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Entries in lingerie (26)


To Bra or Not To Bra

(A Pictorial Guide)

Lately I have been seeing a hideous sight on the streets of Melbourne. Women who, from the front, look perfectly presentable in their high-necked frocks. They pass you, and you glance back to check out the rear view of the dress you have just admired.

Shock! Horror! The dress is backless/low cut/features a keyhole cut-out/is criss-crossed with straps … and the woman is wearing a bra! What is worse is when the bra in question is grey with age. Even more heinous in evening dress than daywear.

Why? Why, why, why why? Why would anyone do this? It’s ghastly!

I am flummoxed, bewildered and most of all bothered.

There is nothing more elegant when a well-cut garment that is demure in the front is cut away in the rear, revealing a woman’s beautiful bare back. A woman who wears such a gown should be bold enough to dispense with the bra. If she is truly chic it will not even cross her mind to wear one. On the other hand, if she is that timid to go braless, then perhaps she should rethink her decision to purchase the gown. Period. Observe:

Yet another crime against chic is the clear plastic bra straps that attach to strapless bras. They are ugly. Do away with them. Even more frightening, it has come to my attention that one can purchase clear plastic straps which have been bedazzled! (Do I need to state: stay away from those tacky accessories unless you want to be mistaken for a grid girl?)

If my sage words are not enough to convice you, Ines de la Fressange, in her book Parisian Chic has this to say of them (under the heading of ‘Fashion Faux Pas’):

No-one ever gets used to them. A stylish visible bra is far sexier, and if you really want to wear a strapless dress or top, how about a strapless bra too?

So, wear the strapless bra as it is meant to be worn: strapless, under a strapless, or spaghetti-strapped garment. If it is a good quality piece of lingerie, and fitted correctly, it will hold you up. (Just remember not to jump up and down too much or something inadvertent and horrible may happen to you: scroll down to see.)


What Lies Beneath

This last week I finally got round to watching season four of Mad Men. There were the usual shenanigans to gasp over and gorgeous vintage fashion to make me drool.

In one of the episodes Peggy strips off, and I was amused by her hefty underwear: there was absolutely nothing pretty, dainty or sexy about her brassiere! It was there to lift and separate, and it did the job admirably. In another scene as she sat down on Don’s office couch, one could see the froth of her crinoline peeping out from the hem of her skirt – a sweeter effect.

Peggy, defiant in her underwearPeggy keeps herself nice with a crinoline

…there was absolutely nothing pretty, dainty or sexy about her brassiere!

That’s what this vintage 50s dress of mine needs to make the pleated skirt bell out. I was first attracted to it by its colour – my favourite shade of robin’s egg blue, with a geometric print. I pounced on it in a Sacred Heart Mission op shop last summer; it’s rare to find a dress from this era that is in almost perfect condition in a Melbourne charity shop. I dressed it up with pretty patent heels that have a little bow on the back of the heel; bright red lipstick (‘Raven Red’ by Revlon); and a French roll (I can do them again now my hair’s shorter).

A man at work glimpsed me loitering by the laser printer, and exclaimed, “You look just like you stepped off the set of Mad Men!” I smiled at the intended compliment, but it’s never my aim to look like I’m wearing a costume. However, a nipped in waist and full skirt will always recall Dior’s New Look, and even more so these days with the popularity of the said TV show.

Of course, I could accessorise the dress differently to negate this effect (being careful not to look like an ‘80s does 50s’ rendition), but these proportions do look right just as they are. 

Image note: the yellow kitchen belongs to the hostel Barcelona Rooms, where I stayed in Barcelona in early June.


No Colour in the Street!

I found this wonderful little book The Well-dressed Woman’s Do’s & Don’ts in a small bookshop near my parents’ home. It was first published in 1925, and was written by Elise Vallée.

The chapters cover what exactly it means to be ‘well-dressed’ for the 1920s woman; to maquillage or not; the correct lingerie; dressing for one’s figure; what a smart, modern woman’s wardrobe should contain: coats (in particular, fur), hats, dresses, and other accessories such jewellery, shoes and gloves.

The Parisienne

She declares that ‘it could not be denied that the Frenchwoman, or more particularly, the Parisienne holds the undisputed position as the model for women of all other countries’ and ‘[she] may be said to look upon herself as a “Mannequin,” which it is her privilege to display to the world as effectively as it is in her power to do’. 

‘the Parisienne holds the undisputed position as the model for women of all other countries’

To put it simply, the Parisienne carefully assesses and makes the best of what nature has given her, takes care of her person, and dresses for her figure. Above all, she pays serious attention to the details, ‘without which the best and most expensive of clothes will make little impression’. 

Here are some of Elise’s pearls of wisdom:

General style

Don’t think that in buying smart clothes you have done all that is necessary.
Don’t economise on your elastic belts, and Do wear them next to your skin.


Don’t use too fine a powder. Never use a white powder.
Don’t use a greasy lip-stick, or one that gives a brown or violet tinge.
Don’t dye your hair at all if you can make it look nice without.


Don’t have lots of clothes for the same kind of occasion: it is extravagant and unnecessary.
Never buy cheap clothes; they are also extravagant and dowdy as well.
Don’t wear country clothes in town.
Don’t order coloured suits, unless very dark ones.


Don’t be hasty in the purchase of a fur coat.
Don’t choose a fancy or elaborate shape, and Don’t have bright linings.
Don’t say black doesn’t suit you until you have tried a black dress [ie, coat] with your face skin as near perfection as you can make it. 
Do wear dark colours in the street. 


Never go out in the street without a coat or fur or some sort of wrap over your frock.
Don’t wear colours in the street.
Don’t, as a general rule, wear low dresses to dine in restaurants, or, if you do, never leave your cloak in the cloak-room. 


Do have your hats made to measure.
Do have a really good milliner and
Don’t change your milliner.
Do wear a brim shaped to flatter your face.
Don’t wear a narrow crown unless your face is pointed.
Don’t wear your hat perched on top of your head.
Don’t wear a tight hat if you have a full face. 

Evening Dresses

Don’t fill your wardrobe with expensive and elaborate evening dresses.
Do be careful that they should not look theatrical.
Don’t wear a mass of jewels; have a few good ones.


Why were there such strict rules about colour? ‘The well-dressed woman who is sure of her ”Mannequin” [ie, figure or person] should wear dark clothes in the street and keep colours for indoor occasions when she will have the advantage of a softer and more becoming light.’  


There are lots more regulations besides. I wonder what on earth Elise would think of today’s fashions? I would fail on several counts: I’ve worn brown-tinged lippy; I dye my hair; I wear colours in the street; and I might own one or two garments that look somewhat theatrical. I do like her rules about milliners though…


What I Actually Wore #0039

Serial #: 0039
Date: 16/03/2010
Weather: forecast 32°, stifling hot
Time Allowed: 5 minutes

This cute little vintage print dress has been butchered. Not by me: by one of its previous owners. They hacked down the hem and created two splits by ripping open the side seams (and creating a hole on one side). Still, I was enamoured of the lace pattern and bought it anyway. I call it my tablecloth dress.

It was promised to be a stinking hot day the morning I chose to wear it to school (I was doing a short business course for a couple of months earlier this year). The dress is made from a lovely, cool, slippery rayon that is quite thin. As it is also feels rather skimpy on its own (not quite right for business school), I decided to wear a cute vintage slip under it.

Just look at those sweet little hearts on the lace trim of the slip. The matching belt was long gone, so I added my own blue satin ribbon. The whole effect is a little Alice in Wonderland.

It was still hot that evening when I went on a date – sans the slip this time – and my date was quite appreciative of the dress’ skimpiness!

Today the dress is finally being taken to a seamstress friend to be mended.


Dress: vintage
Half-slip: vintage
Earrings: vintage
Ring: NGV Gallery
Shoes: Diana Ferrari


Sweet dreams are made of these

I am not an avid collector of vintage lingerie. What little I do have in my lilac-scented drawers I have simply happened upon in the course of ordinary ‘hope-shopping’.

That being said, I have managed to unearth some pretty delicates, among them this diaphanous short-sleeved robe with its remarkable lace trim, and the mint green striped slip, also trimmed in peppermint lace. You also may have seen my ruffled long underwear on my profile page; they’re extremely amusing.

This robe has long-lost its label, but it must be made of nylon or its ilk, and the Kayser ‘Satin Stripe’ slip of tricel with nylon. Although the artificial fibre does not stop the robe from floating about me like a cloud, of course they would be even lovelier if they were made of silk.

I’m sure I would loll still more decadently, like a thirties star of the silver screen, a glass of champagne at my elbow and sweet dreams in my head.

Below are some illustrations of lingerie from British and Australian Vogues.

Headlined Lingerie to linger in, these illustrations accompany an article entitled 'The Happy Invalid', by Rosamond Harcourt-Smith.
British Vogue, January 1947.

From cami-slips in pale blue, to carnation printed harem-hemmed half-slips, to stockings in the new colour of 'Pumpkin'… stockings and lingerie are two of a kind.
Illustrations: May Routh; Australian Vogue, June 1960.

Sleep cool this summer, brevity is news in slumber wear; here, four young, engaging looks…
Photograph: Duffy; Australian Vogue, June 1960.

And most amusing of all is this bright orange liftout: Vogue's undercover story: the new foundations. In 1960, there were only three figure types: the triangle, the inverted triangle, and the rectangle.

I particularly love 'and the best clothes to go for are those with a decided Chanel or Balenciaga bias…' That still stands true today! If only I could afford the real thing.

Perhaps I'll get lucky and something will appear in my Christmas stocking?