The 1930s were a time where fashion embraced the curves and lines of the natural and healthy body, rather than forcing the wearer into a specified silhouette with corsetry. Foundation garments were certainly used- as a youthful look was desired, smaller busts and slimmer hips were still the fashionable line - just as with earlier in the period. The 1930s look was far more feminine than the 1920s look, as the natural waist was a once more a feature of garments. Clothes were more fitted to the form than in earlier years.
As the 1930s silhouette was really focussed on the body (albeit a tall, slim-hipped, small-busted body) there is no need to really confine or pad out the body to create a required silhouette. Rather than using or making period undergarments, then, I have realised that I am able to create the quintessential 1930s silhouette using carefully-selected items of modern lingerie, which are of the same (or a similar) cut to 1930s lingerie. In this project I am looking at exploring cut and construction of the 1930s, but in making the two outfits, applying the 1930s look in a modern context. This will help me if I need to create this silhouette when working in the theatre in the future, using what resources are available now. I am aware that were I making garments with a more pronounced silhouette, such as the 1950s hourglass/bullet bra shape, or the 1900s S-bend corset shape, I would definitely have to make much more specific undergarments in order to be able to achieve the correct silhouette. However in this case, using equivalent contemporary underwear and shape-wear is completely relevant to my needs.
(For factual sources for this blog entry, see Cunnington, 1950s, pages 154-159; photocopied in my hard-copy Research File.)
My model is a slim size 8-10 and has just the lean silhouette which suits the period. (If she were five inches taller, and I pin-curled her hair, she would be of the ideal 1930s fashion illustration body type!) 1930s bras were simply structured, providing some support but not as fiercely as corsets might have (or as later bras of the 1950s would have). I have therefore opted to use a modern bra, which results in the same effect as a 1930s bra would have. It is made of silk and lace, and the cups are cut to provide a very slight point. It is underwired, unlike 1930s bras, but really does not provide much "uplift"! Therefore I think it will be definitely suitable for the suit.
I have discovered that, with the backless or low-backed styles of 1930s evening dresses, many women opted not to wear a bra at all. So for the dress I will not use any bra at all. This is possible as my model has a slim bust and so the issues regarding bust support are not present. If I were to cut the dress for a model with a more pronounced bust, I would be thinking of a low-backed corselette, or even to cut the dress with a higher back, so that it covered the bra band.
Long-line girdles were commonly used to suppress the hips, in order for the form to appear as slim as possible. Suspender belts were also worn, which would have suppressed the waist.
At first I considered making a "waspie" type of garment (made of heavy elastic, with gores over the hips and a central busk) so as to narrow the waist even further for the suit. But as my model does have a pronounced waist I don't think that it will be necessary to suppress it even further, in order to get the required silhouette. I would definitely use one if I was making for a model with a less pronounced waist. Alternatively I could pad the hip area of the jacket in order to suggest the curve.
I have purchased a lightweight girdle for my model, just to create as smooth a line as possible across the stomach and hips. Again it is a modern one and is from Kiss Me Deadly, a company renown for both its shape-wear - especially suspender belts! - and its reference to period underwear in its designs. Modern shape-wear is known for being more light-weight than the far heavier, often boned, period shape-wear; however again as my model is slim anyway, this is not such an issue.
Slip, knickers, chemise or camiknickers?
The 1930s woman would have worn another layer in addition to the bra. Knickers were often French knickers with an open gusset but as outer garments became more and more fitted, it was important that undergarments did as well. The Lady in Cunnington, 1951, p.156:
Now that skirts are longer and slimness just as much admired, the best type of knicker (often yoked) fits close to the leg and ends at the knee without gathers, or if of silk tricot, in a garter band.The importance of invisibility of any knicker lines (1930s "visible panty line" anxiety!) is thus stressed. Therefore for the bias-cut dress, as it will be so form-fitting around the knicker area, I will use some "No VPL" knickers from Marks & Spencers in conjunction with the girdle. 1930s knickers were longer but this will not affect the overall silhouette.
Or I might use these, which include light abdominal support. I will first see what the effects of the girdle are before ordering to see if additional support is really necessary.
For the suit, I am going to fit the jacket over a simple silk blouse; it will not be seen but a blouse would have been worn under the jacket, and so I need to fit it over something in order to see what ease is needed. I have chosen a blouse which has very light shoulder padding.
If I have time, I am planning on making a bias-cut teddy/cami-knickers or slip, to fit my model, which are to be worn over the bra. This would be a period-accurate undergarment which again, by adding an extra layer of fabric onto the body, will affect how tight areas of the suit can be. I plan to make these over the Easter holiday (if I have the time) and even if I do not end up being able to use them with the suit, it will be a good way to practice working with bias-cut fabrics. It will be an attractive way to produce samples of seaming and finishing.