Lingerie of 1915 and the Questionable Invention of the Brassiere

Lingerie is always one of my favorite parts of pattern catalogs. The Butterick 1915 pattern catalog I recently let go from my collection had some great examples of the lingerie styles of the era, which included chemises, corset covers, brassieres, drawers, slips, and combinations.

The Brassiere of 1915

This catalog was of particular interest, though, for the brassieres. Every now and then there seems to be a mainstream cultural piece gushing about the 1914 invention of the “brassiere” and the supposed liberation from the oppression of corsets it provided, etc. This narrative defines brassiere in an extremely narrow way, ignoring breast bands that go back to Greece and are depicted in 4th century mosaics, medieval finds from Lengburg Castle dating to the 15th century that resemble modern lingerie design, and the many kinds of bust support patented during the 19th century. The Mary Phelps Jacob patent of 1914 is more of a backless bralette, which is a unique design, but far from the first bra available. (To me, it’s another example of the way that we view our historical predecessors as dramatically different from us or somehow more ignorant, confined by uncomfortable corsetry because propriety demanded it, conveniently ignoring our own modern excesses such as plastic surgery.) As long as women have had fabric, I suspect there have been ways we’ve used it to provide breast support while working or engaging in sports.

Brassiere Patent

In the 1915 Butterick catalog, there are many examples of brassieres and bust support in the form of fitted corset covers. (This contradicts the “the brassiere was invented in 1914” narrative as well, since if it had just been invented a few months before, DeBevoise probably wouldn’t have been mass producing the “brassiere” in the spring of 1915.) There is an ad for DeBevoise brassieres that have the monobosom shape of the 1915 silhouette. These would have been made of mostly nonstretch fabric, and patterns for them have always seemed very plain and utilitarian to me, but I think I may have underestimated the possibilities there. Some of the lace and sheer versions are very pretty, and I’m curious enough about what kind of support they could provide that I might have to give making one of these a try.

lingerie of 1915 brassiere ad

There were patterns available from Butterick for similar styles:

The 1915 Corset Silhouette

The brassiere seemed to be gaining momentum as the corset shifted lower to give the straight, thin hipped look that was fashionable then. The brassiere or fitted corset cover would support the bust while the corset gave shaping to the lower torso. There’s a great ad for corsets in the catalog that illustrates the corset style in 1915:

lingerie of 1915 corset ad

I’ve seen discussions of corsetry that describe this garment as oppressive and claiming that this kind of corset made sitting difficult, but it’s clear from surviving garments from the period and patterns for this type of corset that the boning didn’t extend all the way to the bottom of this type of corset. The boning in most examples I’ve seen stops at the high hip, as a typical higher corset’s bones would. This kind of corset often included elastic panels at the hip, too. I doubt moving or sitting in it would be much different than trying to move or sit in a contemporary girdle or Spanx type control garment.

The Corset Covers, Slips and Chemises of 1915

The corset cover is a type of delicate undershirt that if made to fit closely would have provided bust support, but looser styles could be worn with other foundation pieces like corsets or boned brassieres to smooth the silhouette, too. Corset covers typically ended at the waistline or high hip while chemises usually were full body length.
There are several styles for these kinds of garments in the Butterick catalog:

 

Drawers of 1915

Panties or knickers as we currently know them don’t seem to have really been a thing yet as of 1915. The lower body styles featured in this pattern catalog are drawers, and they are for *open* drawers, so they were definitely still being worn in this era. For the most part they seem to still be being worn down to the knee as well.

Combination Undergarments

Judging from the amount of patterns offered for combination undergarments, they seem to have been extremely popular in this era. There are also several envelope chemises, which is the closest thing to the closed crotch kind of undergarment we’re used to today:

lingerie of 1915 butterick 6957 combination 8

The combination combined the corset cover or chemise with open drawers:

This simple garment could be somewhat fitted or looser fit, simple and utilitarian or embellished with embroidery and lace, gathered at the neckline or suspended from shoulder straps, gathered and trimmed at the leg or loose.

I think I need to give these a try, too. In a suitable fabric and with a close fit, these would be basically the same thing as a summery jumpsuit, and they’d have a bit of vintage elegance to them. Maybe when I’m not sleep deprived I’ll give them a go. 🙂

I’ll end this screed with just some advertising gorgeousness for its own sake from another brassiere ad. The illustrations of the time are so beautiful.

Happy Sunday! Have you ever worn or sewn undergarments in the style of this era? I’d love to hear your opinions / experiences / general thoughts on vintage styles being done with contemporary styling.

Advertisements

Things I Hoard: Modes & Travaux

If memory serves me, this French language publication began in the 1920s or slightly earlier, and is still in publication. It features fashion, knitting and embroidery, and many of the ones I have from the 30s still have an included iron on transfer sheet with embroidery designs. As part of my learning curve with digitization methods, I’ve been playing around with one from the 1930s with some gorgeous designs by Maggy-Rouff, Molyneux and Lelong in it. It’s gorgeous, as most illustrated fashion magazines of the era seem to be. (I think I like illustration better than photography in my fashion mags, even though the illustrations definitely seduce me into sewing things that aren’t going to flatter my body but look great in theory on a drawn person whose waist is roughly 12″ around and who stands at least 7′ tall.)

001

Another thing I love about these old publications is the window they provide into the day to day life of their era. We tend to think of the past as if it were so different, but all the advertising in these speaks to the same things we worry about today–wrinkles, our weight, our hair color, that ever elusive glamor we want for ourselves. Unlike some of my friends who tend to think that technology is revolutionizing our consciousness, etc etc, I tend to think that the human heart stays mostly the same. We all worry about the same things, we all need the same intangible things from each other, whether it’s 1700 or 2015. But outside of the context of one’s era, certain things do seem bizarre…like whatever this beauty treatment ad is offering (if radio-actifs means what I think it does, omg, way to redefine youthful glow):

You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.
You, too, can own your very own beauty ball gag.

Another thing I can’t get enough of is old lingerie advertisements and design.

bra ad corset ad

So pretty! So I managed to digitize it all and have it not be distorted, overly blurry or overly contrasted–if you’d like the entire pdf, I’m making it available for free download for a day or two 🙂 enjoy!

modes travaux – 1932 nov 1