Monday, October 24, 2011

Proper Foundation Garments, Part 2: The Low Down by Gail Carriger

As much as the great agony of my life is the perpetual hunt for a pretty well-fitting vintage-style wire-free bra, there are other things than just bras to consider when dressing vintage from the bottom up. As I am certain you are well aware, Fashionable Reader. So, slips . . .

Since I dress vintage so often yet many of my dresses are on the cheaper end (read: not lined) this means I need to wear a slip underneath.

I prefer a vintage slip to shaper-wear under these circumstances because the two are designed to go together. Shaper-wear can bunch in odd places where a nice silky vintage slip drapes just so. Also it looks lovely if you happen to be caught mid-makeup application by the nice young busboy they sent up with your milk (for morning tea).

Chemise  1908  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Like vintage dresses, I have very little difficulties finding vintage slips that fit me, they seem to be cut for a large rack, small ribs, and bit of hip. Almost any vintage shop worth its mothballs will have a slip section as well as a dress section, usually back in one corner. But vintages slips still also turn up in thrift stores, I've never paid more than $15 for one.

There are other options, like teddies and tap pants and the like. I'll use them for under full skirt dresses, but since I tend to opt for pencil dresses, anything that adds bulk down bellow looks . . . odd. This is also why, although I really prefer thigh-highs, I actually tend to opt for full coverage stockings most of the time. (Thigh-highs in a pencil skirt means you can see the garter clips, especially when sitting down, a big no no.)

Drawers  1900s  The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

And if there is one thing your foundation garments should NEVER do, it is show in ANY way!

Unless, of course, that is the whole purpose of the outfit.

 1950s The Victoria & Albert Museum
 My favorite garter. All of mine are from Held Over on Haight Street $8 ~ $12.
The obligatory matched undies.

So, a brief note about undies.

If you, like me, favor a pencil skirt, please find yourself some micro invisaline undies and wear with control-top stockings so you have no VPL (visible pantie line) or learn to love a thong or go comando. You have no other choices, I am afraid. There is no greater sin in the universe than VPL. Trust me, Fashionable Reader, there just isn't.

 Which brings us to stockings!

Stockings  1890s  2 The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Stockings  1900s  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Something has happened to stockings over the past 20 years. They've started to suck. I mean, suck construction-wise. We have far more options so far as retro styles are concerned (just do a search for backseam nylons on Amazon and see how many hits you get! I remember the days when you were lucky to find one pair!) but they will only last for a few wearings. I have stockings from the 80s (not even the 50s) that I can still wash a wear today.

So you want my number one stocking tip?

Avoid Leg Avenue. 

I'm a size 4 - 6 on the bottom and stand 5"6' tall, not a difficult fit really (nothing like my upper half). Yet LA stockings NEVER fit me. They are invariably too long, cheaply made, and too tight around the thigh. They appear to be made for barbie dolls. If I need a quick pair I always go for Music Legs instead. I find their fit is far better. However, in general I haunt thrift stores for nylons from the 80s which occasionally turn up unopened and in nice pale creamy colors.

My number two stocking tip? Put a tiny dollop of clear nail polish on the back-seam on your Achilles tendon, stay still while it dries. It'll keep your seams from moving. I will say, for the record, this is the only tattoo I have seriously considered, because keeping the seam straight is still an effort.


  1. When I was working in shoes I desperately wanted to wear comfortable stockings but found them all quite horrible. I then came upon the time that a garter and thigh highs would be amazing. However, I had a hard time finding garters. Anywhere you could recommend, Ms. Gail?

  2. I get all of mine from Held Over on Haight Street. For vintage ones I got to Dark Garden.

  3. Agreed! There is no worse sin than the VPL!

    It really bugs me when I can clearly see a ladies panties. It's just wrong. Especially wearing pants--they are usually thicker than skirts so there's no excuse.

    I often wonder what possesses women to go out in public when everyone can see their panty line. They have to know it's there--the chances of them not looking in the mirror at least once before leaving the house is very slim.

    On the note of your bra search, allow me to suggest the unlikely location of Target.
    (In case the link doesn't play nice, it's a Gilligan & O'Malley Fashion Nursing Sleep Bra in black and white (it has polka dots, white lace, and a little bow :D))

    I am pregnant, and my goodness my breasts are getting huge. Not to mention my ribcage. I've been scouring everywhere for a comfortable nursing bra that I can sleep in, mostly so I can have support now, and something practical when the baby comes. Under wire is straight out, but as you're painfully aware, normally no under wire means lack of proper support.

    However, this nursing bra has a lot of support underneath the breasts as well as a little bit of boning on the side. I feel perfectly supported but nothing digs into me while I am sleeping. The straps are adjustable and so is the back, something I haven't seen before in a nursing bra. I am very pleased with this bra, and pretty much live in it. They have it in a few other styles, but I like the polka dotted one the best.

    It might not fit you as well, but I'm am wearing an XL at the moment and find it comfy. So I just thought I'd let you know. :D

  4. See, I go for pantaloons and body shapers myself. Being fat I like to try and hold as much jiggle in as possible. Though I have a hard time as I have such a short torso and body shapers are made for women with long ones.

    I learned recently that if you look for high spandex counts in nylons they're less likely to run.

    Because I'm short and obese it's so hard to find nylons that fit properly. Often I have loads extra I have to hike up. Sometimes I end up with the waistband just under my bra to keep them from bagging around the knees.

  5. I was ecstatic to see you reference that article about Commando! (I work for the company) I love your blog and always read it even though I am not what you would ever call busty. Commando does have a back seam sheer (though it is black on black), and I have to say they are mighty comfy.

  6. On the issue of vpl, there IS a worse thing. Visible thong. Seriously, the whole point of thongs is to either avoid vpl. Or perhaps naughty amusement, but a visible thong defeats their purpose.

    Sometimes pants are surprisingly thin material, and vpl is hard to avoid. Especially if you have trouble finding properly fiting undies. If they're just a wee bit snug, they can create problems. Of course, as a perpetually broke student, I have too much experience with cheap and/or poorly fitting undies.

    Of course, at the rate things are going, I'm going to have to start spending a lot more on my bras, as my band size goes down but breast tissue mass remains apparently unchanged. I barely found a 38 DDD that fit ok. Any more of this, and it'll be 36 something obscene. On the plus side, I am managing to lose some weight ....

  7. I honestly would rather have VPL than wear a thong or something like that. I wouldn't be caught dead in the panties Gail posted.

    These ones by Hanes (Just My Size) are my go to ones. People get on me all the time for wearing "granny panties" and start in on me about VPL but these are comfortable. I usually get ticked off enough that I'll start saying that no VPL means you're a cheap w***e - I don't REALLY believe that, but I hate it when people harp on me constantly. So I figure if I offend them they'll shut up and leave me alone. I do the same thing with politics. If I don't like you, I'll talk politics with you and say things I do NOT really believe just to make you go away. So I'll be uber liberal with a conservative and vise-versa. Works like a charm with politics. Panties, not so much. I don't know why but there have been people in my life who seem insistent on getting me into a thong. Claiming it'll make me feel better about myself to wear sexy panties.

    Funny how they're the same people who tell me I need therapy when I say I want a breast reduction.

    Humans are weird.

    Anyway, my point is, when it comes to comfort, I'd rather have VPL than some string up my butt.


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