Va Va Voom Vintage: Why We Love it and Where to Get it

Costumes from PBS’s “Downton Abbey”

It has been noted by many that we seem to be caught up in a cultural love affair with bygone eras.  Immersive period shows like “Boardwalk Empire,” “Mildred Pierce,” and “Downton Abbey” have flourished as a counterbalance to the ephemerality and tawdriness of of the ubiquitous reality show.  We seem to crave escape to other worlds, the security of an already-resolved past, and the romance of nostalgic craft.

This is great if you love looking at vintage lingerie–because it’s everywhere.  I have always collected early 20th century lingerie, mostly slips and robes, with the occasional tap pant in the mix.  I don’t really wear any, but occasionally pull pieces out just to look at them, in the same way and for some of the same reasons people watch period TV shows.  Just touching the delicate peach silk and intricate embroidery fills me with awe for the craftsmanship of past masters and allows a brief moment of nostalgia and escape.

“Vintage” lingerie is a term that people often use to refer–both in Google and in the fashion world– to midcentury looks: bullet bras, high waisted briefs, garters.  Everyone loves a 50′s pinup, but I find the luxury and elegance of earlier lingerie from the 1910′s-1940′s more exquisite and compelling.

Costume from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”

Costumes from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”

So you can imagine my overwhelming joy when fellow TLA writer and vintage lover, Kristina, and I visited the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show in October.  I went bananas!  This is a semi-annual retail show, filled with vendors of vintage clothing from the 18th-20th centuries.  (Note: I was surprised to notice that many vintage vendors live vintage lives, i.e. they do not have websites, so if you’re interested in buying, you can visit them at vintage shows or visit the sites I’m recommending at the end.  These photos below are for inspiration.)

Lisa Victoria Vintage stood apart from the others.  Its owner, Lisa, clearly selects her assortment with care and knowledge, and every stunning piece was of high quality and in good condition.  She not only sells to the public, but also supplies costumes for movies and TV, including “Boardwalk Empire.”  Her items are not available to buy online, but can be purchased at vintage shows, and admired on her site.

Silver silk gown with lace and self fabric appliques. Lisa Victoria Vintage.

Silk and Lace Bralette. Lisa Victoria Vintage

Deep V gown with faggotting and applique detail. Lisa Victoria Vintage.

Other gorgeous inspiration pieces from Hollywood and Vine Vintage,  Ritual Vintage, and Right to the Moon Alice:

Silk Teddy. Ritual Vintage.

Drop waist chemise. RItual Vintage.

Silk crepe gown detail. Hollywood and Vine Vintage.

Silk tap pant. Hollywood and Vine Vintage.

Chiffon and lace bodice. Hollywood and Vine Vintage.

This floral print seems current and fresh. Right To the Moon Alice Vintage.

Empire waist drop shoulder gown. Right to the Moon Alice.

If you’re looking to buy vintage lingerie, and you’re not near a vintage show, check out your local thrift stores, swap meets, estate sales, and textile shows.  I’ve found undervalued pieces just lying around the most unexpected corners.

You can also check out etsy, ebay, and these sites for an ever-changing assortment of early 20th century lingerie:

1920′s Teddy. www.vintagetextile.com

White silk and lace 30′s or 40′s dressing gown. www.theamericanvernacular.com

c1938 trousseaux slips. www.antiquedress.com

Peach silk chemise. www.poshgirlvintage.com

Here’s a great blog post about “Boardwalk Empire” and 20′s lingerie: http://16sparrows.typepad.com/16sparrows/2012/05/1920s-lingerie-in-boardwalk-empire.html

Please share any vintage resources you love!  Do any readers out there actually wear their vintage pieces?

Laura a.k.a. Lola Haze

I’ve loved lingerie since before that was reasonable. I taught myself drawing, designing, and sewing, and after graduating from Harvard with an English degree, immediately went to work disregarding it and following my passion for fashion. After a few years designing for a big company, I went off on my own and started Lola Haze TM, (named after the title character in “Lolita,” my favorite book). Lola Haze is playwear for the bold woman who loves fun and dresses for herself! I feel happy and lucky that I get to love my job so much, and am thrilled to share my lingerie enthusiasm with The Lingerie Addict!

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14 Comments

  1. Helena
    09/11/12 at 4:32

    I found so many vintage shops with lingerie in Toronto. Their staff was always ready to give good advice and prices were very reasonable.

    • 09/11/12 at 15:23

      That’s great to hear! If you have any specific stores in mind, please share! Next time I find myself in Toronto, I’ll take a cruise around the vintage shops. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Emmie Henks
    09/11/12 at 9:29

    I also collect early 20th century lingerie pieces – I don’t have an overwhelming amount as I rarely wear it, but instead I display some of the pieces on the walls of my bedroom. It really gives my space more of a boudoir feel to see the pretty lush robes and slips hanging – It really is art : )

    • 09/11/12 at 15:16

      Hi Emmie,
      This is a GREAT idea. I have mine hanging in a closet and always regret that they’re not able to be appreciated every day and was trying to think of something more decorative to do with them. Thanks!

  3. 09/11/12 at 11:15

    Interesting, alot of vintage lingerie is more delicate. The myth is that people in the past were less fornicatively active, the reality is people today are less fornicatively active but more public about acts of fornication

    • 09/11/12 at 15:20

      Ha, that may be true. There was definitely gorgeous lingerie in that era for people who could afford it — and how often they used it for inspiration is anyone’s guess. Lingerie is a lot more visible now and seeing an image of a mostly-naked woman is possible now with facility that it wasn’t then. But seeing truly exquisite lingerie? Exciting in any era.

  4. Hibiscus
    09/11/12 at 13:06

    I’ve collected vintage lingerie (or as my family calls it, “all that old underwear”) for years, and while I have some exquisite silk pieces, I love the quality of the everyday things people wore up through the 60′s. My pocketbook and storage are limited, so I avoid the retail shows. I do wear what fits, but as a 38D, that can be tricky!

    • 09/11/12 at 15:22

      Wow, I’m glad to hear you actually wear your vintage pieces! A lot of them stand the test of time well, since, as you said, they were high quality. I feel too nervous to wear “all that old underwear” generally…only for special occasions. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Annmarie
    09/11/12 at 20:54

    I was always attracted to vintage lingerie, and still remember how excited I got once I saw a glimpse of something while watching an old movie when I was younger.
    Unfortunately not that many vintage stores in my town, a really great one closed awhile ago, and getting vintage lingerie on line can be tricky.

    On a recent trip to New England I checked out couple stores and found two beautiful and very reasonably priced 60′s or 70′s slips. They are well designed and constructed, very nice fit, and are very versatile as they can be worn under your day clothes, in bed, or just lounging. I think part of the allure of vintage lingerie is their quality, at least of the pieces that managed to survive all those years. Their design and durability often beats most comparable contemporary items.

    • 11/11/12 at 12:05

      Annmarie, glad to hear you got to shop while out of town. I’ve found that, aside from the online sites I suggested, there are little treasures in random little thrift stores sometimes. I agree — it really does/ feel luxurious and great to wear vintage; not only am I wearing something lovely, but I’m getting to participate in some tiny way with another era.

  6. 10/11/12 at 9:01

    I LOVE Boardwalk Empire, particularly because of the way the women dress! Everything from the lingerie to their over-coats are just so much more delicate and ethereal than the stuff we wear today. I would love to have some pieces that were modeled after this time period; I have a “delicate” body type myself (slender with small curves, think flapper girl!) so I think this style would be much more flattering for me than the pin-up styles that are becoming popular again.

    • 11/11/12 at 12:08

      Yes! The 20′s styles would suit you perfectly! There’s a lot of bias cut, drapey silhouettes, like chemises and step-ins, and tap pants, that are so gorgeous and delicate. The detail work and craftsmanship is also really inspiring. Hope you find your perfect vintage piece and thanks for your comment.

  7. 17/09/13 at 21:25

    I’m a little late to comment but I totally love this blog. Great post!

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