We women have something of a love affair with vintage fashion — the sumptuous fabrics, flattering, elegant lines and that exciting feeling you’re once again a little girl rummaging through a dressing-up box. But, understandably, when it comes to underwear, we tend to stick to modern styles.
Who wants to go back to the days of tortuously rolling on elastic corsets, knee-length knickers and silk stockings that were prone to running even before you got them on? Not to mention the lingerie horrors of the more recent past, from control pants that threatened to cut off your blood supply to the bottom-carving G-string. Now, thank heavens, advances in fabric technology mean that you can take inspiration from the past without compromising on comfort.
‘We are seeing a lot of pretty, unstructured styles that could be from the Twenties and Thirties,’ says Katie Cameron, head of archive at Marks & Spencer. ‘Instead of the artificial silks and rayons around in pre-War Britain, today’s styles have a far more luxurious feel and better quality fabrics. ‘It’s the same with support garments, which build on the Fifties originals, but incorporate the latest stretch fabrics.’
We searched the High Street for the best modern interpretations of classic underwear — so, which decade will flatter you the most?
1920s: BOYISH BASICS
Bralette, £12, and knickers, £8, marksandspencer.com
The Roaring Twenties were a time of seismic change in society — and in the underwear drawer. Out went the boned corsets and enormous bloomers and in their place came unstructured bras and camisoles for the boyish silhouettes of the Flappers.
1930s: A SMOOTH SILHOUETTE
Bralette, £20, and shorts, £25, both marksandspencer.com
Hollywood pinups such as Bette Davis flaunted neat figures in long, slinky gowns thanks to generously cut silky knickers. The bra trend, meanwhile, was to create ‘lift and separation’ of the breasts with elastic and foam inserts.
1940s: SUPER STRUCTURE FOR A SVELTE FIGURE
Black bra, £12, and control pants, £18, both next.co.uk
The end of World War II — and its scratchy ‘utility’ underwear — kick-started some of the most luxurious fashions of all time: huge skirts, wasp waists and sculpted busts. This meant the return of the corset — now elasticised — and popularity of underwired bras.
1950s: CARTOON CURVES
Corset, £120, and knickers, £44, wacoal.com Holdups, £23, wolfordshop.co.uk
Next came the fashion for squeezing your body into shapes of cartoonish proportions , mainly thanks to pneumatic film stars such as Marilyn Monroe. Girdles and elastic corsets with attached bras, suspender straps and builtin ‘bottom lifts’ were all the rage — but about as comfortable as wearing surgical bandages.
1960s: BOOST FOR THE BUST
Bra, £89, and knickers, £44, rigbyandpeller. co.uk
Developments in fabric technology meant that bras now had cushioned ‘undercups’ to boost smaller bosoms, and cup sizes A, B, C, D and DD w e n t m a i n – stream. Lacy briefs continued to get smaller.
1970s: DARING BABYDOLL
Babydoll, £36, thong, £11.20, Reger at debenhams.com
Here was the return of a softer style, with layers of silks and laces. Bras were underwired , rarely padded and came in backless and halterneck designs to work with the plunging necklines and scooped backs of fashionable gowns. The babydoll slip was also a huge hit.
1980s: FEMININE REBELLION
Bodysuit, £155, rigbyand peller.co.uk
While fashion was more and more masculine — all powerdressing suits and shoulder pads — underwear became gloriously girly. The lace teddy (an all – in – one camisole and knickers) was womanly under boardroom armour. Later came the wildly popular (but uncomfortable) G-string thong.
1990s: HELLO TO CLEAVAGE!
Bra, £44, and thong, £17, wonderbra.co.uk
The decade started with a craze for boxershort style briefs for women. Perhaps as a result, flat chests were in vogue, too — until a lingerie bombshell dropped in 1994 — the Wonderbra ‘Hello Boys’ campaign featuring model Eva Herzigova. Then, thanks to clever engineering and padding, we all had our bosoms knocking against our chins.