The razzmatazz of the 1920s liberated women from whatever shreds remained of Victorian womanhood. Wild madcap girls in dresses made of panels and tassels squealed 'Oh Baby' as they danced their legs off. The movies provided the model for the flapper whose lingerie wardrobe consisted of a pair of step ins and a bandeau, a Boyshform brassier, that effectively banished the bosom. Hos and bottoms slimmed to almost nothing with slip on girdles. The more daring chose only flirty, flared tap pants and flesh colored stocking rolled to the knee.
Endless chatter about libido, repression, complexes, and the meaning of dreams combined with car rides at night, bootleg whiskey, and the notion that sex was good all by itself. This finished off the concept of the non sensual woman for good. Now lingerie and almost all of what a woman wore could be stripped off in a flash and put back on with same abandon.
But not all was gaiety. another creature had appeared on the silver screen for women to emulate. The Vamp was Sex personified. Her eyes told legends while promising ecstasy. Her boredom was a challenge to male performance. This was no woman who would loose either her head or her heart for love. Luxury was what she craved.And lingerie responded with a lavishness that suggested virtue was a stranger to the wearer, Nightgowns trimmed with Alencon lace at first glance appeared to be made for modest women. A closer look revealed the gown itself was quite transparent Negligees were dramatic presentations of glorious bodies made to be enjoyed. And the fabrics crepe de chine, satin, meteor, shadowy chiffon, and wanton marabou could not be viewed as utilitarian unless one viewed sex as a necessary beyond the reasons for procreation.
The Charleston inspired even newer garments. The slide-on garter belt, worn seductively on the hip bone, and the slippery little nothing called the Teddy begged to be taken off. The glimpse of bare thighs above sensuous silk stockings sent the boys int he stag line searching for hip flasks. Corsetless close dancing in the hesitation Waltz was so physically arousing that it took more alcohol to suppress the emotions of the dancers. Chaperone's at dances focused on the heated action in the cloakrooms.
Established Society grew so troubled about how little the young women were wearing that various legislators proposed bills to stop the baring of the body. In Ohio, one new law attempted to make it a crime to sell anything that accentuated the female form. Had it succeeded, it would have wiped out the lingerie industry in a week. But flaming youth would have none of it.
Women had just begun to celebrate their bodies and no intention of reverting to the high neck, long-skirt follies of the past. Instead, they would display their bodies even more. Gowns had begun to lower in the back while bias-cut fabrics wrapped the hips as sensuously as snakeskin. And the ladies rooms of clubs, stores, and even high schools, word of mouth in seductive lingerie. As the ad said, "What nature has forgotten, we'll stuff with cotton!" After a decade of boyish bosoms, voluptuousness was staging a comeback. Falsies had been invented.
This article and images are reprinted form the Lingerie Book by Mitchell Gray.