Chapter 7: Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael

Mengque Wang’s reproduction of this c. 1960s sun top is arguably one of the most successful within this student group: from a distance, side by side, the two garments are almost indistinguishable.

The primary challenge in patterning this top was the difference in shapes between the decoratively draped outer fabric and the structured lining. The use of foam padding in this style would have presented the additional difficulty in accounting for bulk in the outer pattern.

This garment largely relies on the foam padding used at the bustline for its structure, with the help of two additional spiral steel bones framing the bust: special care and accuracy would have been required in the stitching of this support. The foam padding is zigzag ‘butted’ together (a stitch process that requires skilled handling), and the bone supports are precisely encased within a channel formed by the lining’s seam allowance.

Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, c. 1960s, UK. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael

Date: c. 1960s

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Cotton

Brand: St. Michael

 

This cotton sun top is not strictly a piece of underwear but the cut and construction are very similar to a number of structured bra styles from the 1930-50s, most notably the ‘cathedral’ bra. This top uses a combination of vertical steel boning and cut and sewn foam padding to achieve its gently pointed bust shape. The centre back panel is ruched with rows of plush elastic for a more flexible and comfortable fit, fastening with hooks and eyes. The sun top is sized by overbust measurement (32″).

‘St Michael’ was the brand name used by Marks & Spencer, a British retailer, between the years of 1927 and 2000. The name was viewed as a guarantee of quality, and applied to a range of products from clothing to food. Marks & Spencer was founded in 1884, as a market stall in Leeds, UK, opened by a Polish refugee called Michael Marks. Marks & Spencer is renowned for revolutionising many areas of British fashion, and was one of the first retailers to open its own research laboratory for fabrics in 1934.

Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang
Left: Reproduction by Menque Wang. Right: Original garment.
Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang
Top: Reproduction by Mengque Wang. Bottom: Original garment.

Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang

Date: 2017

Origin: United Kingdom

Fabric: Cotton

Made by Mengque Wang, MA Pattern & Garment Technology, London College of Fashion

Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.
Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang. The Underpinnings Museum.
Reproduction Cotton Sun Top By St. Michael, by Mengque Wang. The Underpinnings Museum.

Technical illustration and garment pattern by Mengque Wang, MA Pattern & Garment Technology, London College of Fashion, UAL.

The pattern is not shown to scale.

Pattern Suggestions

This sun top isn’t strictly lingerie to start with, although the shape and structures are not dissimilar to cathedral bra styles. The pattern can be easily adapted into a longerline bodice or have straps added to be worn as a crop top style. With the right fabrication, the draped overlay detail could be the beginnings of an elegant gown.

With thanks to Susanne Baldwin, Lorraine Smith & Tiff Radmore for coordinating and making this project a reality.

If you enjoyed this exhibition, please consider donating to The Underpinnings Museum or purchasing some merchandise. All funds are invested directly back into the project to bring you more free access underwear history.

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