This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Girdle. The ancient use of the girdle was to confine to the waist the long flowing garments then worn, and in some countries is still in use,'worn by both men and women. It was once an article of universal wear, and accordingly varied in richness with the position of the wearer. Some were simple leather bands with one end passed through a hole and fastened round the other; some again were of great width and costly materials, lavishly overlaid with jewelry and precious stones, furnished with a costly ring for the passage of a tie, and the ends long and richly ornamented. The making of girdles, which included sword-belts, became in England a distinct craft. The Girdlers' Company was incorporated in 1499, and in 1568 the Pinners and Wire Drawers were incorporated with them. All kinds of things were carried at the girdle - long embroidered pockets, scissors, and keys by women; daggers, poinards, penner and ink-horn, knives or books by men, according to their calling. From the common custom of carrying the purse at the girdle comes the old term "cut purse," and the voluntary surrender of the girdle became by custom a legal transfer of the effects of a bankrupt to his creditors. "May my girdle break if I fail" was an old saying of imprecation against false promises, because the purse hung to it. It was also regarded as a symbol of continence and self-restaint.
"The girdle gave the virtue of chaste love And wifehood true, to all that did it bear:
But whosoever contrary doth prove, Might not the same about her middle wear, But it would loosen, or else asunder tear." - Spenser.
At present the girdle is frequently used in women's dress, and in military costume, commonly called a hilt or sash. The term is also applied to a belt of tape or ribbon used to keep up the stockings, as a substitute for garters. It is not improbable in the case that tights or pantellas become universally popular that girdles for the use mentioned will cause the garter to fall into desuetude.