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What is a Merry Widow?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A merry widow is a women's foundation garment that is intended to smooth the waist and stomach area while also pushing up the bust. It is one of a number of garments designed for this purpose. Such supportive garments have largely fallen out of fashion for daily wear, but they are used on formal occasions or as dressy lingerie. Many lingerie stores carry a selection of such underwear, and women should try one if they are thinking of buying it to ensure that the fit is comfortable and that the garment looks good.

The garment is often compared to a corset, since both foundation garments have rigid boning. A merry widow is not designed to fasten as tightly as a corset, however. The garment starts at the chest and ends at the top of the hips. It has half cups to support the breasts, and long garter straps to which hosiery can be attached. Typically, the garment fastens with a hidden zipper, and it is not very adjustable.

Initially, the merry widow was a trademark of the famous Maidenform company, which designed it for Lana Turner's role in a 1952 movie of the same name. The name caught on as more were manufactured for the general public, and Maidenform ultimately lost the trademark. Allegedly, Turner complained about the garment during filming, since hers was rather uncomfortable. “I am telling you,” Turner is said to have proclaimed, “the Merry Widow was designed by a man. A woman would never do that to another woman.”

Turner's merry widow was made with contrasting panels in different fabric colors. Many commercial versions are made from a solid fabric print, which may be lace, brocade, silk, or velvet, depending on the intent of the design. One that is designed to be worn under clothing, such as a wedding dress, tends to be simple, so that it will not interrupt the lines of a dress. When a company intends the garment to be worn over other clothing, or as a standalone piece of lingerie, it may be more richly embroidered and decorated.

As with other foundation and support garments, it is very important to try a merry widow on before buying it. Most are sized by bra size, so women should make sure that they know their size so that they can choose one that fits correctly. Since the garment is not very adjustable, it's important that it be comfortable at the time the woman tries it on.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon252512 — On Mar 05, 2012

To Naturesgurl: Yeah, right, you'll enjoy your body especially, when you'll have a couple of babies, and all what comes with that. It is a fact - women are the ones attracting the men, and how are they going to do that when they are getting old? I think the right lingerie is just seductive.

By googlefanz — On Nov 24, 2010

This may be a little bit of an odd question, but how would you go about buying a merry widow for someone else?

My friend is getting married, and she's requested a merry widow for one of her bachelorette presents, and I drew the short straw on that one. It's not that I mind getting her undies, since it is her bachelorette party and everything, but I'm just really afraid that I'll get the wrong size, or one that she doesn't like, and she'll feel bad.

Are there any good tips on how to do this? I have her bra size (we've been friends for a looooong time), but I know that a merry widow can fit differently, and you can't really decide it based on bra size.

What should I do?

By naturesgurl3 — On Nov 24, 2010

I have to say, I just feel silly every time I wear fancy lingerie like that. It's like I'm some character in a bizarre operetta or something.

I mean, occasionally I'll find a piece that I just love, but for the most part, I'm just not that into the garters and waspies and bustiers.

For me, all natural is the way to go. A woman's body is sexy enough on its own, you don't need a 500 dollar piece of lace to make you feel better about it!

I say, just enjoy your bodies ladies -- there's no need to squish yourself into some crazy contraption just because your partner wants it (or you think they want it -- you'd be surprised how many men actually don't really care about lingerie). Just enjoy being yourself, you'll have much more fun.

By pleats — On Nov 24, 2010

Although I totally agree that the merry widow can be hideously uncomfortable, they really can make you feel very attractive, as long as you have one that fits you properly.

I've found that a lot of times ladies aren't sure of what size they need, but are afraid to ask in the store, so they just kind of guess, and end up with something that is just ridiculously uncomfortable or simply not attractive.

This is so unfortunate, because this really can be a lovely piece, and believe me, the ladies in lingerie stores are there to help -- they see all shapes and sizes of bodies all the time, so you won't embarrass them.

So just ask, next time you're buying lingerie like this. Life is too short to wear ugly or uncomfortable undies, especially if they're expensive (like many merry widows are).

If you just can't ask, then at least try it on, preferably with a trusted friend there. They can tell you whether it really suits you or if you need to find a different style.

So go for it ladies, and enjoy being beautiful!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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