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.