Who: Jenyns Corsets (1898-1990s).
Established by husband and wife Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns (1865-1958) and Sarah Ann Jenyns (1865-1952), in Brisbane in 1898. Jenyns was a family run business, but was run by a family with serious divisions.
What: Jenyns was a leading corset label that pioneered ‘surgical’ and ‘hygenic’ corsets for women. The business eventually became one of the country’s most significant underwear empires, and one of Queensland’s longest running fashion companies.
When: The business was established in the late nineteenth century, and survived in to the last decade of the 20th century. After more than fifty years as a successful enterprise, the company was sold to global brand, Triumph, in the late 1960s, which continued to use the Jenyns name, trading as The House of Jenyns. Triumph sold Jenyns in 1992, when it was split into a medical products company, Jenyns Pty Ltd., owned by Jenyns family members Ken, Pat and Julie Jenyns, and a specialised surgical corset business, Jenyns Bryant Surgical Corsetry Pty Ltd. These continued operating in to the 1990s.
Where: Jenyns corsets were stocked throughout the country in department stores and draperies, shown at exhibitions and fairs nationally, licenced through international retailers, and sold from their own premises. The company had locations in George Street (321 and later 309-315), Brisbane, for several decades, later moving to Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. After Triumph purchased the company in the late 1960s, the then named ‘House of Jenyns’ operated in Ipswich, until at least the late 1980s, when its once exceptionally popular corsets became a more or less obsolete product for most women.
Why: Few Queensland fashion companies have had the rich history and longevity of Jenyns. While initially starting as a partnership between husband and wife Ebenezer and Sarah, it was Sarah who developed Jenyns into a leading corset company that endured for close to a century. Sarah was a passionate advocate for modernising corset designs, and developed side lacing and fan lacing corsets that enabled a wearer to easily get in and out of the garment without assistance (as was the case with older corset designs). She also believed that these garments had great medical benefits; relieving back problems, improving the figure, and supporting posture. Her patented designs were endorsed by the London Institute of Hygiene, a significant tick of approval for the company that ‘legitimised’ their health claims. An advertisement from 1920 states:
“Jenyns supporting and reducing corsets are a health corset of distinctive merit. They are designed to combine the best principles of an abdominal belt with the finest artistry in corset making. The result is a corset unique in its supporting features and modern fashionable lines.”
By 1911 Sarah Jenyns was running her corset business independently, and continued to be associated with the success and legacy of Jenyns. Ebenezer continued to create surgical corsets as well, though with less success. In a short-lived moment of stability, they formed Jenyns Patent Corset Pty Co. in 1915.
In the 1920s the family business completely split, with Ebenezer and his son John applying for their own patents, and trading as Jenyns Truss & Patent Pty Co. However, this venture did not fare well. By contrast, Sarah’s enterprise continued to grow. She brought her son Herbert in to the company, and he worked alongside her for more than twenty years. She secured Jenyns Patent Corset Co. Pty Ltd and continued to expand and patent new designs and improvements. Herbert was manager of Jenyns Patent Corsets by 1928, and instigated the manufacture of foundation garments and underclothing. Herbert became managing director of Jenyns in 1946. His own sons continued in the business in to the late 20th century.
The business grew from 15 employees in 1920 to 500 in 1964. During World War II, Jenyns received large contracts from the army and navy to supply garments, and this was a time of rapid expansion for the business. Jenyns did have competition from local and international companies. In Australia their main rival was Berlei, and internationally firms such as Camp and Symington also served a similar market.
Herbert Jenyns led the company once Sarah become too elderly. Her own health failed her and she became senile. In 1951 more familial tension surfaced when it was alleged in the Supreme Court that Herbert had ‘unduly influenced his mother to transfer 13,655 shares in the company to him.’ Sarah passed away in 1952, and in 1953 the court’s decision was reversed in Herbert’s favour. He continued to run the business, becoming a millionaire.
Jenyns corsets continued to be a fixture of women’s wardrobes in to the 1960s, with many women still wearing them until the business was sold in 1992. Today Jenyns corsets are still coveted by collectors.
- 1913 'AT THE RACES.', Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954), 16 June, p. 5, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article53302514
- 1918 'IMPROVED CORSETS.', The Farmer and Settler (NSW : 1906 - 1957), 8 November, p. 8, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123309066
- 1927 'THE MODERN CORSET.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 29 October, p. 26, viewed 20 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21189003
- 1932 'No title.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 10 June, p. 16, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21963166
- 1934 'Shopping Column.', The Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 - 1954), 9 March, p. 16, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article104221410
- 1938 'Corset Factory Expansion.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 20 June, p. 12 Supplement: INDUSTRIAL Supplement, viewed 21 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41013539
- 1939 'WOMEN'S PRIDE MEANS CORSET-MAKING.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 26 June, p. 17 Supplement: INDUSTRIAL SUPPLEMENT, viewed 21 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40845005
- 1951 ‘Jenyns Case Jury Finding.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 25 April, p. 5, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50105474
- 1951 'HALLUCINATIONS CLAIM IN SHARE CASE.', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 15 March, p. 2, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27011679
- 1953 'JENYNS CASE VERDICT REVERSED.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 28 February, p. 4, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50547208
- 1957 'Advertising.', The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), 1 May, p. 77, viewed 19 November, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article47247988
- Evans, G. 2013. Titanic Style: Dress and Fashion on the Voyage. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., New York.
- Hyslop, Anthea. 'Burley, Frank Arthur (1881–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burley-frank-arthur-9634/text16995, accessed 20 November 2013.
- Maynard, M. 'Jenyns, Sarah Ann (1865–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenyns-sarah-ann-10711/text18881, accessed 19 November 2013.
- Maynard, M. 'Jenyns, Ebenezer Randolphus (1865–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenyns-ebenezer-randolphus-10623/text18881, accessed 20 November 2013.
- The Jenyns Corset. http://www.corsetiere.net/Spirella/Jenyns.htm
Published in Issue 8, on December 3, 2013.