Date: c. 1940s
Origin: Great Britain
Fabric: Printed Silk Crêpe
Brand: Custom Made
A ‘Kestos’ style bra and tap pants made from an upcycled silk crêpe ‘Escape’ map of Italy, belonging to Patricia Edwina Victoria Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma and third cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. The silk maps used to make this ensemble were a gift from her RAF serving sweetheart at the time, and were refashioned into lingerie by her seamstress. A second lingerie set can also be found in the archives of the Imperial War Museum.
During World War II, maps of enemy territory were often printed onto lightweight fabrics such as silk and rayon. These fabrics could be easily compressed, stored and smuggled. The fibres were also quieter than paper, could get wet without damaging the print, and in emergencies the maps could even be used as filters or wound dressings. You can view one such rayon escape map of the Scandinavian and Baltic region here. Servicemen could use the maps in the event of being shot down to find their way to safety and avoid capture, and prisoners of war could use them to assist escape.
Silk was heavily rationed in wartime Britain. The main supply lines from Asia had been cut off, and the bulk of silk was required for the war effort, to be made into parachutes and maps. Few civilians could access silk for clothing use, though it was occasionally possible to find damaged and faulty parachutes to upcycle. One such homemade parachute silk lingerie set can be viewed here.
The lingerie set is largely machine stitched and incorporates corded elastic and mother of pearl buttons. The tap pant legs are finished with a scalloped hem. The fabric has been carefully cut and pieced together for this set, to conserve as much of the material as possible. The tap pants feature diagonal seaming to maintain the bias cut, and the bra is lined with the partially unprinted areas of the map.
From the collection of Karolina Laskowska.