What To Wear – Foundation Garments

A little piece I wrote for Retrocentric…

A few years ago when I was establishing Retrocentric here in Cincinnati, I started the What To Wear Wednesdays blog. It was so much fun to write about the different frocks of each era, to explain foundation garments, and to show off some of the pretty things in the Retrocentric wardrobe stash.

Then it seemed like overnight we were busting at the seams, changing locations with a major renovation, having a fire and moving once again. Somewhere along the way What To Wear Wednesdays took a backseat and sort of fell asleep, Rip Van Winkle style.

Happily WTW is back! Yay.

So let’s circle back to the beginning a bit and discuss foundation garments, crucial to any ensemble.

A foundation garment is what is worn underneath clothing. This typically refers to a girdle, corset, or slip.

Let’s talk girdles. Since the 20th century, the word “girdle” has been used to define an undergarment made of elasticized fabric that was worn by women. It is a form-fitting foundation garment that encircles the lower torso, perhaps extending below the hips, and worn often to shape or for support.

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I am sure you have seen images from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and said to yourself: “How in the heck did she wriggle into that outfit?” That’s a girdle my dear, a wonderful invention!

A girdle is a nice way to smooth out your shape and to enhance your lovely curves, wherever they may be, or wherever you may want them to be.

I think the best girdle, really, is a full open bottom girdle. It replaces the need for a bra and you can clip your stockings right to it, so there’s no need for a garter belt. A full open bottom is perfect for a wiggle dress or one with very thin and sometimes unforgiving material.

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Now, if you are choosing a pencil skirt with a blouse that is not form fitting, you may want to go with a half open bottom girdle. This way, you can choose your own bra, perhaps in a color better suited for your top while still having the blessing of a girdle for the form fitting skirt. And again, there’s no need for a garter belt as you can just clip your stockings directly to the girdle.

Now, for the gentlemen who enjoy ladies’ clothing, girdles are really an excellent way to create that desired shape. Some choose to wear padded gear to create more curvature in the hips and buttocks, but a girdle for some is just the right measure.

And that brings me to stockings and garter belts. Modern garter belts are really made more for show than for utility, so they are of course prettier. However, they often don’t work well under certain skirts and dresses.

When choosing a garter belt, be sure to think about what you will wear it under. Vintage garter belts are often larger. They are fairly plain and stretch from the natural waist down past the lower pelvis, which gives you a little extra support in the midriff. If your dress or skirt is tight, you don’t want to have bows and such accoutrements, as they will show through the material of your outer garment as bumps and creases. The same goes for very thin material if you choose not to wear a slip over your garter belt and bra, as usually in modern times women often do not.

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So for your arsenal, you should typically have three types of garter belts: a nude or white belt, a very utility-focused garter belt to provide some support, and one that is a little more decorative, perhaps for evenings out or for a little spice in the bedroom.

And last but certainly not least are stockings! Love them or hate them, every gal usually has very strong opinions about stockings. But if you are going for a true retro look, stockings must be part of the package. In days past, stockings were so important and it was such taboo not to wear them that, during the war when there were silk and nylon shortages, women would paint their legs, use eye liner to draw lines up the back, and use all sorts of other tactics to create the look of stockings.

Seamed stockings are really the best way to go if you are recreating a style in the eras of the 1920’s through the mid to late 50’s. Thankfully, these days, seamed stockings are not as exclusive as they were a few years ago and are much easier to find!

A pale nude stocking with either a nude or a black line is best for daytime or light-colored frocks. A black or darker nude with a black seam is best for evening and dark colored frocks. So, it’s best to have a light and a black option in your dresser drawer.

Always be very careful to prevent snags when putting on your stockings. The best way you can do this is to throw on a pair of gloves (not winter gloves of course, but a dainty vintage pair, like church gloves) when putting on your stockings. And be sure to pull down on the clip so you are sure your garter clip has a good bunch of the stocking to stay secure.

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Well, that is all for this edition of What To Wear Wednesdays. Until next time, wear it well and be happy!

xox Sailor

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