The 1950s were all about glamour, and Hollywood’s Golden Age stars were setting trends that every woman in America was after. Think Jane Russell, Lana Turner, and Marilyn Monroe. Big breasts, big hips, and small waists were a must– and if you didn’t have them naturally on your own, not to worry– there was some 1950s lingerie for that.
The hourglass silhouette of the 1950s happened thanks to the lingerie of the time. To achieve the desired fit and look of clothes on the outside, it was important to have the correct garments underneath to push up or flatten down areas of the body that needed to be pushed or flattened. The many styles of lingerie include bras, panties, slips, petticoats, girdles, stockings, and garters.
1950s Lingerie: Bra
There were many different styles of 1950s lingerie bras to choose from in the ’50s. Strapless, longline and bullet bras were among some of the most popular, just to name a few. The 1950s silhouette demanded bigger busts to balance out the required big hips. Instead of a natural 1940s bra that separated the breasts towards the sides, the 1950s bra pushed the breasts in, up and out to new extremes. Bigger was better. Natural was not the ideal look as it was in the 1940s.
1950s bras were either made of cotton, nylon or rayon and ranged from about $0.98- $2.50 depending on the fabric and the design. To add some glamour, bras could have taffeta trim, floral prints, lace, elaborate stitching, or accent bows. Elastic wasn’t always as durable and reliable as it is today, so caring for your lingerie was especially important. Hand washing was a must!
Long line bras were especially popular because they were said to “slim the diaphragm, control and uplift.” They were usually strapless with uplifting cups and boned support down to the middle waist. With a low back cutout, they also made it possible to wear strapless gowns or halter top dresses. They were often paired with girdles or corsets for complete tummy control. Some had corset hooks or girdle tabs that attached to the inside top of the corset to prevent them from separating.
Strapless Bra – One of the more expensive styles was the convertible bra, which is still popular today, that had straps that could be taken off. Many strapless bras had latex on the inside and “stay-up boning” that were supposed to prevent your bra from slipping down. For extra cleavage, bra cups were reduced to 3/4 or 1/2 cups (eh hem, the push up bra?).
The pointed bra, whirlpool bra, bullet bra, or sweater girl bra remained popular throughout the late ’40s and ’50s due to the ultra feminine look. The pointed, pre-formed, conically stitched and padded bra is what gave the breast a false point and enhanced weight. Without the protruding bullet shape, most 1950s dresses, blouses and snug knit sweaters would be ill fitting.
The foam rubber breast falsie complete with pointed nipple were more popular than women would admit to owning. They gave shape and volume to women who lacked it naturally. Falsies had their downsides, though. Poor quality rubber absorbed odors and disintegrated quickly. Some came covered in satin and lace to make them prettier. The alternative was a padded cone that, unfortunately when worn and bumped into, went flat. There was no dainty way to pulling the point back out again. The inflatable bra was another option, but was also prone to bursting under pressure. Oh the embarrassment!
1950s Bra Recommendations:
Make your Own Bullet Bra – Step by step tutorial and pattern from VavoomVintage. For any size bust!
Bullet Bras by Secrets in Lace – Satin, lace or sheer up to 44DD
Bullet Bra by What Katie Did – Up to size 38D
Satin Bullet Bra by Secrets in Lace – Up to 42DD
1950s Lingerie: Panties
1950s underwear, called panties, were high waist briefs with an elasticized waist and leg bands. Think granny panties, and you are right on target for the ’50s. They were not snug fitting, although a plain pant was needed for tight-fitting pencil dresses whereas ruffled and decorated panties were fine under full skirts.
Briefs and panties with the smoothest fit were meant to eliminate the need for a sanitary belt and give you comfortable protection. Panties were available in either white, nude or pastel colors like baby blue, pink, mint green, and yellow. Some youthful panties also featured prints. Panties were made of cotton knit, rayon or satin. Trimmings were lace, embroidery, and ruffles.
Secrets in Lace panties – Full panties and sexy panty style.
Granny Panties – Any full coverage, high waisted cotton or satin panty is in the style of the ’50s.
1950s Lingerie: Corsets
The corset was essential to achieving the perfect ‘50s figure, but it definitely wasn’t built for comfort! There was a wide variety of corsets worn during the decade in combination with a bra, girdle or panties. The steel boning used in the past was gradually replaced with plastic and celluloid, and zippers took over for hook and eyes in the back, making them at least easier to get in to.
The full corset covered the entire torso, and included bra cups and straps. A full corset would either stop at the waist or extend down several inches below. Later in the decade the 2-way stretch corset was introduced, which had to be rolled on. It was combined with a girdle for full-body shaping.
The corselet today was a more modern version of the corset with an attached bra. They nipped in the waist and hips, smoothed the tummy, and raised the bust up with padded 1/2 or 3/4 cups. The strapless corselet was called the Merry Widow, after a movie of the same name. The name Merry Widow is used instead of corselet today.
The ‘waspie’ was a popular corset during the ‘50s. It was about 8 inches wide, and pulled in just the waist. It was very rigid and gave a lot of shaping. This type of corset was the most fashionable and often used underneath designer clothing. It had to be combined with a long-line bra, girdle and hip padding to get the perfect hourglass look.
1950s Lingerie: Girdles
1950s girdles were still a required undergarment for most dress and even pant shapes of the 1950s. They were preferred over corsets by most women. The slim fitting sheath dress, AKA wiggle dress, would expose a woman’s bumps and rolls if it were not for the slimming effect of the mini skirt shape girdle. The skirt only came down to the mid thigh so that women could still walk and sit freely. In the mid 50s, the sarong style dominated the market. It had a to panels that crossed in the center of the legs making them even easier to walk in. The most comfortable was the legged girdle, called a panty girdle. Short or long legs both slimmed the hips and thigh. Most modern shapewear is based on the panty girdle style.
The fluffy swing dress of the 1950s didn’t need a full girdle, but a short low waist girdle kept the hourglass shape intact. Even slim cigarette pants and capris benefited from long leg “panty girdles”. Girdles almost always had garter snaps, two in the front and two in the back. They often had zippers for an easy on and off and were made of light knit nylon and cotton covered “Lastex.” Girdles for fuller figures often had boning, wires, and stiff fabric reinforcements. Even with all the support, the consumer demanded lighter and more breathable corsets.
“Young or mature, women made their complaints about girdles known, because companies repeatedly trumpeted improvements in comfort. Several firms began to cut the lower front edge in a high upward curve to reduce discomfort in walking. Sarong famously brought out a crisscrossed lower front to move with the wearer’s stride. Legs of panties were redesigned for ease in wearing, and both top and bottom of the rear of the girdle were engineered to prevent riding up—a major lament. Removable, even disposable, crotches remedied the panties’ laundry problems.” – A to Z Fashion, Jane Farrel- Beck
New fishnet mesh fabrics helped with circulation, and improved Nylon fabrics reduced weight. By 1959, DuPont made a 2 ounce girdle, which is about the same weight as a Spandex body shaper today. In extreme summer weather, women simply went without a girdle and wore less confining dresses such as the blouson, empire waist shift or the chemise.
1950s girdles explored new colors for lingerie. No longer just white, basic girdles came in off white, almond, light gray, bold red, purple, and even salmon pink. Floral embroidery, lace and appliques added beauty to the girdle. Prices ranged from $2 to $25 for a top of the line girdle.
How to Put on a Girdle (1950s Advice)
To easily get into your girdle, it is recommended that you dust your body with talcum powder to allow the girdle to slip on more easily– especially in the hotter months.
For a step-in girdle, fold it over 2 to 3 inches at the waistline and ease into it finishing off with rolling up the fold to meet your waistline.
Rago Full Body shapewear – Bust to hip control.
Rago Open Button Girdle – With garter clips.
1950s Lingerie: Garter Belts
Most corsets, corselets and girdles came with attached straps to hold up 1950s stockings. For some women who chose not to wear any of these shaping devices, a garter belt was used. It was a simple, short girdle with straps for the stockings. Some were thin and light, while others were wide and elastic so as to provide some shaping support. It was mostly naturally thin women and teens that chose to wear a garter belt by itself.
1950s Lingerie: Slips and Petticoats
Beautiful and luxurious, the slip was firmly woven from quality cotton or rayon crepe or rayon satin with rich lace, fancy eyelet, ruffles, pleats, embroidery, or applique. Slips came in full lengths, down to the knee, or half lengths, from waist to knee. Half slips were worn with one piece dresses, while two piece suits or separates were worn with a full slip. A full slip should cover the bra completely and should not show under clothing. 1950s slips usually had thin adjustable straps. Common colors were pink, peach, light blue, navy, yellow, Nile green, black and white. Their beauty rivaled that of 1950s nightgowns.
Petticoats were usually rayon, cotton or taffeta and had a detailed hem with maybe lace, ribbons, bows, or eyelet cutouts. Usually white, petticoats were tea-length or shorter depending on what style dress was going to be worn over it. The hem is one of the most important parts of the petticoat, mostly because there was a chance it might be seen, so of course it had to be cute. Ruffles, floral designs and bows were often the accents on hems. Many slips added the petticoat bottom ruffles into one garment. Learn more about and shop for 1950s petticoats.
How to wear a slip: In the 1950s, it was recommended that you put a slip or petticoat on over your head so as to ensure that any straps did not break. A slip should fit over the bust and be long enough to meet the hem of the dress. If a slip or petticoat can be seen underneath your garment, they should be shortened at the hem. White or light slips work best for most clothing, while a dark slip is needed for dark blue or black clothes.