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Chapter Four, part two, follows Dupont’s pursuit of the perfect stretch fiber for girdles. Lycra was invented for this purpose, and was launched in 1959.

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Presentation on theme: "Chapter Four, part two, follows Dupont’s pursuit of the perfect stretch fiber for girdles. Lycra was invented for this purpose, and was launched in 1959."— Presentation transcript:

1 Chapter Four, part two, follows Dupont’s pursuit of the perfect stretch fiber for girdles. Lycra was invented for this purpose, and was launched in 1959 after twenty years of research, but within a short time, sales of the new Lycra girdles plummeted – why? ©2011Taylor and Francis

2 Before Lycra Before Lycra, girdles were made of rubberized thread – thread covered with natural rubber – which was stiff, very uncomfortable to wear, difficult to clean, and tended to deteriorate when it came into contact with body oils, perspiration, sunlight and detergent. Since every woman brought and wore girdles, the potential market for a producer who could devise a superior stretch fiber made of synthetic rubber to use in foundation garments was enormous, and in casting around for new needs to fill, nothing could have seemed more certain to Dupont than the girdle. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

3 As described in Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America, Dupont spent twenty years and the unprecedented sum of $10,000,000 on developing a synthetic fiber to replace rubber, in a trajectory that stretched from the laboratories where scientists worked on the technologically challenging properties of ‘stretch’ to the long process of producing machinery to mass produce the new fiber, and then testing and sampling trial girdles made of the new fiber under conditions of strict secrecy. ©2011 Taylor and Francis

4 Launching Lycra On the morning of October 28, 1959, the world’s fashion and trade press, along with leading manufacturers of foundation garments, textiles and clothing, gathered at the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue in New York City, for Dupont’s launch of its new stretch fiber called ‘Lycra’. Lycra, Dupont revealed, was an elastomeric fiber that stretched and snapped back into place like rubber, but unlike rubber was resistant to deterioration caused by perspiration, cosmetic oils and lotions. It could be dyed, machine washed and machine dried. Although Lycra was much lighter than rubberised elastic thread, it had two to three times as much restraining power, and would be used to make girdles that were light, soft and sheer while providing the same figure control provided by bulkier foundations. ©2011 Taylor and Francis

5 Expectations for the new fiber ran high, and the Wilmington Morning News ran a banner headline: ‘New Du Pont Fiber Could “Girdle” World – One Day.’ Dupont hoped that Lycra would bring about as great a change in the women’s foundation garment industry as nylon had in the hosiery industry. And it did, although it is doubtful if anyone in that room on the day that Lycra was launched could have foreseen quite how that would come about. ©2011TaylorandFrancis

6 Promoting Lycra Dupont launched Lycra with an unprecedented publicity campaign, involving advertising in all the top women’s magazines, press releases, in-store promotions, and the re-training of sales staff, described in detail in Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

7 The ‘At Last’ campaign One of the advertising campaigns for Lycra was based on the theme ‘At Last’, describing all the things women could do in the new girdles of Lycra, that they hadn’t been able to do before. Some of the lines from the campaign were: At last, a girdle that let’s you golf, bowl, ski – do any sport in utter comfort! At last, a girdle that lets you breathe – even after shrimp, steak, French fries, parfait and coffee! © 2011 Taylor and Francis

8 ‘What women want’ Before developing and launching Lycra, Dupont had conducted intensive market research about what women wanted from girdles., Women had told them that they wanted girdles that comfort, coolness, firm support, softness, ease of washing, contoured tailoring, fast drying and shape retention. The company was justifiably proud that they had ‘given women what they wanted’. But which ‘women’? © 2011Taylor and Francis

9 Signs of change In 1959, as Lycra was being readied for the market, Dupont considered the demographic projections for the coming 1960’s. One of the company’ economists noted that, due to the fact that the babyboom babies were growing up, teenagers were going to exert a powerful influence in the marketplace. Teenagers were emerging as a new group of consumers who made their own purchasing decisions. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

10 Although they developed new products for teenagers, most producers, Dupont had assumed that when the Babyboomers grew up they would want what their mothers wanted. Yet even before Lycra was launched, there were signs that the women’s market that had remained stable for so long was beginning to change. ©2011 Taylor and Francis

11 The first signs of change came in hosiery. Like girdles and other foundations, the wearing of women’s stockings had long been considered obligatory. While sales of nylon stockings had boomed again after the wear, by 1955 hosiery manufacturers and retailers, key customers for Dupont’s nylon, began to notice a decline in sales. Particularly worrying was that teenage girls aged 12 to 15 – the consumers of the future – were resisting buying and wearing stockings. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

12 Although the numbers of women in the population arriving at the age of girdle-wearing continued to rise dramatically year by year following Lycra’s launch due to the maturing of the baby boomers, the sales of girdles of all kinds began to fall. As with hosiery, girls aged 12 to 15 and young women were emerging as the main group of girdle- resisters, and the trend was spreading to other age groups. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

13 Anthropological cohort theory ‘Cohort Theory’ was first developed by anthropologists working on traditional societies organised into ‘age grades’ such as youths, warriors and elders. Later the concept it was refined into an analytical tool based on the principle that different cohorts are affected in a unique way by historical events, and have their own ‘cohort culture’ and distinctive characteristics. Recommended reading: Ortner, Sherry Generation X: Anthropology in a Media-Saturated World, Santa Fe, School of American Research Press. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

14 Cohort marketing The realization that the babyboomer cohort was different, not only in size but also in culture and consumption patterns, led to the development of ‘generational’ or ‘cohort’ marketing, based on age and cohort characteristics, the beginning of the niche marketing that dominates production and consumption today. So what were the cohort characteristics of the babyboomers? ©2011Taylor and Francis

15 Boomer cohort characteristics First – the glorification of youth, and the emergence of youth culture. Second - in this revolutionary time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, Women’s Lib, the birth control pill, rock and roll, psychedelia, the Watts riots and much more, they wanted nothing to do with the past. Everything had to be new and different – Burn, baby, burn. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

16 Bra-burning: an urban myth Bra-burning is always cited as the great symbolic event of the period, but no Boomer woman I spoke to had ever burned or, or personally witnessed one being burned by others. Indeed, brassiere sales continued to rise throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s in proportion to population growth. But if bra-burning was something of an urban myth, the abandoning of girdles was not, and every Boomer woman I encountered had something to say about it. ‘Getting rid of the girdle’ emerged as a significant cultural moment, in every sense a defining act of ‘emancipation’ and ‘liberation’ Taylor and Francis

17 As described in detail in Lycra: How a Fiber Shaped America, Dupont mounted a long and intensive campaign to ‘save’ the girdle. From the company’s point of view, the abandoning of the girdle was mystifying - they had given women ‘what they wanted’, girdles made of Lycra that were as light and supple as a second skin. Dupont conducted intensive market research, advertising and in-store promotions, and developed a whole range of full-body Lycra ‘shapers’ that looked nothing like traditional girdles, but the young Boomers wouldn’t buy them, nor would their mothers. By the late 1970’s, the traditional girdle was virtually dead, a victim of social, political, economic and demographic change. © 2011 Taylor and Francis

18 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS – CHAPTER FOUR/2 1)How would you design and write an advertising campaign promoting girdles in the context of the norms and values of 1950’s America? 2)Could you write that kind of advertisement today, and if not, why not. 3) What are some examples of contemporary cohort marketing (products aimed at particular groups)? For example, hair dye for people who are beginning to go grey? © 2011 Taylor and Francis

19 4) In 1950s America, mothers considered it their ‘duty’ to put their daughters into girdles when they were still in junior high or high school. Why do you think they thought this? 5) The decline of the girdle shows that all cohorts are not the same, and that social change can transform the market for certain products. Can you think of other once-popular products and practices that have declined or disappeared due to social change? © 2011 Taylor and Francis


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