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Flashback/Flashforward: 11 Classic Lingerie Silhouettes Revisited

This blog post contains images which are NSFW.


There is a saying in the fashion industry that everything old is new again, and this is perhaps no more true than in the world of lingerie. The basic silhouette of the bra and panty has remained unchanged for decades, and a global, interconnected intimate apparel industry (run by only a handful of major companies) means less variation in both style and form --- across countries, price points, and target markets.

As a way of differentiating themselves from the mainstream, many independent designers have taken to dipping into the historical fashion archives and recreating certain classic lingerie looks. As a lingerie enthusiast, I love seeing these vintage silhouettes make a modern-day reappearance. There's a certain magic, a particular glamour, in antique and vintage lingerie that a lot of modern pieces lack (especially in the United States with its emphasis on seamless, "practical" undergarments). The opportunity to own a bit of that magic, to freely incorporate a retro style into your wardrobe, not out of necessity, but out of choice, is a beautiful thing.

However, I have another reason for sharing these resurrected looks, and that's because of the direction I've seen the conversation on lingerie knockoffs take recently. Of course, it goes without saying that there's nothing wrong with a designer drawing inspiration from history. But, on occasion, some designers get very protective of these resurrected styles, claiming that a design which originally debuted in the 1930s or 50s or 70s is a 100% original creation (as a brief aside, this Frederick's of Hollywood catalog book changed my life when it came to recognizing these repurposed silhouettes).

That said, this blog post isn't about "calling people out" either (I've been compiling this article for several months now until I had enough pictures to actually publish something), nor am I implying that every item shown below is an identical copy. Rather, I hope this piece helps you connect certain historical looks with their modern-day counterparts, and to gain a better understanding, not just of the fashion and lingerie trend cycle, but also of how complicated and complex the knockoff conversation can be. Said another way, if many of the pieces and trends we think of as modern (such as bondage details, mesh bralettes, and ouvert knickers) have clear and obvious roots in fashion history, how do you define a knockoff in the modern era?

I don't know the answer to the question, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on the paired items below. Are there any favorite modern day iterations of classic designs that I haven't listed? And while we're on the subject, what distinguishes a knockoff of a historical garment from a knockoff of a modern one? Let's talk about it in the comments.

Vintage ouvert knickers on left. Hopeless Lingerie 'Charlotte' knickers on right.

Vintage ouvert knickers on left. Hopeless Lingerie 'Charlotte' knickers on right.

Eartha Kitt on left. Hopeless Lingerie 'Lucy' Bralette on right.

Eartha Kitt on left. Hopeless Lingerie 'Lucy' Bralette on right.

Rudi Gernreich High Waist Strappy Knickers on left. Maison Close High Waist Strappy Knickers on right.

Rudi Gernreich High Waist Strappy Knickers on left. Maison Close High Waist Strappy Knickers on right.

agent provocateur low back dress vikki dougan vintage

Vikki Dougan photographed by Life Magazine on left. Agent Provocateur 'Mona' Dress on right.

Grace Jones on left. Chromat 'Android Arms' on right.

Grace Jones in Jean Paul Gaultier on left. Chromat 'Android Arms' on right.

Vintage bra photographed by Nina Leen on left. Miss Crofton 'Blush' bra on right.

Vintage bra photographed by Nina Leen on left. Miss Crofton 'Blush' bra on right.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

6 Comments on this post

  1. betsy says:

    Could there be a difference between “copying” what is available for purchase elsewhere at this moment, and/or being inspired by designs not available in the current market?

  2. All's Fair in L and L says:

    I think this might be my favorite article that you’ve ever written- and that’s saying a LOT. To attempt to answer your question: I think that you must give credit where credit is due. If you’re copying most aspects of a design, then you should definitely mention that it’s “inspired by ___”. It’s definitely a fine line and a very contentious argument, but I think it’s pretty obvious when you’ve been inspired by something and when you’re blatantly copying it, whether it’s a design from history or not. I think in order for something to not be considered a knockoff, you need to add your own personal/creative touches to it that make it unique and your own. If you’re copying a design exactly and then passing it off as your own, it becomes a knockoff (and more importantly, just a sucky thing to do– I mean come on, we learn not to to do that in elementary school). I think it’s a part of human nature to draw from what we’ve seen, and thus styles from the past will constantly crop up in new collections. But does that make the designs the creative property of the original designer, or the person who was inspired by them? From a design perspective, I’ve always been fascinated by what makes something a copy– most patterns come with “For Personal Use Only” stamped on it, but I’ve always wondered when it stops being that pattern, especially when I’ve altered almost every aspect of it, or if it still remains creative property of the original drafter even though I’ve made changes to it. As well, when it’s a classic silhouette (such as a t-shirt bra, or a bikini brief) can it really be copied/made into a knockoff, or is the design more public domain because it’s so widespread? Whew, that veered a bit off-topic, but I hope I touched on the important points (I also hope that all made sense). Thanks so much for writing this, I think it’s such an interesting discussion.

  3. Allison OH says:

    It’s definitely a fine line and a fascinating discussion, But I feel like we all know when that line has been crossed even if we are having a hard time defining it. As a fashion designer, I certainly know the difference between using my creativity and using my skills to outright copy something. When it comes to copying a vintage garment, if it is indeed copied and not merely an inspiration, it should be branded as such: a reproduction. Any designer worth his or her integrity would agree, because if you’ve ever had something of yours blatantly copied, its a violating feeling. We work in a very interesting industry where our intellectual property can’t (or won’t) be protected, which is both a very frustrating thing, and also a thing that propels the industry forward.

  4. laurie van jonsson says:

    I think that there will always be Inspiration/imitation from previous collections from past era. Though it is such a shame when brands literally replicate designs especially for their whole collection. What’s more saddening is when others praise that brand of doing outstanding work when you know that it’s not original.

  5. Bitter Lollipop says:

    This is amazing, nice work! Especially love the Miss Crofton ‘Blush’ Bra.

  6. Caroline Z. says:

    Love this post! This mirrors my own thoughts exactly + I am so pleased by the number of examples you have here.

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