By Adam Welsch
The 1940s.Â It was quite a decade.Â For much of the world, it was a time of tremendous military, political, economic, and cultural upheaval.Â World War II was fought, and the Nuclear Age, the Cold War, and Decolonization all began. In the United States, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.Â With the occurrence of such historically significant events, itâs easy to forget about the pop-culture markers of the time.Â The SlinkyÂ®, the FrisbeeÂ®, TupperwareÂ®, and VelcroÂ® were all invented, commercial television was born, classic books like 1984 and The Little Prince were written, âfilm noirâ rose to prominence as a cinematic style, and swing and crooning became all the rage in music.
Of course, womenâs fashion of the decade was highly distinctive.Â Trousers, shoulder pads, little black dresses, pumps, and elaborate hats all were popular.Â In the world of intimate apparel, nylon stockings, when not in short supply due to wartime rationing, burst onto the fashion scene, as did the push-up bra.Â Of course, girdles with garters, and slips, were widely worn.
With the explosion of exposure that intimates have received in recent years via television’s morning news shows, celebrity talk shows, shop-at-home networks, late-night infomercials, and an endless stream of websites, itâs easy to miss the fact that some of todayâs finest intimate apparel manufacturers can trace their lineage back as far as the 1940s when catalogs, newspapers, and newsreels were the vehicles that delivered fashion information.
Though some of you reading this post are indeed old enough to have lived through the 1940s and can remember its fashion firsthand, most of you are probably less familiar with what the bras, girdles, slips, and other pieces of lingerie of that time looked like.Â What follows is some vintage film footage that will help give you a good idea of what women of that time wore underneath Christian Diorâs âNew Look,â and Claire McCardell’s âAmerican Look,â collections.
The first clip, courtesy of British PathÃ©, is taken from a British newsreel.Â It features a âLondon show of corsetry and underwearâ from the late 1940s.Â In addition to the great images, note the narratorâs use of political satire when he says, âWhen womenâs figures are nationalized, theyâll be no corset problem.Â Everyone will go in, and come out, in the same places.â
Hereâs a second clip from British PathÃ©.Â The fact that attention is called to ânew-style, elasticated girdlesâ shows how much things have changed in the past seven decades.
The next clip, courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, features what was then the latest in rayon lingerie.Â Though shown in color, the hairstyles, furniture, and full slips of this film strongly evoke an era from long ago.
The next video, also courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, not only shows a great example of an intimate ensemble from back in the day, it also gives an idea of some of the foundation requirements created by the outerwear fashions of the time.Â Notice that the woman is wearing an open-bottom girdle, the predecessor to the more modern, panty girdle.
The final clip mostly shows examples of dresses, hats, shoes, gloves, and coats of the 1940s.Â But watch for the appearance of the corset at the 59-second mark.Â Ask yourself whether you could ever wear something like that.