Slips descended from the chemise, originally a Victorian undergarment made of muslin and designed to protect a corset from sweat and body oils. When corsets and petticoats were abandoned in favor of streamlined flapper fashion in the 1920s, the chemise or full slip, often made of silk, remained as an undergarment that could be worn for modesty under sheer, tubular dresses.
Starting in the 1920s, the development of elasticized fabric and other new plastics led to easily laundered girdles taking the place of corsets, so full slips were then worn outside the girdle and beneath a dress. A slip served the function of hiding the boning of the girdle and the lines it created on the body. Since slips in the 1920s and ’30s were often made to go with sheer special-occasion dresses, they were frequently beaded, appliqued, or embroidered.
But the most stunning vintage slips didn’t arrive until the invention of nylon, which introduced as stockings at the 1939 World’s Fair. During World War II, nylon became an important material for ropes and parachutes, so slips were largely made of rayon until 1945. It wasn’t until after the war that nylon was employed as both a sheer chiffon and opaque material for slips. This gave manufacturers a new creative freedom to make durable, washable slips in a wide array of colors...
Then, in 1947, Christian Dior introduced the New Look in women’s fashion, designed to emphasize femininity through big skirts and the appearance of an hourglass figure with full breasts and wasp waist. Slips started to have separate cups and the frilliest, girliest adornment you can imagine—lace, crystal pleating, embroidery, applique, and rosettes. Slip hems, often used as a subtle way to hint at sexuality, were particularly elaborate.
Hence, the period between 1947 and 1963 is considered the Golden Age of Slips, with beautiful pieces being produced by Van Raalte, Vanity Fair, Warner’s, Maidenform, Kayser, Vassarette, Renée of Hollywood, and Lucie Ann. In the 1960s, the fast fashion of Mod revived the slender flapper silhouette, while hippie culture rejected binding undergarments like bras and girdles.
Around the same time, designers like Mary Quant and Liz Claiborne focused on women’s-wear separates—blouses, skirts, and pants—for the mainstream. This change made full slips largely impractical, and so lingerie companies began to produce half slips and camisoles, which could also be worn with a shirt and pants.
Lingerie production started to move overseas around the same time, so clothing companies began to look for ways to reduce costs. Slip sizing changed from the bust measurement (like 32 or 34) to S, M, and L—and lacy hems were designed to be trimmed to suit a woman’s height.
Now, most clothing manufacturers produce items with built-in linings, negating the need for slip. Nonetheless, slips have been continually produced through the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s, and up until now. They were particularly popular in the 1980s and 1990s, when rock stars like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Courtney Love popularized the trend for wearing lingerie as outerwear.
Interviews & Articles
When I’m in a vintage shop or thrift store digging through racks and racks of clothing, a slip will always stop me. First, I feel … [more]
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