Category Archives: underwear

1940s Bra Sample Photos!

It’s about time!  This was one of the first patterns I did as a “Resto-Vival”, back in 2010, and it’s finally time I actually sewed one up and took some photos!

At work recently, I had been given the task to create 1940s undergarments for stock (I’m currently working at a theatre), so I brought a printout of my handy dandy Wearing History digital bra pattern with me and set to work.


Although the original vintage pattern was stated a 32 (no up size), reviewers had said that this bra ran large.  I found this to be the case as well.  The dress form is 35″ around the bust and about a B cup, and it fit very well.  I have edited the item description to note this.

A few little things I did for decoration that weren’t called for in the original pattern were the topstitching details.  I found it easiest to finish the seams with a bias binding on the inside, so decided to go with contrast thread and use it as accents, and then continue the motif on the bottom piece of the cups.  I also added real bra straps (not of ribbon or fabric as called for in the original  and added a little bow at center front.  The original pattern called for bias binding around the edges but I went with a bias facing instead, making it 1/2″ shorter at top and bottom than it would have been with facing.

All in all, I don’t know why I procrastinated on making vintage bras for so long!  It went together super easy and very quickly.  I’ve actually got a pale pink one partially constructed already, and can see making more.  It’s funny leaving a pattern review of my own pattern, but there you have it!

If you want to try out your own version, you can purchase the digital download on my website for this 1940’s Brassiere Pattern.


Finished Project: Blue Corset from 1868

I just put the finishing touches on this today, and I’m so glad to finally have it done!  I started the mock up for this sometime last year.  I really wanted a corset I could wear to get a decent silhouette for late 1860s/early 1870s gowns.  I have one Victorian corset I made myself, but it’s more appropriate for the 1880s and didn’t give me much form.  I started reading up about how women who weren’t endowed got their shapes, and talked to other costumers about it.  Jen of Festive Attyre was especially helpful in figuring out what to do.  This corset has sort of revolutionized my thinking about making them, and I’m glad to say that I’m no longer paranoid about making corsets.  It was revolutionary to me to realize that I could make myself fit a corset shape, and fit a corset to fit *me*, when my shape is so not what was the period ideal for the Victorian era.

When I started thinking about this project I knew I wanted a blue corset, like in Edouard Manet’s painting Nana, from 1877.  Although later than this corset by nearly ten years, I have always loved this painting and knew I wanted to mirror this color scheme when I made mine.

The pattern for this corset came from Francis Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions book.  It was reproduced from an original Harper’s Bazar pattern from 1868 and then scaled down by half.  I re-enlarged the pattern and did my mock up. I found in the mock up stage that the original sizing of the corset pattern was several  inches too big for me, so I did some adjustments at the side seams, and some smaller adjustments to the hip and bust gussets, but made sure to leave enough room and not over fit it, so that I had room to pad out to achieve close to a period shape.

The original pattern called for boning across the back, but I decided I would rather have cording as I thought it would be both more comfortable and more decorative.  My husband was a darling and did the grommets up the back for me.  That’s one thing I really don’t like to do!  The chemise I am wearing is an antique in my collection.  Although I wouldn’t really wear it under clothing for fear of damaging it (although it is quite sturdy), it was fun to wear for pictures.  I need to make one along similar lines someday.

I should also mention that when I went to do my boning channels I realized I missed a tuck that was called for that went from the bottom of the front bust gusset to the bottom of the corset.  Oops?  Since I had already done all my fittings without this tuck I just decided to leave it be, but that accounts for one of the bust gores having a squared off shape at the bottom rather than a point.  Doesn’t bother me, but in case others wanted to try this pattern I thought it should be mentioned.  And as with all period patterns of this age, no seam allowances were included in the original pattern.

The fabric I used was white cotton coutil, to which I flat lined blue cotton sateen.  I was sick for quite a few days last week, so I used the opportunity to do something I don’t usually do- and embroider a little motif up the front of the busk and add some flossing.  I don’t have much skill at this sort of handwork, but it was fun to do and I think it looks kind of pretty!  My initial thought was to do flossing and add a contrast binding and wide lace at the top, but I really like the simplicity of these accents and I’m glad I didn’t go with my first plan.

Just like today, women would pad out what nature didn’t give them naturally.  As I mentioned previously, I was on a quest to get a bit more of a Victorian shape than I had naturally or with my previous corset.  When I took my mock up of this corset to work with me, I had some help from a theatre perspective and found that they still use this trick. One of the “tricks of the trade” are to use men’s tailoring shoulder pads and place them strategically at the sides, both at top of the corset, and at the bottom, to create more of an hourglass shape.  Then you can use little pads in the front for extra support- to create a bit of a shelf.  I tried this, and lo and behold, I actually had a decent shape for the era! Much better than I had had previously.

Since this project was done in conjunction with the Dreamstress’ great group, The Historical Sew Fortnightly, here’s the info required.

The Challenge: Under it All

Fabric: Cotton coutil, cotton sateen

Pattern: Reproduced Harper’s Bazar pattern from Frances Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions Book.

Year: 1868

Notions: Metal spiral and flat steel boning, corset busk, grommets, corset lacing, cotton embroidery floss, stay tape, thread, set of pre-made shoulder pads, cotton quilt batting to make two more pads, white muslin to cover shoulder pads.

How historically accurate is it?  Looks accurate on the outside (embroidery inspired by, rather than reproduced authentically from, period examples), but the inside and construction are done with modern methods.  The gussets were flat lined then serged, and applied with  lapped seams rather than flat felling.

Hours to complete: Several.  From start to finish, perhaps around 10 hours, including several mock ups and time to enlarge and alter the pattern.

First worn:  Not worn yet other than for photos

Total cost: Didn’t keep track but I’m guessing $35-40ish, not including the book cost.

Keeping Warm in the 1930’s- Socks and Stockings

I’m so glad that so many of you loved the theme of “keeping warm” for upcoming posts!  I admit there was a lot more response on the last post than I expected.  I guess there’s lots of us who like keeping warm and toasty!

Next up, since we’re on the subject of what goes on underneath, we’ve got stockings.

Most people think of stockings of the 1930s and 1940s in terms of the “cuban heeled” or “fully fashioned” stockings that were sheer and made of rayon, nylon, or silk.  Some even think of fishnet stockings, which were less common than we might think but certainly were still around.  And when we get to the 1940s we think of leg paint to help out with looking like there were stockings when in reality they were mostly given up for the war effort!

For everyday wear, around the house, or for cool weather there were, thankfully, more options than those sheer stockings we usually think of.  Here’s two pages of legwear options from Fall & Winter 1937-1938 with images of legwear to keep you warm.

National Bellas Hess- Fall and Winter 1937-1938

The socks (or anklets) at upper left were advertised to be worn in addition to your hoisery.  Ladies wore these not only with flats and “saddle shoes”, but they were often worn with heels!  It was a cute, sporty look, and it kept your feet warm.  It wasn’t as common to wear with heels as it was to wear stockings alone, but you do see it in catalog images for footwear and in real life photos.

“Remember- Wool is Warmer”- the ad on the right reminds us.  You could select your stockings by wool content.  The ultimate luxury were 100% wool or a wool/silk blend.

Below this ad, we’ve got invisible “under hose”.  These would be an extra layer underneath your sheerer stockings, and apparently, the idea was to have these under hose look like it was actually your skin but it provided an extra layer of warmth.

And below that we’ve got stocking lined in fleece!  Don’t those sound cosy?

National Bellas Hess- Fall and Winter 1937-1938

On the page above we’ve got cotton stockings in various styles.  These would keep your warmer than sheer rayon or silk and would would be more sturdy for everyday wear.

And on the left we’ve got the “outsize” stockings, which were made for “stout” women.  You can see the standard range that most stockings, in regular or outsizes, were available in.

I usually skip over the stocking pages in old catalogs, but I found these cool weather options rather enlightening!  Are they what you would expect?  What sort of legwear do you wear to keep warm in cool weather?

W.B. NuForm and Reduso Corsets, 1911

I got a fun little package in the mail today of a few lovely old magazines.  On the back cover of one is this lovely image on the ad for corsets from 1911.  I thought I’d share with you!  There’s a corner torn off, but it was too lovely to not share on that account.  Click on the image for a larger version

I am particularly amused by one sentence of the description of the W.B. Reduso corset:

“The measurements at the hips and abdomen are reduced from one to five inches, by the scientific shaping and placing of gores.”

Emphasis on that last bit, since that’s the part that struck me.

When I was looking at the available corset patterns of this period I was taken by the variety of versions available. I went with one that’s straighter, with no set in gores, similar to the version on the  left in this ad, posted by Jen Thompson of Festive Attyre on her website, but I noticed the version in the Corsets and Crinolines book has several gores to be set in.  I am entirely a corset novice and am not knowledgeable about them, but am interested in this period description of them.  Look at the construction at the one on the right! Talk about piecing!  Absolutely fascinating to me.

I believe the sizing on here, 18 to 30, or 19 to 36, were the waist size measure of the corset, not including “spring” at the back. Does anyone know?  If not including spring you’d add 2-4 inches to that measure, if I understand correctly, which would make the waist sizes seem much more reasonable by modern standards.  If there’s any corset historians out there, I’d love to hear your input on this and the optional construction with gores of this period.

I am pleased to say that the pattern I drafted for the first 1910s pattern for Wearing History, a blouse, is just finished after a lot of time in preparation several revisions to get it “just so”- but I’ve still got a ways to go before it’s ready to release.  Got to make instructions and all that first, of course! But one step closer! Woohoo!  Hopefully pretty soon here I’ll have some pretty photos to share with you of a sneak peek :)

Finished Project: Regency Short Stays + Pattern Review

Here’s my finished Regency short stays!  Since asked in a previous post for more info, I thought I’d do this follow up and a brief pattern review.  Sorry,  I’m not going to be modelling these, for modesty’s sake.

Pattern review guidelines borrowed from

Pattern used: Sense and Sensibility Regency Underthings. I used the E-Pattern and only made the short stays.

Pattern Sizing: 6-26D.  I used size 8.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, but I made alterations to the back (made it scooped and not squared), and also cut the front length down at the top.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, very.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? It really works!  It gives the accurate shape and went together pretty quickly for a period foundation garment.  The instructions were also quite well done and I loved that she gave suggestions for smaller ladies.

Fabric Used: Two layers of corset coutil.  This was not what was originally called for in the pattern. She called for three layers- linen, coutil, and cotton, or something similar.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I did make many changes, most of which I outlined in my previous post. Instead of rewriting them, you can read them on my last (very wordy) post about these stays.

After I posted the last post I added twill tape to the top and bottom of the stays to bind them and chose to run a lace through the binding so that I could snug in my neckline even more and prevent it from falling off of my shoulder. I’m very glad I did this, as I can feel the extra stability from having that extra tie there. I just tuck the ends inside my gown when I wear it.  I may, however, replace it with a thinner cord sometime in the future, as this one is a little bulky and made a little bump on the surface of my white cotton gown when worn.  Of gowns of thicker fabric, like my evening gown, you could not see the ties.  I also cut in the underarm 1/2″ at the front because it dug in a bit.  I could even cut it in an extra 1/2″ for more comfort, or convert the straps to tying on in front instead of being fully attached, to be even more comfortable.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, definitely, on both accounts.  I suggest making at least one mock up. I believe I made two, then still  needed to alter my pattern afterward.  Make your mock up in a hearty fabric like a cotton twill or duck that does not stretch. My muslin stretched on me and caused me heartache.  I also want to play with the straps more in a future version, since I put my straps a bit too close together so they had to be pinned to my evening gown to prevent them from showing.  Alterations for this pattern are very figure specific, and it will probably not fit the same two people the same way (it would really be impossible to make a pattern like this that would fit everyone) and the patternmaker was very thoughtful in her instructions for what sorts  of alterations might be needed.  As long as you take into account, like most patterns, that it will probably not fit straight out of the envelope, it is a fantastic little pattern and I very highly recommend it.

Conclusion: Really great pattern! I highly recommend it, especially for smaller ladies who do not want or need to wear the full stays.

Other notes:

I was asked about comparing these to long stays. I think it depends on the person, and their preferences, but for me, I much prefer them.  These are designed to still give you good posture, but leave the stomach free and you are also free from the front busk, which I found very uncomfortable in my long stays when sitting for long periods of time.  I live a few hours away from most events, but I Could actually wear these in the car with little discomfort.  Since I have poor posture in day-to-day life I did find that my shoulders ached by the time I got home from being pulled back into their proper position.  I have heard that these are not well suited to larger ladies, or larger busted ladies, and they may prefer to wear full stays instead of short stays.

I was also asked about comparing these to a modern bra.  I would not recommend this in place of a modern bra, simply because the silhouette, while great for Regency, does not seem like it would fit well under modern clothing.   The short stays force the bust up higher than the natural bustline, and modern clothing is designed to fit more at the natural bust.   I also find that they sort of smooth the shape at the underbust due to the gores (in a V shape), instead of rounding out like a more modern silhouette.  For Regency wear, however, I wholly recommend these as they will help obtain the period silhouette.  For those who are smaller busted, if these are fitted correctly, you can even add a little bit of padding inside. Be sure you have them fitted snugly, however, or stitch in the padding, so it doesn’t go skittering across the dance floor ;)

I also should say that my stays are not laced in a period correct way.  If they were accurate they would be spiral laced.  And sorry for my sloppy eyelet holes. I decided to do them with a buttonhole stitch, and I found my technique greatly improved from the time I began the first until I finished the last. Oops? Maybe next time they’ll be more uniform and I’ll learn the real way to stitch eyelets.


Disclaimer:  I purchased this pattern on my own and was not compensated in any way for a pattern review.  All of the information I shared is my own personal honest opinion of this sewing pattern.

In Progress: Regency Short Stays

Oh, look! I actually remembered to take a picture of something in progress! I’m the worst at blogging progress on projects unless they’re of a massive undertaking.  This is borderline time consuming, so here she is!

I’m working on making up my first pair of Regency short stays.  Short stays are basically a Regency equivalent of a push up bra.  You could either wear full length stays (corset) or wear one of these.  I have made two pairs of full length stays, but my last pair don’t quite fit as they did when I made them so I thought it was time to try out a pair of short stays.

Now, I’m giving a disclaimer.  I’m not doing these in the period correct way. They’re not hand sewn, and instead of using period fabrics I’m using two layers of cotton coutil (what you usually make Victorian corsets out of).  I’m also doing guerrilla cording (not the correct way at all), and pretty much all of this is the “quick, let’s make a set of short stays in three days even though we’ve never made them before” project.  We, as in  me and my sewing machine (or fancy pants “we” as in Queen Victoria.  It’s much too early to put much thought into writing since I have not had my tea and stayed up til 1am sewing, so I’ll write long run-on sentences instead explaining why I don’t want to go back and edit them and make silly excuses that are probably of no interest to my readers. So there).

Since this is a last-minute project, I tried my first real pattern e-download.  This is from Sense and Sensibility’s Regency Underthings pattern.  Now, I’m telling you, I am a straight up old fashioned paper pattern girl.  I thought I would never even consider buying an e-pattern.  But when the prospect was before me of actually using the Simplicity version I bought of this and putting the extra time to figure out what ease they added to it, or getting the e-download and saving me some extra headache, I chose the download.  Ideally I would have used the paper pattern from Sense and Sensibility, but I didn’t have the foresight to order it ahead or the time to wait for it in the mail.  I will admit, now that I’ve tried them, that downloads are not my thing.  I spent entirely too much time taping together pieces. I’m sure, if I had actually watched the videos she linked to in the email I would  have saved myself the headache of trying to match together pieces (though my printer threw them out of order anyways.. oh, that dreaded sound of paper maneuvering itself out of order in the print tray…), and if I was smart I would have had the foresight to print the stays only, instead of the ENTIRE pattern and wasted paper.  I wasn’t that smart.  Don’t be like me. Do what the pattern says to do and watch her videos and read the instructions.

Actually, now that I’m writing it, this entire sewing project seems to be a “oh, duh” sort of project.  Do you ever have projects like that? You start with the best of intentions but your brain only running at half mast, and create all sorts of problems for yourself that could have been easily avoided?  I usually do that when I’m on a time crunch, or after I’ve completed a series of really good sewing projects. When the brain SHOULD be probably focused, that’s when I foul up.  And I admit I seldom read instructions, as I usually work through any issues in the mock up stage. But if I had done THAT properly, I would have realized that not only did I put the straps on facing the wrong direction (and would, therefore, have probably not had to “fix” them as much), but should have paid attention to my mock up fabric, which ended up having too loose of a weave and stretched on me when I put it on.  No WONDER the mock up fit so well! It was stretching to fit me!  So much for saving fabric from the pile of “to get rid of” fabrics. That glaring orange should have been my warning sign.  All of my kooky problems aside, I only had to do a few changes to this.

Now, when I was thinking of starting this project I scoured online for pictures and reviews and blog posts and found actually very few.  Since these patterns are hugely popular I thought there would be many more reviews online, so, since I thought this and found few, that’s why I’m writing my post.

The alterations to this pattern are VERY figure specific.  Obviously, no pattern will fit the same for all people, but when you get to undergarments it gets even trickier.  Think of all the problems you have shopping for bras (or maybe you’re lucky and don’t, but I certainly do).  In fact, a friend and I were talking about this project.  After I did my mock up and pattern changes I relayed my changes and she relayed her. By sight we’re really NOT that different.  We pretty much wear the same size clothing, or very close to the same size, but our changes with the pattern were night and day different.  So, that being said, it is very hard for me to give watch points or change guidelines for this pattern, but I will relay the changes I made for me.

First of all, I found this too broad in the back, so I took in the back width one inch.  I also took in the width of the shoulder strap 1/2″, lowered the neckline at front by 3/4″ (to hit lower, as I have heard that is more flattering to small bust-lines), and altered the angle of the straps (probably entirely my fault, as relayed above).  I also decided to make the back scooped, instead of square, especially after reading Beth’s blog post on her research for her stays.  Even with my changes, some were not accurate, since, as I said, I made a poor choice of mock up fabric. This pattern has choices of gussets depending on your bust size.  I had read a review online that suggested selecting one size smaller for the gussets, and since I’m borderline sizes I went with the A.  BUT, since my mock up was stretchy, after I actually got my gussets in my coutil and tried it on, they did not fit right and were too small.  They all got ripped out and replaces with the size B gussets, which fit much better.  I want to say that I’m thankful for the options in bust sizes!  Often times patterns are only available in a certain range, and I’m glad she had us smaller girls covered in this pattern.

Another issue I’ve been reading online has to do with the “spring” at the front lacing. If you are unfamiliar with corsets or stays you probably have not heard the term, but it is an intentional gap left for comfort, and, I’m sure, other really good reasons.  I fit mine to have a 1 1/2″ to 2″ “spring”.  Nearly all the photos I’ve seen online do not have this, and butt up right next to each other, or have a very little spring. I’m not sure if I’m doing it correctly this way- I’ll have to get back to you after they’ve had a “test run”, but I thought it would be more comfortable and I remember seeing an engraving from around the same period of a lady in short stays and she had the “spring” in front of about an equivalent of that size. In fact, you can see the image on Kalen Hughes site, here.

The cording I added on my own. It’s a little messy, so don’t mind me.  I used the Sugar n’ Cream cotton yarn for cording and butted it right up to my zipper foot and sewed in instead of pulling it though channels (which is probably why it’s so NOT uniform).  I made it up after seeing various versions online.  I also forgot to mention that I decided to add 1/2″ seam allowance to the center front of this so that I could turn back the stays on themselves and sandwich my boning at my front edge instead of making a separate bound casing.  I still have to put in the boning, work my eyelets, and bind the stays, but they’re getting there!  I really wish I had paid more attention to my mock up, as my gussets are a bit off now, but for a first try they’re not half bad.

I’ve never been one to have patience with period undergarments (other than frilly Edwardian lovelies).  I usually need AT LEAST one try before I figure out why they work the way they do or why I need to change things.  I’m actually quite proud of myself for starting these when there is not either a class or sew-a-long, as I have little dedication to sewing period undergarments. I love seeing other people’s versions of them but don’t like sewing them much myself.  These I actually did have fun with, especially the cording.

So there she is… a near self-induced sewing disaster, but for some odd reason I’m actually a little proud of them ;)  This is actually a really great little pattern.  I loved the pattern and will certainly be making it up again in the future.

Under-Structure- Changes in Silhouette from the 1920s to the 1950s

Thinking on proper foundations is somewhat of a new territory for me in terms of vintage wear.  Unlike historical costuming, where the foundations are essential for creating the period silhouette, it seems that foundations for vintage wear seem to be optional for most enthusiasts.  Since I’ve been thinking more in terms of foundations I thought you also might be interested in seeing visuals of change in under-structure from the 1920s until the 1950s.

Of a particular note, I would like to point out that the bra was relatively new, with many women accepting it for wear during the first twenty years of the century.  Because of this, I think the evolution in terms of construction and silhouette are particularly interesting.  It appears to me, though I am by no means a historian in terms of undergarments, that major changes came to pass during the decade of the 1930s, so I have supplemented two images from that decade.  The one on top is from 1930 and the one underneath is from 1936.

Also of note is that silhouettes underwent changes during each of the decades pictured, so the images are just a round-about view, though if you want to go more in depth you can research changes within each individual decade.  I found that changes happen, in general, during the first, middle, and last part of each decade, and you will find that fashion also follows suit with those being the major times of changes.

And as an extra here’s a few images I found interesting from both the 1940s (the bra at the top has the “whirlpool” stitching we often equate to 1950s bullet bras), and an advertisement for padded bras of the 1950s.  Padding in bras seems to be an alternative, with separate padding most common from the mid 1930s until the 1950s, although bras with padding included in the structure were around by the 1950s.  The 1920s, of course, was an era which suppressed the breast, and during the 1950s it reached quite the opposite silhouette.  I personally think the 1930s is the closest to the modern day bra silhouette.

Next up we have girdles or corselettes.  In most vintage catalogs and magazines I tend to see these and the all in ones still termed as “corsetry”, a term which carried over from the 1800s.  In 1920s the emphasis was on the “boyish” or “youthful” frame, so the hips and chest were both flattened.  The 1930s influenced the “classical line”, so again we see hips flattened, but towards the middle of the decade we see the bust start to be more emphasized than previously.  The 1940s seems to be the middle ground between the  1920s and 1950s shape, and in the 1950s we see the nipped in waists combined with accentuated bustline.  When the sheath or “wiggle” dresses were very popular we also see somewhat of a nipped waist combined with smoothed hips and accentuated bust.

And lastly, and this perhaps shows the ideal silhouette the best, are the all-in-ones, also called “corsetry”.

So, a question for my readers… which of the decades do you find the most challenging for creating a period silhouette?  I’m sure every answer will be different depending on your individual figure, but I’m curious to know!


Which Decade’s Silhouette do You Find the Most Challenging?
The 1920’s
The 1930’s
The 1940’s
The 1950’s free polls