, the 1950s, health clubs hadn’t been invented and grown men didn’t go to gyms, so locker-room humiliation wasn’t an issue.
Think of it: a whole generation of young husbands and middle-aged men who went around wearing, under their three-piece suits or their dungarees and flannel shirts, intimate ladies’ paraphernalia—priests, policemen, storekeepers, teachers. Could it have been ten percent or more of Boston’s male population?
I’ll assume that the practice ended when the placebo effect—this has to work because it’s so extreme!—wore off, and even men who faithfully put on their gear each morning found their backs still aching. Or the men may have rebelled against their spouses. Or maybe it was like your mother’s warnings about why you should always wear good, clean underwear—one too many heart-attack victims brought to the E.R., where their bizarre practice was exposed.
While it lasted, though, it must have been good for the newspaper’s circulation. Not to mention the girdle business.