Chapter Three: Roses And Ribbons

“As only stolen moments for relaxation may now be had, owing to ever-increasing war work, it is important that they should be spent in more alluring surroundings than in other days. After hours devoted to real work, it is delightfully refreshing to change a uniform for a boudoir frivolity. Nearly any fabric is appropriate for negligée attire—it is all a matter of whim! But softness of texture is essential, and of course filmy chiffons and laces are ever in demand. Flowers bloom in silken clusters, golden threads are embroidered with lustrous charm, and many are the feminine fancies called upon for the rest hour.”

– Harper’s Bazaar, August 1918

The First World War marked a significant shift in women’s fashion, but particularly in women’s undergarments, as the corset’s place as the foundation of fashion’s silhouette dramatically shifted. There were inklings of what was to come before the war, as fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny introduced garments that were to be worn without corsets underneath them, but the combination of the shortage of metal for corsets and the popularity of shorter skirts (to allow for a more active wartime woman) made this a significant turning point in underpinnings. This meant that lingerie sellers had to shift their focus to designs that would fit the “modern” woman, who was wearing shorter skirts and fewer petticoats than the previous generation—and embracing the relatively new invention of the bra.

Silk Chiffon & Lace Trim Step-In With Silk Ribbonwork, c. 1910s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Silk Chiffon & Lace Trim Step-In With Silk Ribbonwork

Date: c. 1910s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Silk chiffon, silk machine lace, silk satin ribbon


An incredibly fine and diaphonous step-in teddy, made of lightweight silk chiffon and trimmed with a silk based machine lace. The garment is incredibly simply cut, with the body panels made of inverted ‘T’ shaped panels, with gathers at the hips giving the finished garment the appearance of a rectangle. The gusset is a simple ribbon shaped panel that joins the front and rear of the body between the legs. A piece of silk ribbon forms a sash at the waist of the garment, allowing the wearer to cinch the loosely fitted piece at the waistline.

Silk satin ribbon forms the shoulder straps and is decoratively draped across the bustline, with further embellishment in the form of small silk ribbonwork rosettes and wax pearl stamens. The entire garment is hand sewn, with impeccable workmanship and tiny stitches. This fine workmanship coupled with the fine fabrics would have made this an exceptionally luxurious garment for its time. It is largely unworn, and was likely part of a wealthy bride’s trousseau.

Floral silk wedding corset by Lafayette, c. 1910s, France. The Underpinnings Museum. Photo by Tigz Rice

Floral Silk Wedding Corset By Lafayette

Date: c.1910s

Origin: France

Fabric: Silk

Brand: Lafayette


This corset’s silhouette is typical of ‘Titanic era’ fashion, with a smooth flowing line and long line. It was likely intended to be part of a wedding trousseau, or as occasion wear, as it is very lightly constructed. The main body is cut from a single layer of silk, with cotton facings on the front busk closure and back eyelet panel. Bone channels and the hem facings are cut from a tightly woven cotton ribbon.

The corset is very lightly structured, with flat steel bones encasing the centre back eyelets, 2 wide flat steel bones on each side towards the side back of the garment (which each have a gentle curve, which was either pre-formed or caused through wear), and a single light piece of baleen towards the front. The bones do not extend through the entire vertical length of the corset, and the ends are encased in the channels with either a hand sewn running stitch or flossing motif. An interrupted cotton waist tape is sewn only into the back half of the garment, as this was likely where the most strain was exerted during wear.

The interior of the garment has two woven labels, one stating ‘Corset Marque Lafayette’ and the other ‘Espécé’. This corset may have originally been sold in what would become the French department store Galaries Lafayette, which was initially founded in the late 19th century.

Simple shapes, sheer fabrics, and delicate laces became the most notable elements of the lingerie styles. Corsets were not entirely abandoned, as women still used them to mold their body into the fashionable shape, but a greater focus on movement and activity made them less essential. Despite the purported androgyny of fashion following the First World War, undergarments of this period use an abundance of flowers, often in more than one application. The silk chiffon step-in uses both a floral lace and ribbonwork flowers to create an image of delicate femininity.

Silk tulle and lace ruffle step-in Photography by Tigz Rice Studios The Underpinnings Museum

Silk Tulle And Lace Ruffle Step-In

Date:  c. late 1910s or early 1920s

Origin: Unknown, possibly Great Britain

Fabric: Silk


This early example of a step-in is remarkable both in its decidedly luxurious fabrication, and in how scandalous such a sheer piece would have been deemed. It is certainly likely that such a garment would have been designed for the boudoir rather than everyday wear.

This garment is made entirely of silk, including an incredibly fine silk tulle, silk leavers lace and silk ribbon. It is entirely hand sewn, with exquisitely fine and well tensioned stitches throughout.

Given this garment’s age and the fragility of silk tulle, it is in remarkably good condition with only a few pulls and minor staining. It must have been a treasured piece and carefully stored for the silk to still be largely intact.

Silk, Lace & Ribbonwork Tap Pants, c. 1920s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Silk, Lace & Ribbonwork Tap Pants

Date: c. 1920s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Silk


A pair of luxurious tap pants made of a fine silk georgette and machine made lace. The lace waistband is appliquéd onto cotton bobbinet tulle for re-enforcement. Carved shell buttons and buttonhole stitches form a fastening at the side seam. A silk ribbon forms the gusset. A mix of silk ribbons embellish the sides of the tap pants in a mix of rosettes and streamers.

The tap pants are an early version of the style and typical of the 1920s, constructed as a half slip with a single piece of ribbon stitched between the legs. This style of tap pant represented one of the first commonly worn style of underwear that incorporated a closed gusset for women, as previously only ‘open’ drawers had been viewed as acceptable.

Sheerness lends a new sensuality to these undergarments and once again invokes a sexualized connotation to the blossoms. ‘For transparency is no longer shocking; it is chic; and bulkiness is anathema’, explained Harper’s Bazaar in 1926.[1] The rise in availability and popularity of film and newsreels may have also influenced the interest in lingerie more generally. In the 1910s, film company Kinemacolor promoted newsreels featuring lingerie and corsets directed specifically at women. [2] These were meant to be instructional, teaching women how to incorporate the latest Paris trends in lingerie into their existing wardrobes. Cinema stars of the 1920s were frequently shown on screen in lingerie, in part to appeal to a male audience, but it created an association between lingerie and glamour.[3]

Pink Silk Step In Teddy With Lace Appliqué & Ribbonwork, c. 1920s, USA. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Pink Silk Step In Teddy With Lace Appliqué & Ribbonwork

Date: c. 1920s

Origin: United States

Fabric: Silk


This deeply luxurious example of a step in teddy acts as a canvas for exquisite hand crafted embellishment. The silk crêpe base has a relatively simple cut: a boxy, straight cut body gathered under the bust, pointed hem with side leg split, and a fitted gusset. The simplicity of shape contrasts greatly with the elaborate embellishment and trims.

Cream Machine Lace Boudoir Cap With Silk Ribbonwork & Wired Ear Covers, c. 1920s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice

Cream Machine Lace Boudoir Cap With Silk Ribbonwork & Wired Ear Covers

Date: c. 1920s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Lace & Silk Ribbon


A boudoir cap in a base of allover ecru leavers lace with narrow trim, embellished with profuse silk ribbonwork in structures of rosettes and ribbon streamers. The ear covers are threaded with millinery wire and can be bent into the wearer’s desired shape.

Monogrammed Silk Nightgown With Lace Appliqué & Shoulder Bow, c. 1920s, Great Britain. The Underpinnings Museum. Photography by Tigz Rice.

Monogrammed Silk Nightgown With Lace Appliqué & Shoulder Bow

Date: c. 1920s

Origin: Great Britain

Fabric: Silk crepe


A nightgown made of pale pink silk crepe. The neckline is embellished with machine lace appliqué work, with the left bust sporting an embroidered monogram. The gown has an asymmetric design. The right shoulder strap features an array of pin tucks that extend into the bustline, whilst the left forms an oversized bow tie.

In addition to the floral motifs in ribbon, lace, and embroidery, pale pink and rose-colored lingerie became popular, a distinct change from the white undergarments that dominated the nineteenth century. The delicate handwork that characterizes French lingerie from this period would not be able to be produced much longer, as the workers would demand higher pay and greater workplace protections in the 1930s that would make this kind of work unaffordable, even for the wealthy.


[1] Marjorie Howard, “The New Lingerie,” Harper’s Bazaar, March 1926.

[2] Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, “Symptoms of Desire: Colour, Costume, and Commodities in Fashion Newsreels of the 1910s and 1920s,” Film History: An International Journal 21, no. 2 (July 2009): 107–21

[3] Dana Wilson-Kovacs, “The Fall and Rise of Erotic Lingerie,” in Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part, ed. William J. F. Keenan (London: Bloomsbury, 2011).