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

pollcode.com free polls 


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

  1. Kay
    November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm (13 years ago)

    Interesting! The 1920s are definitely the hardest to recreate. There’s simply no modern undergarments made that flatten the chest to the extent the stuff back then did!

    The 1930s clothing I’ve borrowed hasn’t needed much structure underneath, because it seems to be the cut and lines of the dresses that add the long lean shape – dresses you could easily wear out nowadays.

    1940s seems to be the most like today as far as shape goes.

  2. Libby Gohn
    November 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm (13 years ago)

    As an hourglass, I’ve completet given up on recreating the fashionable 20’s look. Though it does seem like obtaining the boyish figure was less extreme in Britain; did you notice any differences between US and UK undergarments during your research?

    • Lauren
      November 4, 2011 at 3:54 pm (13 years ago)

      Hi there,
      I admit I do not have many non-USA materials, and the research was mostly based off of things in my collection, but in the past I have researched clothing styles between the USA and Europe and I agree that they do tend to be quite different. It seems like in a lot of cases the US took fashion to the extreme, while in other countries it seems that looks tended to stick around longer and weren’t quite as prone to “fads”. Not in all cases, of course, but in some, so I can see why you’ve noticed that the figure was a bit more curvy than what we often see as the “ideal” in the US in the 1920s.
      Fabulous point, and thanks so much for bringing up that up!

      • Evangeline Holland
        November 5, 2011 at 5:55 am (13 years ago)

        The slower fashion cycles are a given, considering that European economies were practically devastated by WWI. Also, the look we associate with the 1920s (knee-skimming hemlines, extremely dropped waistlines, le garconne, etc) peaked between 1926-1928; before then, styles were rather barrel and lanky. The BBC series The House of Eliott gives a fabulous representation of British fashions between the years 1920 and 1928.

        • Lauren
          November 5, 2011 at 9:06 am (13 years ago)

          Thanks for the input, Evangeline. I love House of Eliott! The fashions are divine!

  3. littlegreythings
    November 4, 2011 at 4:55 pm (13 years ago)

    For me the 50’s is the hardest to recreate. I have a small bust, so any 50’s pattern I make has to be altered and fitted for my figure first. But, my favourite style period is the 20’s and it suits my figure type down to the ground (in fact, I’m wearing a me-made dress from 1925 this morning). I love the 50’s, but I’ve learned that I feel better in 20’s. :)

    I noticed that the poll says that most find the 20’s hardest to recreate. Has anyone tried wearing camisole type bras, or maybe even sports bras to help with the flattened bust look?

    • Lauren
      November 5, 2011 at 9:09 am (13 years ago)

      Great tip about the sports bras or camisole type bras!
      Ditto about 50s patterns- I nearly always have to do some sort of bust alteration.

  4. Bijoux
    November 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm (13 years ago)

    Totally love your blog. Thought you might be interested in this posting from the blog Glamour Daze. I really love the looks from WWI through to the 40s, so I find this site particularly interesting. I don’t know the protocols concerning copying from one blog to another, so I’ll send her a message to say I’ve copied from her blog to yours. If I’m in the wrong, please message me.
    I’d love to see a Symington Side Lacer.

    On a more personal note, is there any possibility you have patterns for bras in different sizes? Pretty please?

  5. Michelle
    November 4, 2011 at 10:47 pm (13 years ago)

    Alas, I have a column sort of figure so even though I’m dedicated to the 50s, I struggle to get an hourglass. I expend a lot of effort trying to cinch my waist – corsets, girdles etc etc. It works, but if I had more of a bust it would all be so much easier.

    I imagine the 20s would also be difficult, though I’ve never really tried.

  6. Emma
    November 5, 2011 at 3:53 am (13 years ago)

    I haven’t really tried recreating all of those, but I know from sewing experience that I would probably have very little trouble recreating the late 1930s to early-mid 1940s, since virtually all patterns I’ve sewn from this era match my proportions (and exact measurements) beautifully.

    I suspect the 1950s would be the hardest because while I can get an hourglass-ish shape with a good corset, my chest will never live up to my hip measurement, 1950s style, padding or no padding.

  7. Isis
    November 5, 2011 at 4:14 am (13 years ago)

    The twenties for me, followed by the thirties. Having an hourglass figure makes it hard to pull off the straight lines and slim soloutte of those years.

    My maternal grandmother, born in 1913, never wore a bra until my Mum was born in 1946. She was extremely slim, though. I still have some of her underwear- lovely vests in silk jersey and knickers in such sheer and see-through cotton lawn that I would blush to wear them.

    • Lauren
      November 5, 2011 at 9:12 am (13 years ago)

      Wow- how fascinating about your grandmother! I love hearing stories like that. You’re so fortunate to still have some of her things. How wonderful!

  8. mala_14
    November 5, 2011 at 10:26 am (13 years ago)

    While I haven’t really done a lot of actual sewing of recreations (or wearing any vintage clothing), just looking at patterns and garment measurements tells me that I’m almost perfect for the 1930s. I just don’t have the hourglass shape to do the 1950s without adjusting things. Thanks for the under-structure overview! It was really interesting.

  9. Summer
    November 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm (13 years ago)

    The later 30s bras look closer to bras I wore in the 90s. I find the 30 pretty easy to wear, a comfy shorts girdle is enough. The silhouette helps create the look for you. The 50s are uncomfortable: girdle/waist cincher, pointy bra, plus lipstick never stays on ;)

  10. Nadja Eleonora
    November 8, 2011 at 1:46 am (13 years ago)

    The 50’s is my hardest! I’m a slim girl with almost a flatt chest. Finding bras is hard, modern pushups gives me a little shape, wearing a sportsbra makes me look like a boy (and feel totally unglammourus!)
    It seams like the 30’s and 40’s type of bras is still availible in modern time when I’m looking trough catalogs, mostly in larger sizes but I have found some in A cups aswell, like this one http://www.daxon.co.uk/pack-of-2-non-wired-bras.htm?ProductId=026045629&t=6. (Mabey this is something you serched for too?)

    • Lauren
      November 8, 2011 at 8:58 am (13 years ago)

      Hey, that’s a great looking modern bra! Thanks for the link!

  11. Charlotte
    November 8, 2011 at 3:53 am (13 years ago)

    I’m not exactly amazed that the 1920s has been overwhelmingly voted the hardest silhouette, given the curviness of the modern figure. With my figure type, I’m most comfortable recreating the hourglass shape of the 40s and 50s – I think bullet bras suit me, and I love wearing a cincher to emphasise my waist.

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha’penny Vintage

    • Charlotte
      November 8, 2011 at 3:53 am (13 years ago)

      I should add,

      *the curviness of the AVERAGE modern figure

      • Lauren
        November 8, 2011 at 9:00 am (13 years ago)

        Yes, it’s so interesting to see how different the standards of sizing measurements changed throughout the decades, isn’t it? I actually have heard that some of the changes over time to the figure and height could be attributed to what goes into the food we consume (preservatives, etc). I’m not sure where I heard it, but it’s an interesting thought!

  12. Anne
    November 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm (13 years ago)

    The late 40s-50s silhouette is the easiest for me, definitely, as I have an hourglass figure. I find the 20’s silhouette really hard to pull off and unflattering on my frame- the waistless tube look doesn’t suit me and I feel like it just makes my body look wider.
    I’ve never worn shapewear, but I’ve recently been wanting to try it, especially as my style is becoming more retro-inspired with time.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.