Chantal Thomass ensemble, Fall 2013

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Chantal Thomass ensemble / Bra, panties, and suspenders, stretch knit, Fall 2013, France | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Chantal Thomass ensemble / Bra, panties, and suspenders, stretch knit, Fall 2013, France | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Chantal Thomass was crowned the “French lingerie queen” by Women’s Wear Daily – a title earned over a forty-year career in intimate apparel.1 In 1975, Thomass turned heads when she presented lingerie on the catwalk, audaciously offering romantic, nostalgic designs that opposed the prevailing style for practical undergarments.2

Thomass begins her design process by looking through her “archives,” a collection of vintage magazines, fabric samples, and undergarments that provide inspiration for her work.3 Her creations often possess what she calls the “over/under” quality – items that serve their function as underwear, but are also beautiful enough to seen as integral parts of an outerwear ensemble.4

1. Katie Weisman, “Undercurrents: Thomass’ Promises,” Women’s Wear Daily (August 1, 2004): 18.

2. “The Brand,” Chantal Thomass, accessed March 29, 2014.

3. Sylvie Richoux, Women’s Pleasures, Chantal Thomass: 30 Years of Creativity (Marseille: Images en Manoeuvres, 2001), 66.

4. Ibid., 177.

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Cadolle "Malia" corset / Chantilly lace, cotton, Spring 2007 | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Cadolle “Malia” corset / Chantilly lace, cotton, Spring 2007 | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

“The concept of the visible corset has become a socially acceptable form of erotic display,”1 wrote Valerie Steele in her book The Corset: A Cultural History. Once perceived as an instrument of female oppression, the corset had taken on new meaning by the 1980s, when designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler adopted it as a symbol of empowerment for women.2

Cadolle has specialized in corsetry throughout its long history. This example is intended to be outerwear, but it can also be worn as an undergarment. The choice of bright pink lace is overtly – and unapologetically – girlish. Rather than using plastic boning, as many contemporary corset manufacturers do, Cadolle corsets are made with steel boning, in various widths and gauges to create a precise silhouette. Whereas plastic can warp due to body heat, steel keeps its shape.3

1. Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), 170.

2. Ibid., 166.

3. Ali Cudby, “What Sets Cadolle Corsetry Apart,” Lingerie Briefs, accessed March 29, 2014.

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Erica Tanov sleepwear ensemble / Pajamas and bra, linen, 1993, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Erica Tanov sleepwear ensemble / Pajamas and bra, linen, 1993, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Detail, Erica Tanov sleepwear ensemble / Pajamas and bra, linen, 1993, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Detail, Erica Tanov sleepwear ensemble / Pajamas and bra, linen, 1993, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Erica Tanov began her career as a sportswear designer and translated her knowledge of casual, functional clothing to her line of sleepwear in 1991.1 Many of Tanov’s designs are inspired by the simple, classic look of her grandfather’s silk pajamas.2 The loosely fitted top and pants of this sleepwear set are clearly based on the designer’s interest in men’s styles, but the sexy bandeau bra is purely feminine.

Tanov’s work is distinguished by its quality and attention to detail. The linen chosen for this ensemble is especially soft, and has been intricately woven in a diamond-weave pattern. The button loop closures are meticulously hand-stitched; Tanov often uses antique buttons from her personal collection.3

1. Karyn Monget, “New Line for Erica Tanov,” Women’s Wear Daily (October 15, 1992): 8.

2. Karyn Monget, “Erica Tanov’s Sleepwear Start,” Women’s Wear Daily (November 7, 1991): 14.

3. Ibid.

Patricia Fieldwalker teddy, c.1988

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Patricia Fieldwalker teddy / Silk charmeuse, lace, c.1988, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Patricia Fieldwalker teddy / Silk charmeuse, lace, c.1988, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

The one-piece teddy was derived from the combination undergarments of the 1920s. It took on a sexy new look in the 1980s, when it was recommended for sleepwear. In 1988, an article in Intimate Fashion News reported that designers continued to “tempt the consumer to add more styles to her teddy wardrobe,” describing opulent looks with “briefly cut silhouettes . . . high-cut legs and revealing spaghetti-strap bodices. And as an ultra feminine touch, lace is often used lavishly as a trim or given a full body treatment.”1 This teddy, by the high-end lingerie designer Patricia Fieldwalker, elegantly veils the body by adding wide bands of lace around the exceptionally high-cut leg and deep V-neckline.

1. “Tantalizing Teddies,” Intimate Fashion News (January 4, 1988): 4.

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Fernando Sanchez dressing gown / Chiffon with multicolor metallic pinstripes | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Fernando Sanchez dressing gown / Chiffon with multicolor metallic pinstripes | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Vogue announced the “start of lingerie fever” in 1978, describing a trend for luxurious intimate apparel that was led by the American designer Fernando Sanchez.1 Although he made nearly every kind of lingerie, Sanchez was best known for his sensuous lounging clothes.

This dressing gown exemplifies a hallmark of Sanchez’s work: his ability to create lingerie garments that could be worn in multiple ways, and in different settings. Its soft construction and lightweight fabric provide it with the feeling of ease essential to loungewear, while the fashionable, cutaway hemline and metallic threads indicate it also could have been worn as an evening dress.

1. “The Sanchez Impact: The Start of Lingerie Fever,” Vogue (January 1, 1978): 138.

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Valerie Porr lounging pajamas / Printed silk, 1976, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Valerie Porr lounging pajamas / Printed silk, 1976, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa &copy MFIT

Detail, Valerie Porr lounging pajamas / Printed silk, 1976, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Detail, Valerie Porr lounging pajamas / Printed silk, 1976, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa &copy MFIT

Many 1970s clothing styles were inspired by fashions of the past—particularly those from the 1930s. This included a renewed interest in lounging pajamas, which were often designed with loose, wide-legged trousers. In 1974, Corset, Bra and Lingerie Magazine observed that “the Big Lounge Look is pajamas…they’re pretty, comfortable and just right for in-home entertaining of two or many more.”1

While the silhouette of these pajamas may have been inspired by vintage styles, their print was decidedly of-the-moment. From the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, emphasis was placed on all things “natural,” including the nude body.2 This could be manifested through the actual design of clothing (Rudi Genreich’s “no-bra” being a prime example), but it could also be referenced in other ways, such as the bold, oversize print of a nude woman on this fabric.

1. Corset, Bra and Lingerie Magazine (May 1974): 16.

2. Linda Welters, “The Natural Look: American Style in the 1970s,” Fashion Theory 12 (2008): 501.

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Rudi Gernreich for Exquisite Form bra and panty / Printed polyester tricot, 1967, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Rudi Gernreich for Exquisite Form bra and panty / Printed polyester tricot, 1967, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa,© MFIT

Rudi Gernreich is widely considered to be one of the most innovative designers of the 1960s, owing in part to his provocative designs for lingerie. Many of his ideas centered on a desire to liberate women’s bodies from constricting garments – a concept Gernreich first developed during the 1950s, when he eliminated padding from women’s bathing suits. The designer’s interest in soft, unstructured styles continued into the following decade, when many of his bras for Exquisite Form were constructed from mere triangles of stretchy fabric.

Gernreich’s designs for lingerie and stockings were sometimes part of matching clothing sets, resulting in a style he referred to as “the total look.”1 This giraffe-print bra-and-panty set coordinated with an outerwear ensemble made from a similar fabric.

1. “Fashion: Up, Up and Away,” Time (December 1, 1967).

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Warner's "Merry Widow" corset / Embroidered nylon, elastic, c.1957, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Warner’s “Merry Widow” corset / Embroidered nylon, elastic, c.1957, USA | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Warner’s released its first line of “Merry Widow” foundation garments in 1952. The collection was inspired by the release that same year of the movie The Merry Widow, whose star, Lana Turner, was featured wearing an elaborate, long-line corset. While Warner’s Merry Widows changed in style over the course of the 1950s (and only occasionally resembled the styles worn by Turner), they were all promoted for their ability to shape the fashionable wasp-waisted silhouette. “Audacious the way Warner’s Merry Widow belittles your waist, makes the most of your charms. All at once you’re inches smaller!”1 boasted one advertisement. Merry Widows were designed to reduce the measurement of the waist up to three inches.2

1. Advertisement for Warner’s “Merry Widow,” featured in Vogue (February 1, 1952): 128.

2. Advertisement for Warner’s “Merry Widow,” featured in Vogue (April 1, 1952): 53.

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Poirette overwire bra / Nylon lace, stretch satin, 1949, USA | Christian Dior petticoat / Nylon net, horsehair net, silk taffeta, 1951, France | Photo: Eileen Costa copyright MFIT

Poirette overwire bra / Nylon lace, stretch satin, 1949, USA | Christian Dior petticoat / Nylon net, horsehair net, silk taffeta, 1951, France | Photo: Eileen Costa © MFIT

Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look” collection heralded a return to a hyper-feminine, hourglass silhouette. The bust became a focal point, and its shape was defined by a variety of highly structured bras and corselets. The cups of this 1949 Poirette bra are formed by heavy wires that arch over the tops of the breasts, rather than below them, both to emphasize and to control the bust. This bra and other, similar designs were well suited to the plunging necklines of fashionable evening dresses.

Petticoats made from tulle, net, and lightweight horsehair were often worn to maintain skirt fullness. This example by Dior was made especially for one of his elaborate couture gowns. Although the petticoat would have scarcely been visible beneath the gown’s hemline, it is beautifully made.