What our mothers and grandmothers knew about getting a better fit

We are now on to more advanced aspects of fit. Fitted women’s clothing of the past has distinct shaping that sometimes seems unlike the human form. If you've ever encountered an impossibly small waist on a dress, or impossibly high darts, you might have wondered what sort of person could wear these?

Your mother and grandmother might have worn these, with the help of the arsenal of foundation garments that aided the in-vogue silhouette of the era.

1935 lingerie advertisement—You can see how this shaping could help achieve the long lean look of the 30s (Courtesy of Vintage Venus)
Jody of Couture Allure Vintage Blog did a wonderful job of exemplifying the fit of items from 1950, and the underpinnings that were integral to the look at the time, in her blog post Foundation Garments to Make Your Vintage Dresses Fit Correctly. Vintage foundations are really different from most of the shapewear that we see today; the control and shaping is much more powerful, particularly in the decades around the mid 20th century, and of course the Victorian and Edwardian eras. If you are able to find elasticized vintage foundations that are unused, they are more likely to still have their flexibility and stretch, particularly if they are 1950s and newer. Jody followed up on her blog with a post listing modern makers of vintage-style foundations. This post, and the comments after, offer quite a bit of helpful guidance.
On a personal note: I do not wear vintage undergarments (other than slips) except on special occasions and for special-fit items. I favor clothing that doesn't demand an extreme fit, I prefer the freedom without this fit. One of the reasons I'm fond of early to mid-40s clothing is that it is a more natural silhouette, one that tends to fit me. Others swear by vintage foundation wear for how it makes their clothes fit, how it makes their clothes look, and for how it makes them feel. I think this is a personal decision. I don't consider it wrong to skip the vintage under layer, but it is important to understand how it impacted fit and how you might be able to wear something you love with just a bit of undercover help.
Obviously glamour is one of vintage lingerie's greatest charms, as this fun little video demonstrates:



For more on fashionable silhouettes and how they were achieved, see the Met Museum article Twentieth-Century Silhouette and Support

Next: Alterations to achieve a better fit

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