Sunday, 22 July 2012

Building a Foundation- part one

And by that I mean underwear- bra's, knickers, girdles, suspenders, petticoats- whatever it takes.  It surprising how important good foundation garments are when it comes to wearing vintage clothes.  This is a subject which I decided to blog about partially because I have bitten the bullet (!) and bought my very first bullet bra (insert Austin Power's jokes here), it is amazing the difference it makes to the shape of a dress. So- part one- bras...

As I said, I recently bought a bullet bra which was the What Katie Did Harlow Bullet bra, it is very snug and certainly pulls everything together, although as I am between sizes I needed to get the bullet bra fillers, they are very specifically sized bras with less room for manoeuvre than their modern counterparts. 

Source: What Katie Did  : Top- the Harlow Bullet 
bra and bottom - their 1940s inspired bra- still 
conical in shape but less so than the bullet bra
Although it is not a bra I would wear on a daily basis (may cause a stir at the school gate) it is certainly one to wear underneath a few of my 1950s dresses.  The reason it works better is because these clothes were originally designed with the underwear to hand at the time, dart lines and seams simply sit better with the more conical and less squashed effect than the modern cleavage enhancing bra's.


When looking at what underwear to wear under a dress, think what would have been worn at the time it was manufactured, it's a good starting point.  For example a 1950s day dress may require a "bullet" bra style, whereas a 1980s cleavage revealing evening dress may sit more comfortable with a Wonderbra style!  Always think about the usually bra issues when wearing vinatge clothes that you would with any clothes:

  • Bra straps : are they visible? Does it matter? You can get specific clips on some dresses to hold them in place so they are not visible, sometimes (horror of horrors) it actually works with the outfit to see the bra straps (I shall probably be snubbed in polite society for such a comment now!!)
  • Colour choice : does your black bra show through you white shirt?  Is it appropriate or should you switch for the nude one?
  • Fit : whatever bra you choose make sure it fits comfortably.  Nothing will make you hate your outfit more than tugging the bust area every five minutes because it's slipping or riding up.
  • Posture : a nice fitting bra will (and should) make you stand up straighter, feel more confident and generally improve your posture.
  • Padding : do not be afraid to use it if it improves the look of the outfit, it's isn't cheating no more than wearing high heeled shoes is!  

You can get some pretty good reproduction vintage underwear as I said, however if you like your underwear like your dresses and want original vintage it is certainly possible.  There are a few things to remember though:

  • Sizing is fairly similar on these bra's, but always double check measurements if you are buying online, or if you are in person request to try it on if possible. (Don't forget bullet bra's may need fillers so if the points are a bit wrinkly don't write the bra off straight away.)
  • Check the elastic, if you gently stretch it it should still stretch, if not then avoid it.
  • If you are trying to date your underwear check for labels as well as the fabric it is constructed from- pre war a lot more underwear was made from rayon, but in the 1940s a lot more nylon and other fabrics were being used.
  • I have a terrible habit of washing my bra's in the washing machine- you should almost always handwash bra's to maintain shape, condition and fabric.

The next foundation garment post is all about shape-wear, believe me no matter what size you are shape-wear is a brilliant invention for smoothing the silhouette especially under a wiggle dress or other figure skimming clothes.

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