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Entries in lingerie (26)




Historically, petticoats were a woman’s undercoat worn to be displayed beneath an open gown; or a tight, usually padded undercoat worn by men over a shirt and under a doublet (jacket). The origin of the word is the late Middle English period: ‘petty coat’, literally meaning small coat. Later, worn under outer garments, the function of the petticoat was to give warmth, or to create a fashionable shape by adding volume beneath a skirt or dress – rather than from notions of modesty.

The petticoat has gone in and out of mainstream fashion since the sixteenth century to Christian Dior’s New Look in the mid 1940s and 50s, and to the present day with subcultures such as gothic, steampunk and Lolita.

Arguably today the most popular notion of a petticoat must be the full, ruffled shape associated with Victorian times, or the tulle crinolines of 1950s prom queens. More often than not, these were white. In previous centuries though, petticoats were worn to be seen, either deliberately revealed by openings or draping of the overskirts, or by accident with the force of a high wind lifting a hooped or crinoline skirt. Petticoats were therefore highly decorative, made from beautiful fabrics in glorious colours and trimmed with ribbons and lace. They were gorgeous enough to be worn as skirts in themselves.

Petticoat, probably French, 1870s; click image for more information and alternate viewsCotton and linen petticoat, American, 1883; click image for more information and alternate viewsSilk embroidered French petticoat, 1895-98; click image for more informationSissi, Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria, wears a gown fully supported by petticoats in 1859Fashion that bustles, from The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, November 1869Susan Lawrence (from Ipswich) wearing a dark coloured dress, with many folds of fabric pulled up over a large bustle at the rear, c 1887


By contrast, the bustle was a rather unattractive foundation garment with little or no grace, in fashion predominantly in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Worn at the back, just under the waist, the primary function of the bustle was to preserve the shape of full, draped skirts and keep them from dragging. The heavy skirts of the day tended to flatten from sheer weight during everyday wear, even merely sitting or moving about.

Different styles of bustles came and went over the decades, initially evolving from a crinoline in the mid 1860s when the shape was worn quite low and often fanning out to form a train. It was then lifted to form a pronounced hump shape immediately below the waist, with the skirts falling sharply to the floor, very much changing the silhouette. It grew to monstrous proportions in the mid 1880s but was out of fashion by the end of the decade.

British bustle made from cotton and metal, c 1871; click image for more information Linen and metal bustle, American, c 1885; click image for more information

The attractive ‘S-shape’ figure of the day that accentuated a tiny waist meant that a curve at the back of the skirt balanced the curve of the bust (exaggerated by corsets in their turn), and gentler versions of the bustle were worn into the early twentieth century.

Today bustles are rarely seen except in the realm of sensationalist haute couture, bridal fashion and the aforementioned subcultures – petticoats, with their more uniform silhouette are easier on the eye and more forgiving to wear.

Fashion Notes

My vintage petticoat was borrowed from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s costume department to give fullness to my own 1920s skirt, which made part of my Queen of Hearts costume for the theatre’s Christmas party last year. The full skirt is gathered at the waist, with rope sewn into the hem to create shape and give weight. There is also what I have dubbed a ‘mini bustle’ at the back.

When I first donned it, the petticoat felt quite heavy, but I became accustomed to it surprisingly quickly and managed to spend quite a bit of time on the dance floor without feeling the weight at all – it created a pleasing swing in fact. The camisole, possibly 80s or 90s, is my own, and was bought in a charity store years ago. 


(Left) wire and cotton American bustle, c1880; (right) cotton and metal bustle, probably American, early 20th centurySilk petticoat, British mid-eighteenth century; click image for more information and alternate views(Left) American silk petticoat from the early 1900s; (right) cotton and silk petticoat, American, 1900-1948

* All images in the above gallery are from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



I wasn’t quite lazing about in my underwear today, but I have been burning the candle at both ends lately, and exhaustion finally caught up with me. I spent a lot of time simply resting – the cloudy and rainy day encouraged this aberrant behaviour too. So this fashion editorial seems particularly appropriate today. The lingerie is pretty and the gentle light is soothing. Righto, I’m off to bed now. Good night!

Photos by Christian Ketteger for British Vogue. Click on images for larger versions.


How Sweet It Is

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

Boudoir cap, c. 1919I have always, always wanted to own an original 1920s boudoir cap. There are so many covetable 1920s garments, but these little confections must truly take the cake. They are the pinnacle of Twenties chic; the epitome of the darlingest flapper girl. And since I now have shorn my hair into a bob, there was no excuse not to buy one, especially when I found a pale pink silk and ecru lace version, trimmed with pink bows, for $15 on Etsy. I’ve looked at many online in the past, but I have never seen such an inexpensive original cap of the era. 

Generally not worn overnight, the boudoir caps hid messy morning hair, or protected an elegant coiffure while dressing.

Boudoir cap, 1920sIn the Victorian era, night caps were a little more hardy, made from cotton trimmed in lace. Then in the 1920s they were transformed: sewn from silk and lace, and trimmed with silk ribbons, bows and flowers.

They were usually worn first thing in the morning in the privacy of the bedroom. Generally not worn overnight, the boudoir caps hid messy morning hair, or protected an elegant coiffure while dressing. Of course, I can’t possibly keep mine hidden in the boudoir – I must wear it out to astonish my public.

Boudoir cap, 1920sMy little cap really is so sweet that the immortal words sung by Marvin Gaye sprang immediately to mind:

How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you
I needed the shelter of someone's arms and there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs and there you were …


Blumenfeld: The Photographer, the Artist

One of my all-time favourite fashion images: ‘Portfolio de Vogue: La Tour Eiffel’, French Vogue, May 1939. Lucien Lelong dress; model: Lisa FonssagrivesErwin Blumenfeld (1897–1969) is a photographer most famous for his fashion images. He was, in fact, once the world’s most highly paid fashion photographer. From the late 1930s to the 1960s, he worked for such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, where he transformed fashion images into high art. He photographed the greatest couture fashions of the day, by Lelong, Chanel, Balenciaga, Piguet, Dior and Charles James in both Paris and New York.

After dabbling in Dada, painting and art dealing, Blumenfeld took up photography in the 1920s. He was highly inventive in and out of the darkroom. He developed a unique, hybrid style, using solarisation and negative printing; layering textures in-camera (shooting through lace, for example) and through double and multiple exposures; painting with light and colour. It is wonderful to see the artist’s hand at work in the time before pixels, and marvel how much can be achieved.

It is wonderful to see the artist’s hand at work in the time before pixels, and marvel how much can be achieved.

Bicorne hats by Schiaparelli; unpublished image for French Vogue, Oct 1938.Immigrating to America in 1941 with his family (and narrowly escaping death in concentration camps), Blumenfeld took up a contract with Harper’s Bazaar. The editor-in-chief, Carmel Snow, for whom he’d previously worked in Paris in the 1930s, put him immediately to work on the next issue.

His friend Cecil Beaton, writing from a besieged Britain, was envious of his freedom. Beaton encouraged him to ‘seek out the most talented people on the magazine: the two photographers he most admired, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and George Hoyningen-Huene, and Bazaar’s fashion editor the “magnifique” Diana Vreeland’. Blumenfeld was certainly in good company there, especially when one considers his first art director was the great Alexey Brodovitch.

‘Violettes de Montezin’, French Vogue, Feb 1939Although the editors of Harper’s Bazaar touted Blumenfeld as the cultured European artist who would add cachet to the magazine, Blumenfeld, much to his dismay, began to hear his profession referred to in terms considerably less elevated: ‘commercial photographer’. To his credit, Blumenfeld believed that fashion was a significant form of cultural expression, but that of all the professionals working on a magazine, it was the photographer who was most responsible for whatever ‘art’ appeared on its pages. (Editors and art directors were far more commercially driven.)

He and Brodovitch hit it off however, for unlike other photographers, Blumenfeld was not precious about the full frame of his negative; he understood the image-enhancing aspect of cropping and bleeding images and often conceptualised within these parameters himself. Both men knew that ‘the page with its synthesis of image and text, was, in magazine terms, the final artwork’.

However, his fashion images, excised from the page, easily stand alone as works of art in themselves.

Images and quotes from Blumenfeld: A Fetish For Beauty, by William A. Ewing, Thames & Hudson 1996. Click images for larger versions.

Untitled fashion photograph, Paris, c. 1939Unpublished fashion image, American Vogue, Sep 1945 Untitled fashion assignment, New York, 1945 The Spanish Veil, Paris, 1937Untitled fashion image, New York, 1945 Untitled, New York, c. 1944 ‘Retouching the figure’, American Vogue, Feb 1953Untitled fashion image, New York, 1952Untitled photograph, New York, c. 1955‘What looks new: a milliner experiments with halftones in lipsticks and powders’, American Vogue, Mar 1947Untitled fashion image, New York, 1947


Coco Mam’selle

It’s my birthday this week – another year’s flashed by. It’s a trite observation, but the older I get, the more I realise how short life really is, and the more I appreciate those little things that make life special. French perfume for one.

It was actually a few months ago at my mother’s birthday party when I first uttered those words. My sisters and I had pooled our resources and bought mum a bottle of Christian Dior’s Diorissimo, because she adores the scent of lily-of-the-valley.

She was so thrilled when she carefully unwrapped the paper and admired the prized contents. It was too precious to be used except on special occasions, she declared. I exclaimed, “Oh, mum! Life’s too short not to wear French perfume every day!” She immediately exclaimed at my profligacy.

My French perfume of choice is Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle. Having traveled overseas and stocked up on perfume last year (the rare original Gucci Envy, a bottle of CK Truth, which also is no longer in production), I’m not hoping for any as presents, but you know, I wouldn’t complain.

Just as an extra treat, enjoy this beautiful commercial for Chanel No. 5, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and featuring Audrey Tatou.