Betty Boop’s Famous…. Garter

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Max and me in Miami, Florida
Circa 1940. Collection: V. Mahoney

MAX and Me
by Ginny Mahoney
Granddaughter of Betty Boop’s creator, Max Fleischer

Betty came to life in 1930 when women, having won the right to vote just a decade earlier, were finally liberating themselves from tight, uncomfortable undergarments like girdles with attached metal clasps that held their stockings up.  For the modern, more liberated woman of the 1930s, “garter belts” and “roll garters” offered a newfound sense of freedom and liberation.  Not only did they secure a lady’s stockings without the use of awkward, pinching metal clips, they freed women entirely from the restriction and discomfort of girdles! Betty’s garter wasn’t just a fashion statement; it was one of the symbols of her status as a modern, liberated woman. For more conservative elders, the image of young women dancing with flashes of a garter belt showing represented everything scandalous and provocative about the fashions of day, making the placement of the garter belt as much a statement about a woman’s status as the wearing of it.

The Story of Betty’s Famous Garter…

In her very first film, “Dizzy Dishes,” Betty is wearing (on both legs) what were known as “roll garters,” fabric-covered circular bands of elastic that would roll over the top of each stocking to hold them up. From these mainly functional (but still sexy) garters, Betty moved on to the more sensual lone garter that didn’t appear until her seventh film, “Silly Scandals.”

Garter - Right legAnimators working on these early films used “model sheets” as a guide.  These sheets were created to show the characteristics of each character, so that all the animators working on a film would be consistent about how they drew the details of a character. This didn’t always work as planned. The first drawing here is from a very early model sheet of Betty that shows the garter on her right leg.

Click to enlargeA second drawing from a later model sheet clearly shows the garter on her left leg, and states that it should always be there. In spite of this… and though Betty’s garter is usually on her left leg…. it sometimes appear on her right leg…. and if you look carefully you’ll even find a few films (like “Minnie the Moocher”) where, in the same film, it’s sometimes on her right leg and sometimes on her left leg!

In 1995 Macy’s in New York City held its annual outdoor Tap-a-Mania hosted by Betty Click to enlargeBoop. Thousands of dancers tapped to the same music, all attired with Betty Boop T-shirt, hat, and … Betty’s signature garter! This is the garter from that huge event.