A woman displaying a 1920s girdle.
A woman displaying a 1920s girdle.

Looser clothing in the 1920s allowed women freedom of movement. Women in scores were participating in sports, dancing athletically to jazz, and driving cars. The new free-wheeling garments required that the undergarments of the 1920s also adapt for a more motion oriented lifestyle. Strict, heavily boned, corsets were abandoned. Instead of accentuating a woman’s curves, the new undergarments formed the female body into the popular boyish figure. Breasts were flattened and hips were slimmed. The new style of less-structured brassiere allowed women the necessary movement for sports, driving and dancing. While the structure of undergarments simplified, there were still many pieces and styles to contend with. Most of these undergarments in were made from silk, rayon and or cotton. Satin, crepe, batiste, and coutil were also popular in light pastel colors. Typically, women wore a bandeau brassiere to flatten the bust. In the early 1920s, some structure such as light boning was still utilized.  As the decade progressed, however, these bras became less structured and considerably smaller. Elastic was used in these brassieres to aid in movement, while cups or cords were used to assist in flattening the chest. Most of these had hooks and eye closures in the back, with straps for the shoulders, but there were models that simply wrapped around the body.

This model displays the ability to move freely in this bandeau bra and corset.
This model displays the ability to move freely in this bandeau bra and corset.

In addition to a brassiere, there were also corset options. These were less ridged than previous models and rather than shrinking the waist and enhancing the chest, 1920s corsets worked to de-emphasize the waist and slim the hips. Over these initial foundation garments, a woman would wear a slip or chemise. Many of the dresses in Flapper Style have a matching slip unique for the dress. Bloomers, panties, or drawers were also worn on the lower half of the torso. Hosiery was a necessity for a well dressed woman in the 1920s, and became ever more prominent as skirts shortened throughout the decade. Colors in the nude palate became the most popular and new textures became available. Rayon was a popular and less expensive option to silk hose, which were considered the most luxurious.

Pajamas, silk loose fitting casual wear, gained increasing popularity as daytime or beach outfits during the 1920s. Assisted partially by interest in the exotic – pajamas come from pāy-jāmeh a loose-fitting pant worn my Muslim men in India during the reign of the British empire – and the influx of sportswear, many wore pajama-style garments not only as lounging clothes but as bonafide ensembles to wear in company.

Blow, click through images from the exhibition Flapper Style and notice how the brassiere style and size changes throughout the decade.


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