Vintage Lingerie (2011) by Jill Salen

As I've gotten into vintage sewing alongside my regular historical work, I decided to buy Jill Salen's book on vintage lingerie - Corsets is very good, so I was fairly sure Vintage Lingerie would be as well.

And it is! This book is an excellent resource for both vintage enthusiasts and fashion historians/collections managers who have anything to do with 20th century dress. Where Corsets overlapped with Waugh's Corsets & Crinolines (just as Patterns of Fashion and Cut of Women's Clothes overlap), Vintage Lingerie really stands alone - no other books that I'm aware of give patterns for so many pieces of lingerie, especially going so far into the 20th century.

The value of the book is in the patterns. The text itself has a tendency to editorialize about corsetry - which, as you're probably aware, is one of my big pet peeves - eg, "inconvenient, unsightly, even tormenting control," "finally achieved freedom from restrictive garments," "at a time when waist suppression was still extreme," etc. but the text is not at all the point, so it's easy to overlook. While I would have liked more detail in the descriptions, there is nothing at all lacking in the patterns themselves, which I have to admit put mine to shame. Salen even draws the garter clips!

The book includes:

Pantaloons, 1850 (I would say "Drawers, ca. 1885")
"Khiva" nursing brassiere, 1890
Corset cover, 1897-1905
Combinations, 1900
Tango knickers, 1920s
Lace and chiffon brassiere and knickers, 1920s
Patent brassiere, 1920s
Bandeau brassiere, 1920-1930
Strapless brassiere, 1930-1937
Blue silk slip, 1930s
Girdle, 1932
Maternity girdle, 1940s
Linen knickers, 1940s
Satin suspender knickers, 1969
White satin girdle, 1930s
Tea-rose suspender belt, 1940s
Satin bra, 1937, and utility brassiere, 1940s
Strapless brassiere, 1940s
Strapless brassiere and waist cincher, 1950s
Beige silk slip, 1930-1950
Dior-style brassiere, 1950s
Spirella fitting corset, 1960s
Lady Marlene long-line brassiere, 1970s
Gossard long-line brassiere, 1970s
Black brassiere, 1930s
Waist slip (petticoat), 1905

The dates are sketchier than I'd like - I'm not a fan of decade-dating, because it's rare that something appears to be appropriate from one end of a decade all the way to the other - but again, they're not really the point. What makes the book such a phenomenal resource is that you have the construction of the garment laid out in front of you, and you can do with that what you will. The historian can compare fully-finished clothing in a collection to the deconstructed patterns; the vintage enthusiast can, with patience and skill, enlarge the patterns to wearable size and make period-accurate underclothes.

Some may find it odd that Salen patterned atypical undergarments like the Spirella fitting corset and linen drawers alongside pieces that are completely stereotypical for their era. (I say "may" - in a few reviews it's clear that some people don't understand their inclusion at all.) To my mind, however, variety is really what makes a pattern book useful to a broader audience than just "the average home seamstress". While someone who just wants a few pairs of lacy knickers has no use for the Spirella corset, someone who intends to make multiple corsets for different women might appreciate it as guidance for making her own fitting garment in her business. (And the collections manager who comes across something like that in their collection would have a clue as to what it was!)


  1. I love Corsets, so I'll have to check this book out, too! I love that "typical" as well as "atypical" pieces were included--I feel that Corsets is like that, too. It makes for nice comparison and interesting study, but still useful if you're looking into norms.

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