Berlei Corset Scientific Research

Berlei Corset Scientific Research

Berlei is an Australian underwear company. The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia has a wonderful collection of Berlei ads including a film ad from 1920 and educational glass slides for corset fitters. Explore the collection here:


The NFSA website explains that “Berlei started as a small store in 1912 called Unique Corsets Limited, founded by Fred Burley and his brother Arthur. In 1917 they changed their image, adopting the more French-sounding version of Burley - Berlei.”

Fred Burley's vision for the company was "To Design and Manufacture Corsets and Brassieres of such perfect Fit, Quality, and Workmanship, as will bring pleasure and profit to all concerned, while at the same time rendering such excellent service to our Clients and Consumers as will merit their permanent patronage".

Over the next decade they went from making made-to-order corsets to creating the Five Australian Figure Types and the Berlei Type Indicator, which revolutionised the production of foundation wear. Their aspiration was to be 'the foundation upon which fashion rests.”

In 1926, Berlei researchers conducted a survey of 6000 Australian women of European descent in order to find different figure types within that population. At the end of their research they created five figure types to help fit women with the appropriate corsetry for their type. The types were ‘Sway Back’, ‘Hip’, ‘Abdomen’, ‘Average’ and ‘Short Below Waist’. This allowed them to manufacture corsets ahead of time and then present the customer with the correct size in their figure type. The figure type slide included in this carousel was used in the 1930s as part of a slideshow to educate Berlei fitters. 


Some of their glass slide adverts were also shown in cinemas aimed at women who aspired to emulate the look of a Hollywood star. At the same time, many of their models were everyday women and didn’t look like typical film stars. 


“During the 1930s and 40s, Berlei encouraged women to follow their advice through live shows such as Beauty in the Balance, special fittings by trained corsetieres, film screenings and a booklet full of hints.” Beauty in the Balance was also made into a free film that travelled around New South Wales in the 1930s. Both the film and the live show featured everyday women who had followed a 'short course of beautification' prescribed by Berlei.

They also presented historical slides of women in period dress to give context to the evolution of corsetry and how much less restrictive their modern designs were in comparison. 


Berlei continues to the present day. The 1983 film Undercover directed by David Stevens was made about the rise of the company in 1920s Sydney and the life of founder Frederick Burley. 

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