About 1940’s Lingerie- Underwear, Bras, Corset, Girdle, Slips



When people think of lingerie in the 1940s, what usually comes to mind are the glamorous, curvy, satin and lace pin-up girls whose pictures filled the magazines popular with lonely soldiers overseas. Beautiful women posed provocatively in corsets, nightgowns and swimsuits with a look that remains iconic today.

The reality, however, was quite different. Women back home were not lounging around in fancy, restrictive undergarments. They were out enjoying a new freedom working and being active outside. Because of wartime shortages in materials, they also enjoyed a new freedom in their undergarments.

In the 1930s, women were still wearing metal-boned corsets. New technology soon allowed for girdles to take their place, although corsets continued to be worn in the ’30s. Elastic fabrics were fashioned into tight-fitting, full-body girdles that sucked and smoothed every lump and bump. The ’30s full-body version of the girdle included a bra top that was attached to a very short skirt with elasticized straps with metal fasteners to attach to silk stockings (remember, up until the ’60s, stockings were worn without a top – they came up to mid thigh and had to be held up). Bras weren’t very advanced – cup sizes were invented in 1935 and the first underwire bra came out in 1938. In the late 1930s, the rubber girdle came out. It really was made out of rubber – yes, rubber – and was covered in ‘breathing’ holes.

full Body early 40's Corset

The war affected undergarments just as much as it affected all other aspects of dress. Production of the new rubber girdles came to a halt because rubber was needed for the war. The same went for corsets, as the steel used for the boning was needed. This ended up being an advantage for women who required more flexibility and movement with their new lifestyles.

The brassiere became shortened to the ‘bra’ in the ’40s. Bras of the era were plain without lace or decoration, most frequently made from rayon satin and sometimes cotton. The color was usually white, ivory or the very popular peachy-pink. Straps were adjustable and the bras fastened at the back with metal hooks and eyes, just like those of today. The shape of ’40s bras was very different, however. They covered much more and created a different look than the bras of today. All bras were full-coverage, with the underwire reaching all the way from one side to the other. There was also a substantial amount of fabric in the center, creating separation instead of the pushed-together cleavage of today. The straps came from the middle of the cups instead of the sides. Bras usually came down an inch to several inches below the bottom of the bust, covering some torso. The shape they created was pointier than today, mostly because the design wasn’t fully developed yet and bra cups had several seams on them that came together at a point. However, it was not the exaggerated pointy “Bullet Bra” look of the ’50s.

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1940s Underwear

Panties weren’t really worn by women until the 1930s, and became more popular in the ’40s. The panties of the ’40s would put even those known today as ‘granny panties’ to shame. They were made from rayon satin or cotton in colors similar to those used for bras and were plain. They weren’t close-fitting or small – they reached up past the belly button and looked more like shorts than a bikini bottom. Most came down a few inches on the legs. Talk about coverage!

Although girdles couldn’t be made in the same way that they were in the ’30s, they were produced and worn throughout the ’40s. They were made with rayon or cotton, and a small amount of elastic was allowed to be used to give them some stretch. They usually had some elastic panels on the front and back, the rest of the fabric being rigid. The girdle was very tight to suck everything in, and reached to the waistline past the belly button. It would come down into a skirt to cover the backside completely and had four elastic straps with metal clips to attach stockings to. Since many women had begun to wear pants, and new type of ‘panty girdle’ started to be made. It was the same thing, except it took the form of a panty instead of a skirt. Girdles usually had metal zippers on one side to get in and out. Although girdles offered a smooth shape underneath the new closer-fitting clothes, many women chose not to wear them at all during the decade, wearing just a bra and panties – something that had not been done before.

1940's Slip

Slips were the last underwear layer a lady needed to create the perfect shape. Slips came in long dress like varieties or shorter shirt and top only selections. Slips were usually white or soft peachy pink. They had thin shoulder straps and a figure flattery shape. No dress, suit or skirt would be complete without a slip to keep clothing from clinging to your body.


You have just read a section from the 1940’s Style Guide: The Complete Illustrated Guide to 1940’s Fashion for Women. To read more pick up a copy of the book today!

1940's dress

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