It’s what’s underneath that counts!

As you can pretty much guess I have a passion for vintage clothing. I love the shape that these clothes can give you; a nipped in waist or a classic full chested sweater girl look, but to get this bombshell style it’s not always about what’s on top but what a woman wears underneath. If you’re new to vintage clothing then it is important to know that vintage underwear can really make the outfit and give it that classic shape, as a lot of the clothes; primarily the tops and dresses, are made only to fit bullet bras and just won’t look right with a modern shaped bra. So as previously touched on in Issue 06, I thought I’d continue from the fabulous knowledge of Elinor from The Nylon Swish and delve even deeper into the world of vintage underwear.

When it comes to the history of lingerie it’s fascinating to note how the fabrics have developed over time. When we think of underwear today, we take for granted the elastic that holds everything up and stretches to our shape, but that wasn’t always the case. Take stockings for instance, when people think of vintage underwear they are probably the first thing to come to mind.


However in the ‘30s they were made of silk, cotton or rayon and had very little stretch which is why suspender straps were invented to keep these beauties up. A progression from the earlier, and less reliable garters!

Corsets are another garment which people usually associate with a bygone era. In truth, corsets were actually out of fashion during the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s as they just weren’t practical as women entered the world of work.

The 1930s saw the development of technology in the undergarment world and revolutionary fabrics such as elastic came into play. This meant that corsets were swapped for girdles which gave a snug fit, smoothed out those lumps and bumps and importantly, were far more flexible.

As everyone knows, the Second World War changed everything and underwear was not an exception. Corsets with steel boning were no longer being produced as the steel was prioritised for the war effort, which turned out to be an advantage to women who wanted more flexibility working in the factories or the fields. Stockings also had to change as the silk needed for them was used to make parachutes so they too became in short supply.

In the ‘30s bras were in the very early stages of development, with cup sizes invented in 1935 and under wiring in 1938. In the 1940s bras started to advance a little more but the cup sizes weren’t as we know them today. The brassieres of the ‘40s were often plain and without lace or decoration. They were often made of rayon and sometimes came in cotton in colours of peach, white and ivory. As I mentioned earlier the shape of the bra was very different from what we know today as they had full coverage with a one to three inch elastic underbust band covering some of the torso. Bras also had a lot of material in the centre creating separation rather than bras that push the chest together today. Divide and conquer ladies!

And who can forget panties? Back in the ‘30s knickers, also known as ‘step-ins’, were not worn much and only really became popular in the 1940s with most being made of rayon satin. These panties were not like how we know them in today’s age as they were not close fitting or small like their modern sisters but looked more akin to full style French knickers. As time moved on into the late 1940s and 1950s, underpants were often made in cotton which was easier to wash, with silk pairs kept for special occasions. Nylon was also a popular choice as they were advertised as easy to launder and with minimal ironing required.


With all this history, I thought it was a good idea to talk to the experts! I stumbled upon David’s vintage undergarment shop, Bygone Times, some months ago and was astounded by the beautiful range of pieces he had and the knowledge he poured out. I caught up with David for a little chat about what draws him to the beautiful world of vintage underwear.

How did you find yourself in the world of selling vintage underwear?

Having been an art deco specialist in the mid 1980s in Edinburgh I was always fascinated with the costume of the era especially the corsetry. The illustrator’s artwork was fantastic, but alas in those years it was taboo for a male to deal with women’s dresses and underwear.

What do you love about vintage underwear?

The quality and attention given to the underwear by the makers of the era was in every way for a woman’s pursuit of the perfect figure, even after some 50 years most of the underwear is as good as new.

You have an impressive collection, do you have any favourite pieces?

My favourites include The Liberty Neatnix suspender knickers, Gossard True Balance knickers, 1950s spiral stitch bullet bras and Gossard boned girdles – they are so attractive when worn.

You said that you restore and dye a lot of the underwear, could you explain the process?

In the 1950s and ‘60s women’s retail outlets would have featured coloured corsetry in the shop windows to entice customers in, but the buyers would usually play safe and buy white believing coloured underwear too risky. Nowadays because there are so many white garments about, I upcycle girdles and corselettes by hand dying them, a complex process requiring a lot of practice.

I loved all the vintage advertising you displayed, what in particular draws you to them and again do you have a favourite piece?

My passion is the art of lingerie 1950 to 1990. The show-cards, brochures, magazine adverts and mannequins were all so wonderfully designed. Being a trained graphic designer and display artist I have a great collection, I am only too happy to show them to your readers.

And finally, where can our readers find you?

I am located at Bygone Times, Eccleston, Lancs, PR7 5PB in Bygone 3 downstairs, open six days Tuesday to Sunday; 11am to 5pm.


Some of our reader’s opinions on vintage underwear:

Susie Pritchard

I have collected vintage clothing for many years and when I started my own vintage business I decided to specialise in nightwear as I love a floaty nightie or cute pyjamas, which quickly extended into lingerie too – I enjoy the social history entwined with period clothing, and with lingerie, whether it be delicate, pretty, sexy, elegant, cute or all of the above, there is so much to fall in love with!

A favourite for me has to be a petticoat though, from the white broderie anglaise half-slips that I wear every day, to the lovely nets that are so synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll and the 1950s, to the elegant silky full slips that come in oh so many colours and are so beautiful to display in your boudoir, never mind the fun of wearing them!

Nicol Pybus

I love vintage underwear especially shape-wear as I’m a mum of three. As you can imagine as a mum, you can lose yourself and find it hard to feel sexy and confident. I find it hard to feel womanly and sexy and that’s where vintage underwear comes in.

It doesn’t matter if it’s for a date night to give me that perfect wiggle dress body or just doing the school run wearing a corset and stockings under a swing dress. Vintage underwear makes me feel sexy, makes me walk taller and feel better (not to mention holding in my mummy tummy). It’s not about if others can see it, it’s about feeling amazing just doing everyday things. Personally my favourite pieces are boned corsets or waspies and a pair of seamed stockings; nothing makes me feel quite like I do when I’m wearing them.


Ophelia Syn

I love vintage underwear/nightwear from the late 1930s to late ‘50s; it’s opened my eyes to garments that made me feel like a true woman, sexy, and classy and still covered up. The fitting of the garments, hugged your curves without being too revealing.


Background Models – Amy Bliss and Estella Le Lune
Photographers – Portraits and Pinups and My Boudoir
Makeup Artists – Victoria Garcia and Sarah Elliot

Coco Von Vintage is a vintage blogger and model whose passion is the 1950s. You can catch up on her blog over at