What on Earth Is a “Costume Slip” ?

Costume Slips

I kept noticing the phrase “costume slip” in combination with “tunic blouse,” but even after finding several examples in Butterick lingerie patterns, my definition will be deduction and guesswork. I’m tempted to define a “costume slip” as “a slip-like garment that is intended to be seen.”

Four costume slips, November & December 1924. Butterick patterns.

Four costume slips, November & December 1924. Butterick patterns 5635, 5631, 5685, 5667.

That is, the costume slip may be seen below a tunic blouse . . .

Tunic blouses with costume slips; Delineator, December 1924.

Tunic blouses with costume slips; Delineator, December 1924.

or under a sheer fabric like lace, voile, chiffon or georgette. . .

Sheer dresses reveal the coordinating slip under them. Delineator, November 1924.

A sheer dress reveals the coordinating slip under it. Delineator, November 1924.

Butterick pattern for a sheer dress, Aug. 1924.

Butterick pattern for a sheer day dress, probably cotton voile, Aug. 1924. Such a dress needs a coordinating slip.

. . . or perhaps revealed by a coat dress that is open down the front, although these two dress patterns apparently included their own slip patterns.

Sheer coat dresses from 1926. Butterick patterns 6904 and 7024. Delineator.

Sheer coat dresses from 1926. Butterick patterns 6904 and 7024. Delineator.

Costume slip pattern #5685, Butterick, Dec. 1924.

“To wear under tunic blouses and transparent dresses . . . .” [I have not seen a lace-trimmed slip illustrated with a tunic blouse.] Costume slip pattern #5685, Butterick, Dec. 1924. Available up to bust size 52″.

This costume slip (#5638, below) takes the place of a pleated skirt. It could also be made with a “plain lower part.” The costume slip’s low pleats would avoid bulk over the hips, giving “the slender silhouette.”

Tunic Blouse 5962 worn over pleated Costume Slip 5638. Butterick patterns.

Tunic Blouse 5962 worn over pleated Costume Slip 5638. Butterick patterns.

Butterick pattern description, Costume SLip 5638; Nov. 1924.

Butterick pattern description, Costume Slip #5638; Nov. 1924.

Tunic blouses with side slits, April 1925. Delineator.

Tunic blouses with “open edges”, April 1925. Delineator. Costume slip #5638 — this time without pleats — is on the right.

To see more “tunic blouse costumes,” click here.

This 1926 costume slip could be made with a detachable front, called a vestee, to take the place of a blouse under a very low V-necked dress, a coat dress,  or a suit jacket.

A coat dress with low front, Nov. 1924; a Costume Slip (Butterick #7072, from 1926) could take the place of a blouse.

A coat dress with low front, Nov. 1924; a costume slip (Butterick #7072, from 1926) could take the place of a blouse.

cost slip 7072 1926 sept p 34 text

Women over forty may remember a more recent vogue for colorful, knit tank tops or camisoles with appliqued lace at the neckline, which served the same purpose.

Costume Slips or Lingerie Slips?

Lingerie slips, made of translucent silk, might have a “shadow-proof” hemline (i.e., two thicknesses of fabric) so that a woman could stand in a doorway with the light behind her and not have her legs visible though her clothes. This embarrassing photo of Lady Diana Spencer, later a fashion icon, shows why wearing an opaque slip can be a good idea.

The more images of costume slips I found, the more confused I got. This seems to be a lingerie slip, made of light silk or cotton — intimate apparel. But crepe satin and radium [a lustrous silk] were also recommended for costume slips.

A slip pattern, Butterick 4971, January 1924.

A slip pattern, Butterick 4971, January 1924.

You would think a slip trimmed with lace is obviously a lingerie slip, not intended for public view. However, I was forgetting that the same pattern could be used for a costume slip or a lingerie slip –– depending on the fabric used: heavy, opaque silks for costume slips, and sheer China silk, batiste, cotton voile, etc., with optional lace, for intimate apparel.

Butterick slip pattern 4971, January 1924, would make a costume slip or a slip that was only revealed in private.

Butterick slip pattern 4971, January 1924, would make either a costume slip or a slip that was only revealed in private. The small illustration shows it untrimmed and with a deep, shadow-proof hem.

“Radium” refers to radium silk, not radioactive silk. Crepe meteor seems similar to modern crepe-backed satin.

Costume slip patterns  #5724 (Ladies) and #5426 (Misses and small women.) Butterick, Jan. 1925.

Costume slip patterns #5724 (Ladies) and #5726 (Misses and small women.) Butterick, Jan. 1925.

cost slip 5724 1925 jan p 36

Butterick 5724:  “This costume slip with a straight lower edge and a three-inch or deep shadow-proof hem, is an especially good design.  Use soft satin, crepe meteor or crepe de Chine under tunic blouses, or these materials or sateen under transparent dresses, and radium silk, habutai silk, glove silk, silk jersey or sateen, under non-transparent dresses.” Notice how deep the shadow-proof hem is!

Skirts versus Costume Slips

To add to the confusion, 1920’s skirts were often made without a waistband, and attached to a slip-like bodice instead, so that the skirt was suspended from the shoulders and needed no darts or waist shaping. But they are not “costume slips.” They are skirts intended to be worn with hip-length overblouses, not longer “tunic” blouses, and the skirts are usually made from wool or broadcloth, not silk. The bodice could be inexpensive silk, cotton, or rayon.

1920's skirts suspended from a bodice. 1927-28. From Blum, Everyday Fashions of the Twenties,

1920’s skirts suspended from a bodice. 1927-28. From Stella Blum’s  Everyday Fashions of the Twenties.

This method of suspending a pleated skirt gives a perfectly straight, authentic twenties’ line. Wearing a twenties’ blouse or sweater over a modern skirt is less effective. Some 1920’s skirts were constructed with a waistband, but it did not ride snugly at the natural waist, so those skirts probably migrated around the body when worn. It must have been difficult to keep the blouse tucked in.

1920's skirts to wear on top of a blouse, Sears catalog, Fall 1925.

1920’s skirts to wear on top of a (or under) a blouse, Sears catalog, Fall 1925.

Also, with a waistband, the skirt waist is necessarily higher than the “fashion waist” of the late twenties.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, July 1926, p. 33.

Butterick patterns in Delineator, July 1926, p. 33.

14 Comments

Filed under 1920s, Slips and Petticoats, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns

14 responses to “What on Earth Is a “Costume Slip” ?

  1. So much to learn here! I remember some of those slip/skirts from my youth, but I”ll never heard the term “radium silk” before.

    • It sounds very scary, doesn’t it? I remember when a trip to the shoe store meant that I could stand on an X-ray machine and watch the bones in my feet wiggling — but radium silk doesn’t seem to have anything to do with radium — I fervently hope!

      • Wonderful post! So informative. As for Radium Silk, here’s some information from the Vintage Fashion Guild: http://vintagefashionguild.org/fabric-resource/radium-silk/

        A question for you regarding the contrast smocking. Do you think it’s possible to create a similar look with a machine using contrasting thread and a specialty stitch (today’s electronic machines have such a wide array of stitches)?

      • I have a little Butterick description of one smocking pattern in my next post. (Colorful Clothes for Boys and Girls.) I haven’t done smocking, but I need to research it, since it was used on traditional country men’s smocks before becoming fashionable on women’s clothes. I remember my stepmother smocking a decorative pillow made of checked gingham — it depended on a grid system. Usually it’s done with a heavier thread, like embroidery thread or twist. I’m sure that as soon as it became fashionable, machines were devised to imitate it!

      • At the ballet studio where I taught for many years, the receptionist often did hand smocking when she wasn’t assisting customers. It was fascinating to watch and I recall that yes, it used a thicker, buttonhole twist- or embroidery-type thread, and followed a grid system. In that aspect it wasn’t dissimilar to cross-stitching. Her finished work — mostly dresses for her granddaughters — was always so gorgeously precise and immaculate.

  2. Stephani

    I have one of my grandmother’s (or perhaps it was her mother’s) original 1920s Butterick Costume Slip patterns, and I’ve sewn it (since apparently all the women from that side of the family down to me have been about the same size). It has an angled side-waist seam with the skirt gathered into the seam over the hips. Very comfortable to wear. And the Deltor instructions are surprisingly clear.

  3. Another fascinating post. As I have been playing with a 1960s camisole-skirt this was right up my street. Thank you.

  4. How interesting! I’ve never encountered that term “costume slip” but your explanation makes good sense.

  5. Christina

    There is a good clue found in A Dictionary of Costume: Historic and Modern under Dress and Dresses by Mary Brooks Picken;

    “Transformation(d). Costume consisting of slip, coat, tunic and overdress. Slip may be worn with one or more of the other parts according to occasion to transform garment into street, aftenoon or evening dress. Introduced about 1926.”

    It was quite a short lived “look” but has a historic precedent when perticoats were shown. In this case it was to maximise the variable combinations and helped to emphasise the fashionable narrow silhouette. Where I could see the costume slip not working would be as a contrast to heavier fabrics.

    • Thank you for the reference; I “de-accessioned” my personal library when I thought I retired. (Ha!) I have also seen “transformation” used to mean artificial hair — I can’t find the article just now, but a 1920’s Delineator mentioned women in Paris wearing “silver transformations” to look chic — Rather like our current vogue for silver hair on pop stars.

  6. jay

    Fascinating! I’ve made quite a few costume slips without ever knowing that they were in a category of their own.

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