Chapter Two: Siren Red

While the early years of the Second World War brought about austere utility in women’s fashion, its end inspired the small-waisted, full-skirted “New Look” credited to French couturier Christian Dior. Foundation garments were crucial to achieve the silhouette’s prominent curves, including structured bras, girdles, and corselets to mould the torso, a slip or petticoat under the skirt, and stockings held up by suspender belts.

Red foundations were considered necessary for wearing underneath a red or black dress. In 1954, Luxite lingerie advertised “gay, brilliant, beautiful red for a saucy glimpse of colour under a dark hem.” In 1956, American magazine Good Housekeeping reported: “Red is everywhere — in bras, girdles, and lingerie — and it comes in all shades, from a brilliant torero red, through hothouse rose, to the soft tones of baby pink.”

Red lingerie was also associated with sensuality and sex appeal. In a 1961 article about the psychology of the colour red, The Journal of Emotional Education published the following:

“… what most women really want is red lingerie. Why? Because red is the color of fire, red is the color of danger, and psychologically, red is the color of excitement. What woman deep down, has never wanted to be sexually stimulating, a siren at heart?”

Although fashion magazines and trade journals frequently promoted red for women’s lingerie, white was still the dominant underwear colour during the mid-twentieth century, especially in the United States. In 1959, American fashion trade publication Women’s Wear Daily published an article titled “Foundation buyer sees red about lack of corset color.” The anonymous buyer expressed extreme frustration, explaining that colour was important to lingerie buyers in European countries but not the United States, concluding: “this ‘white only’ corset pattern is an American national disease.”

Longline 'Cinch-bra' Merry Widow By Warner, c. 1953 The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

Longline 'Cinch-bra' Merry Widow By Warner

Date:  c.1953

Origin: United States

Fabric: Nylon and lace

Brand: Warner


In 1952, Women’s Wear Daily claimed that black corsets “enlivened” with red gave a desirable “siren look.” That dramatic colour combination is seen in the subtle details of this circa 1953 Merry Widow corselet: a small red stone between the bosoms and a red satin waist tape. The original black style also included red ribbon flash suspender straps.

The Merry Widow by Warner’s was a style of cinch-bra and foundation garment advertised as a young, modern, and convenient evolution of the nineteenth-century corset. The Warner company itself had inherited its name from Dr. Lucien Warner, a physician and lecturer who promoted and designed “health corsets” during the nineteenth century.

Lace & Nylon Appliqué Half Slip By Odette Barsa, c. 1950s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Lace & Nylon Appliqué Half Slip By Odette Barsa

Date: c. 1950s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Nylon

Brand: Odette Barsa


This 1950s half-slip was designed by Odette Barsa, a Syrian immigrant and entrepreneur. The fabric is black nylon with contrasting red appliqué and lace.

Although a slip is worn underneath a dress or skirt, the wearer had to consider the possibility that it might show. Hence why a 1949 LIFE article titled “Color in Slips” advised: “Since the skirts worn over [slips] are sometimes slit several inches above the knee, their colors are important. A lady wearing a slip like the red one opposite would be perfectly happy to know it was showing.”

Red Nylon & Lace Padded Quarter Cup Bra By La Parisienne The Underpinnings Museum shot by Tigz Rice Studios 2017

Red Nylon & Lace Padded Quarter Cup Bra By La Pariesienne

Date: c. 1950s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Nylon and lace

Brand: La Parisienne


Red was a marketable colour for bras and other lingerie during the 1950s, especially for the fall and winter seasons. It was often reported by Women’s Wear Daily as a leading colour for the winter holidays: an ad in 1952 described “Black foundations, touched lightly with Christmas red.” In November of 1957, one article got to the point in its title: “Red Bras Sell.”

The red colour of this 1950s bra by La Parisienne is complemented with a contrasting black lace overlay. Its revealing nature indicates that it may have been worn under plunging necklines, or perhaps only in the boudoir.

Lace 'Merry Widow' With Front Zip & Padded Cups By Warner, c. 1960s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Lace 'Merry Widow' With Front Zip & Padded Cups By Warner

Date: c. 1961

Origin: United States

Fabric: Nylon, polyester and spandex

Brand: Warner


This circa 1961 black Merry Widow is brightened with a red ribbon zipper pull and suspender flashes. It differs from the earlier example in that it features the relatively new elastic fibre Lycra spandex.

Warner’s Merry Widow was originally available in white and black; pink was an option by 1955. In 1960, Warner’s introduced the colour “red pepper” to their lingerie, claiming that “it’s the hottest thing that ever happened to your figure!”

Poodle Embroidered Nylon Half Slip, c. 1960s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Poodle Embroidered Nylon Half Slip

Date: c. early 1960s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Nylon

Brand: Unknown


This American half-slip dates to the early 1960s and is embroidered in black and white with a dainty poodle on a leash with an umbrella.

The poodle motif is reminiscent of the “poodle skirts” popular among young American women in the 1950s. Juli Lynne Charlot designed the iconic skirt style in 1948 and produced felt circle skirts featuring a variety of appliqués — including the poodle.

Poodles were not only fashionable on outerwear, but were used to decorate underwear as well. In 1951, LIFE advertised an appliquéd poodle petticoat and in 1952 Women’s Wear Daily reported that embroidered poodle half-slips and “poodle panties” were novelties.

Cherry Embroidered Nylon Suspender Belt By Cadolle, c. 1950s, France. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Cherry Embroidered Nylon Suspender Belt By Cadolle

Date: c. 1950s

Origin: France

Fabric: Nylon

Brand: Cadolle


Red cherries have a long association with innocence, paradise, sweetness, and fertility. As far back as the seventeenth century, the fruit was used to symbolize both male and female sex organs. By the mid-twentieth century, a woman having — or losing — her cherry was common slang for virginity.

Delicate cherry motifs were hand-embroidered into the centre panel of this white 1950s suspender belt. This coincides with several Women’s Wear Daily articles from 1953 which reported the fashionability of white undergarments with printed cherries. One promoted wearing white lingerie with a “tiny red cherry print” to “add spice” underneath white cotton, the fashion fabric of the summer.

Sam Menning's Cover Girl Originals Catalogue, Vol. 3, Number 1, USA, c. 1950s, The Underpinnings Museum.
Sam Menning's Cover Girl Originals Catalogue, Vol. 3, Number 1, USA, c. 1950s, The Underpinnings Museum.

Sam Menning's Cover Girl Originals Catalogue, Vol. 3, Number 1

Date: c. 1950s

Origin: USA

Brand: Cover Girl Originals


Compared to colours like white and black, red was not the average American woman’s first choice of colour for her undergarments. However, the eroticism of red made it perfect for burlesque and pin-up costumes.

Cover Girl Originals, a catalogue created by American photographer Sam Menning, sold “alluring lingerie,” “thrilling bikinis,” and “pin-up costumes.” On page nineteen of this issue, famous pin-up model Bettie Page is shown modelling a lingerie set called “Temptation.” This style was available in just two colourways: black with red lace trim and white with red lace trim.