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The Vintage Dressmaker (1)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

1920's Undergarments Part 2

The primary purpose of an undergarment was to keep the corset from rubbing the skin as well as keep it clean to limit laundering and to provide the proper foundation for the outer wear. There were many options available in contemporary magazines and mail order catalogs. You could have a vest with separate drawers, a simple chemise or the most common one piece "envelope" or "step in" combination suit.  In colder weather one piece "Union Suits" were worn.

Vest and Union Suits were made of soft, fine knitted fabrics such as cotton, silk, wool or rayon. Union Suits were one piece undergarments that had either tight or loose fitting legs with an access flap of some sort in the back. They both consisted of either a straight top with straps or a rounded neck with wider, built-up shoulders much like those of modern tank tops.

1920's Union Suit

1920's Knit Vests and Union Suits

1920's Cotton Jersey Union Suits

The Envelope, or Step-In, Chemise was made of dainty woven cotton, silk, or rayon. They could be worn either over or under a corset and had either "wide legs for sanitary purposes" (as stated in the Montgomery Wards 1926 catalog) or they snapped or buttoned at the crotch. The neck line could be straight or shaped just as the vest. There are countless variations on each of these. Before constructing such a garment, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with catalogs and magazines of the time to determine your preference.

1920's Step-In Chemise
1920's Envelope Chemise

Drawers or Bloomers were generally worn with a vest or a when a brassiere was necessary and were made of woven cotton or silk. The are essentially the same, the difference being that drawers have a wide finished leg and the leg of the bloomers are tightly finished with elastic. The later was primarily worn under shorter dresses, being made up of a matching fabric.

1920's Drawers

1920's Bloomers

Suggested materials for undergarments where cotton jersey for everyday/casual wear, fine cotton batiste, or silk, such as crepe de Chine or crepe-back satin for finer garments worn for special occasions. Color choices were generally white, flesh, peach, pale yellow, pale green or orchid. White garments were trimmed with white lace and colored garments in ecru or ivory. (Underwear and Lingerie - The Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,1925 page 53).

Even though colors appear different on individual monitors this clip should at least give you a general idea of what colors were typical of the time.

1920's Lingerie Fabrics

Ornamentation consisted of fine lace, embroidery, pintucks and ribbon work often referred to as "French hand sewing". The degree of decoration would depend on the occasion in which the garment would be worn. "It is frequently desirable to plan a matching set of lingerie, for instance, as a part of the bridal trousseau or graduation outfit. When this is the case, an essentially dainty trimming arrangement is usually decided on, since such and outfit is reserved for special occasions and consequently may be less practical than those garments intended to be worn every day. Then, too, a particular style of trimming is essential, so that the slip and chemise, when worn together, will not appear bulky or overdone" (Underwear and Lingerie - The Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences,1925 page 51).

1920's Lingerie Set

I have already begun drafting my first group of patterns including a plain brassiere, a bandeau brassiere, drawers, bloomers, and two variations on the chemise. After I finish sharing my overview and initial research I will move into the actual construction of each of these garments here on the blog, sometime there after making the patterns themselves available online.


  1. Thanks so much for this information. I just stumbled on this site. I am making 1920's dolls (somewhat like boudoir dolls) and I want to make their costumes as accurate as possible. I was wondering what kind of underwear women wore in the 1920's, so I could make some for the dolls. This is great! I look forward to reading more of your blogs in the future!

  2. Hi, thanks for posting this information. I'm writing a story about an eleven year old girl from Apalachia in 1928. I'm guessing drawers would be what such a child would wear--homemade by Mama, I'd bet. The illustration helped a lot. Thanks. I'm glad I found your site. Looking forward to reading more.

  3. Thanks for giving the information. As said earlier with the change in the duration of time period there was a lot of changes made while manufacturing undergarments also. Now a days not only comfortable but fashionable garments are available in the market.
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