Today is Friday. It has been many weeks since I announced the series, but I am finally publishing the first article in our new series today, Film Fashion Fridays. This series is dedicated to bringing the beauty and glamour of the fashion from the Golden Era of Hollywood to our modern lives. Every week I am going to either discuss some aspect of vintage fashion or describe how to recreate a particular outfit from a Code film. I will alternate between fashion for ladies and for gentlemen. I will always include photographs for your information. Most importantly, I will always include links to websites where you can buy the products which I recommend. I will mostly include links to products at Amazon, with whose affiliate programs we are registered. When you purchase from that website after following our links, we will receive a small commission. However, we will occasionally include recommendations for products from other websites when they are not sold by Amazon.
I must especially stress my hope that some of you will make a purchase through a link in this article. I have been including links to Amazon for several months now, but so far no one has made a purchase. Amazon Associates gives its applicants 180 days to prove themselves by generating three purchases from their sites. If three purchases do not come from our site by mid-May, our Amazon Associates account will be closed. We really appreciate your support of our website and hope that this new series will include some products which will be interesting to our readers!
For our first article in the series, we are going to start with basic concepts. Our first topic is the foundation of vintage wardrobe, which is the proper undergarments. We will start with a discussion of ladies’ underpinnings. Don’t worry, gentlemen; we will not get too intimate, since our goal is to always be Code-compliant. This topic has a strong relation to the PCA, since the Code relegated the undergarments which were worn in films and, subsequently, by the average American woman.
In pre-Code films, actresses often wore less than the proper amount of undergarments under clothes to reveal their figures.
Dressing and undressing scenes were used in abundance to show actresses in the bare minimum of undergarments.
In 1934, all that changed. Under clothing, the proper amount of undergarments were required to maintain the ladies’ decency. However, these garments couldn’t be seen in most situations. Ladies were usually shown in covering clothes, so there was no further problem.
The Code stated that undressing scenes should be avoided when not absolutely necessary to the plot. The PCA ensured that no disrobing scenes with risqué situations were included in films. However, there were many innocent situations in which filmmakers wanted to including undressing or dressing scenes. It would often be in a scene when two female roommates were changing their wardrobes or getting ready for bed. Whatever the situation, certain standards had to be set. As pre-Code films such as Night Nurse showed, even an innocent situation becomes indecent when women are shown in nothing more than their most intimate undergarments. Thus, the PCA had to form guidelines or ban dressing scenes altogether.
The Code standard of decency was quickly and irrevocably established: women could not be shown in anything less than full slips. Whether they were short or long, these underpinnings ensured that women’s torsos and legs were not exposed. Also, they prevented actresses from looking like they were anywhere near nudity. They might not have always been dressed, but they were never naked. Many slips which actresses wore in movies were very beautiful, since undergarments of the day were very lovely and feminine without being overly provocative and impractically flimsy like some of today’s lingerie, which is anything but the original French meaning of the word, linen.
Slips, also known as chemises, were standard articles of female clothing in the 1930s through the 1950s, largely because fashion styles for common women reflected Hollywood standards. These undergarments had many benefits for their wearers under clothes as well as in Code dressing scenes. Firstly, they provided coverage and decency; if a lady wore a slip, no angle of light would make her clothes transparent and reveal her person or more intimate items of apparel. Secondly, they kept ladies warm in cold weather by provided another layer of insulation, but they kept them cool in warm weather by keeping clothes from clinging to the body. Thirdly, they made clothes hang more attractively, since they prevented clinging. Fourthly, they protected clothes by providing a layer between delicate and expensive garments and hooks on girdles which could snag the material; also, they kept undergarments from showing through clothes. Fifthly, they protected clothes from the body’s oils; the slip would require more frequent laundering than the outer clothes, which extended clothes’ lives. Finally, they protected ladies from rough, scratchy, or uncomfortable material on clothes which might irritate their skin.
Slips provide all these benefits to modern ladies. A full slip is the foundation of all my outfits. I usually choose a beige, peach, or black slip with non-adjustable spaghetti straps, a square neckline edged in lace, and a hem edged in lace which falls above the knee. In addition to being a glamorous and functional underpinning for me, I use my slip as a guide for decency. If the hem shows, I know my skirt is too short. If the lace at the top shows, I know the neckline is too low. However, sometimes the slip is the solution to the latter problem. With many V-neck blouses, the pretty lace edging of the slip fills in the low neckline, so I don’t have to wear a camisole for extra coverage. Unlike the decent clothing of the past, so many modern garments are made to be nearly transparent. A full slip prevents immodesty in all circumstances.
Ladies, if you are interested in adopting vintage fashion, the first step is to get yourself the proper underpinnings. I recommend a vintage clothing line such as What Katie Did for historically-accurate foundation garments and shapewear. I personally recommend their girdles, waist cinchers, and corselettes as the bases for accurate period attire, since modern shapewear is expensive and ineffectual. However, for full slips, look no further than your local clothing store. Most department stores carry some sort of full slips. I bought mine at Macy’s. Slips don’t have to be too fancy or ornate. Although I appreciate the beauty of lace lining at the hem and neckline, I advise that you avoid garments which are primarily lace. Excessive lace and decoration is lumpy and uneven under many outer-garments. The primary purpose of a slip is to act as a smooth foundation. However, you should also avoid clingy slips from shapewear companies. These garments are designed to function as both girdle and slip, but they really act as neither. If you want shapewear, buy a good girdle, but always cover it with a loose slip which hangs well so that your clothes will, too. The images below are several slips which are sold on Amazon.com. These items are the best full slips which I found on this site. You might want to order one or a few from these choices and explore until you find your favorite!Click on the thumbnails to visit the items’ Amazon pages and make purchases which will financially support PEPS.
There is one other undergarment which could be shown by itself and discussed in Code films. This garment is the most alluring, glamorous, and romantic article of clothing in vintage fashion, often given to women as a gift from their admirers in Breen Era movies. The garment I mean is stockings, also known as hose. Originally, these sheer leg-coverings were made out of silk. They were replaced by nylon in 1941 because of wartime demands on silk, leading to the nickname nylons.
Stockings with prominent seams are one of the most cliché symbols of vintage fashion. When people think of vintage style, they picture pin-up girls wearing stockings with big black seams. However, the obvious look of black or skin-colored stockings with black seams is not the most accurate. During the 1930s through 50s, women usually wore stockings of some flesh-tone. They usually selected a color which was one shade darker than their own skin to give their legs more definition. All stockings featured a back seam which was the same color as the stocking. If the stockings were black, so were the seams. If the stockings were tan, the seams were also tan, looking slightly darker because the material is gathered rather than transparent. In old movies, you usually only see black stockings on dancers, since the darker material made their less-covered legs look less exposed.
Modern seamed pantyhose and tights have a seam which runs all the way down the leg and along the bottom of the foot. This is historically inaccurate and quite uncomfortable for your soles. Vintage stockings’ seams ran down to the ankle, where they spread out into a square or triangular piece of material which became a lining for the bottom of the foot, ending by coming up to cover the tips of the toes. This was called a Cuban or Empire heel, depending on the shape which connected the seam to the sole. The Cuban heel is both fashionable and functional. Firstly, it finishes the look of the stocking, since the seam does not continue forever behind the shoe. Secondly, it slims the ankle and gives more definition and shape to the leg. Thirdly, it gives the foot a comfortable piece of material on which to rest. Fourthly, I believe that it preserves and lengthens the life of the stocking. I have found that pantyhose most frequently develop holes in the toes, which quickly spread across the foot and up the leg, ruining the entire pair. However, the reinforced toes of my stockings with Cuban heels rarely develop holes. I believe that, out of the dozens of pairs of stockings I have owned, only one has gotten a hole in the toe. Holes and runs in the sheer legs and feet are inevitable, but thicker material in vulnerable areas is helpful!
Stockings are not a popular undergarment for those outside vintage circles. Unfortunately, hosiery of all sorts has gone out of style even for the most formal events. Separate stockings were replaced with pantyhose in the late 1960s. Many think that the revolutionary invention was created for greater ease, but it really was designed because of the rising hemlines which came with the increasingly-loose Shurlock Era. The idea of attaching stockings to a panty-top was neither new nor revolutionary, since dancers had been sewing stockings to their costumes for years. Women liked stockings for their glamour and beauty. After pantyhose were invented, many women were grateful for the ease which came with them. My own grandmother, who recalls wearing stockings, gloves, and hats as a young woman, recounts her gladness when pantyhose were invented, since they are so much easier. However, I feel that there are many benefits to stockings aside from the historical-accuracy which they lend to ladies’ fashion. Perhaps we who did not live during the time of that fashion can appreciate it more than some people who did.
Stockings are the same length as thigh highs. However, I strongly caution against thigh highs for those who want a vintage style, even if they can find seamed ones. Unlike stockings, which cannot stay up by themselves, thigh highs are equipped with an adhesive, rubbery top. I wore thigh highs just one day, but I found the adhesive to be very uncomfortable and impractical, since they kept pealing off. Stockings are better, since they are not meant to stay up by themselves. They come up to about the thigh. The top three or four inches is made of the thicker material which is on the Cuban heel. It is not too tight, since it is not meant to be constrictive. They must be held up with some separate object.
It is difficult to find stockings which follow all these criteria. Additionally, it can be hard to find them for a reasonable price. They must be reasonable, since even the most durable stockings have a relatively short life. The only stockings I have found which I really like are made by Yummy Bee, a British lingerie company, and sold on Amazon. They are only $5.47 a pair, and they are marvelous! They are sold in Medium and Large. I prefer them to any other stockings I have tried. Click the below image to purchase them yourself. Be sure to select Nude with Nude Seams.
A Lady Fastening Her Garter by Francois Boucher
You can either hold up your stockings with garter tabs or garters. A garter is a band of some sort worn on the upper leg to secure the top of a stocking. These simple articles were used for centuries by women to hold up their stockings, always hidden beneath skirts. It wasn’t until the addition of garter tabs to the bottom of corsets in the late Victorian Era that there was any alternative for stocking suspension. As time progressed, garters attained an amorous stigma, epitomized by the wedding custom of the bridegroom’s tossing the bride’s garter the morning after the marriage. This stigma led to the widespread use of garters in pre-Code films.
Dorothy Mackaill in Safe in Hell, 1931
The garter is an iconic symbol of the Pre-Code Era. Aside from being shown on women during dressing and undressing scenes, garters were passed around like door prizes. They all but disappeared from the screen in Code films. They were rarely mentioned and only shown in historical settings. Today, garters aren’t hard to find. What is hard to find is garters which are functional undergarments. Garters are almost always lacy, decorative trinkets for weddings which can’t hold up stockings and would only produce lumps under clothing. Surprisingly, vintage clothing stores and lingerie suppliers like What Katie Did do not make garters. I am mystified as to the reason for the lack of vintage reproduction garters, since pre-Code films are huge evidence that they were worn in the 1930s. Since garters are the simplest way to hold up stockings, they are good to have.
Barbara Stanwyck in Night Nurse
Pre-Code movies are a good guide as to what 1930s garters really were. In Footlight Parade, Joan Blondell seems to be wearing nothing sturdier than rubber bands to hold up her stockings. Rubber bands are the most practical garters we have been able to find. However, in most films and publicity shots, garters seem to be wider pieces of elastic. The above publicity shot for Night Nurse is a good guide for what looks like a practical, sturdy garter. The closest thing I could find to such an item is this garter from Amazon, pictured at right, which is sold single in various shades. I hope to buy it and try it to see if it works. I think it might, since it looks a lot like Miss Stanwyck’s in the picture. Do you know where useful garters are sold?
Good girdles and corsets, such as those sold on What Katie Did, come with strong, metal garter tabs. Each garment has four or six tabs, which are sometimes removable. Since their invention in the late nineteenth century, garter tabs have been a very popular way to hold up stockings, since they allow one to connect the stockings directly to a garment which is already being worn. Also, unlike garters, which can move around, there is no chance of their slipping down. They are a very convenient and seamless way to suspend your hose. That is another reason why I recommend the purchase of a good vintage-style girdle or corset.
In the early 1940s, some experts began to think that wearing a heavy foundation garment could weaken ladies’ abdomens, causing them to become flabby because of constant support. In addition, largely because of female participation in the war effort during World War II, many women wanted to be more active. Thus, the garter belt was invented. It stayed at the waist and featured four or six garter tabs, but it didn’t have the firm shaping capabilities of the much-larger girdles. Apparently many women found fault in garters even then, since they wanted an alternative which they knew wouldn’t move around. This is another garment which is widely available today. You can buy very glamorous garter belts from What Katie Did, but they are very expensive. I think that it is more economical to buy this item from a department store or Amazon, where they are of a similar quality. The important thing is to ensure that the material is not too lacy or frilly, since that can create unevenness under clothing. Also, be sure that the belt fits high enough on your waist to keep the stockings taut. Otherwise, it will hang down too low, allowing the stockings to slouch and wrinkle on your knees. (I know from experience. I held up my first stockings with a garter belt from Macy’s which had lumpy decorations and which hung much too low.) The following garter belts from Amazon look like good choices.
With these few underpinnings, you have the basis for a vintage wardrobe! With a good foundation garment, a few full slips, and half a dozen pairs of stockings, in addition to your regular undergarments, you are ready to be a glamour girl! Next week, I will give some instructions about vintage-style outfits. In the meantime, why not buy some of the items I recommended in preparation? You can wait to use them until you have some vintage outerwear, or you can try them under some of your regular clothing. Just be sure to keep your seams straight! Don’t tug at them; they will snag. Be sure to adjust from the Cuban heel and work upward. Try vintage fashion for yourself and leave a comment about your experiences in the comment section. I will republish suggestions, anecdotes, questions, and stories in future articles!
To every Glamour Girl and Dapper Dan, “Here’s looking at you, kid!”
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