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Giving Thanks to Clothes That Stretch

Seeking comfort, holiday diners will don elastic to indulge their expanding waistlines. They should thank Thomas Hancock and his "masticator"

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We can offer our gratitude this Thanksgiving to the English inventor Thomas Hancock for allowing our clothes to give a little as we indulge in a holiday feast. Without Hancock, we might not have elastic.  And without elastic, this holiday could be very uncomfortable.

Thomas Hancock’s Masticator.

Hancock was a key player in establishing the British rubber industry. While patenting and producing elastic fastenings for gloves, suspenders and stockings in 1820, he was struck by how much rubber he was wasting. An early environmentalist, he invented a machine called the masticator that shreds scraps of rubber and allows those remnants to be recycled. Fun fact: Before patenting the masticator (how aptly named for Thanksgiving!), he called it the “pickling machine” to keep his invention a secret.

Hancock went on to create waterproof fabrics alongside Charles Macintosh, and from that collaboration, the classic mackintosh coat was born. Meanwhile, advances in rubber production moved forward. Decades later, elastic, and the rubber that’s key to its existence, has quietly established itself as an essential ingredient in the upcoming holiday, right alongside cranberries and stuffing.

With Turkey Day only a few days away, what follows are a handful of holiday attire suggestions to make the season of eating more comfortable—inspired by vintage fashion ads all emphasizing a certain stretch factor.

Vanity Fair girdle, 1962.

But first, if you absolutely refuse to let your holiday heft win, strap yourself into a girdle to maintain your svelte, girded shape. And good luck.

Munsingwear Midway Briefs, boxer briefs, 1940s. via Christian Montone.

To those of us who have come to accept that we’ll be consuming more than usual, before you fill up your plate, consider doing a little stretching to ease yourself into the meal.

BVD ad, 1980s.

Speaking of undergarments, make sure yours have a comfortable enough waistband for the meal ahead (cowboy hat optional).

Sears ad, 1982.

For utmost comfort, sweatpants, with their forgiving waistbands, provide the flexibility you’ll need to go back for seconds and thirds (sweatband optional).

Simplicity pattern, 1970s.

Not feeling the dressed-down look? How about a slinky shift with adjustable lace sides for adding or losing a dress size as needed?

1980s aerobics clothes.

Or, for convenience sake, keep your spandex aerobics gear on throughout the meal. Plan a trip to the gym as soon as the festivities conclude.

Lord & Taylor, 1964.

And when all else fails, throw on a muu-muu-like robe.

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