Recently Lynn at American Age Fashion posted photos of some older women wearing sheer day dresses in the 1930‘s and the 1940‘s.
Ashville, Ohio, July 4th 1938. Photo by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress.
Like Jennifer (from Holliepoint) in Lynn’s comments section, I was surprised that older women would wear sheer dresses that showed their slips. In the fifties and sixties, just having a slip strap drop off my shoulder and become visible was a mortifying experience for me. “Intimate apparel” was not supposed to be seen except in intimate situations.
However, I was forgetting that many fashions of the 1900’s and 1910’s were sheer, and that women who had been twenty or thirty at the turn of the century would not think of summer dresses that revealed your lingerie as shockingly new. Au contraire.
Ladies’ blouse/waists, Delineator, July 1917. Most of these are sheer; you can see through the sleeves, and probably through the bodices, in real life.
Early in the century, there was even a long-running fashion for “lingerie dresses” like these; they are made of sheer “handkerchief linen,” or cotton batiste, or lawn and ornamented with inset lace, like the underwear (lingerie) of their day.
Lingerie dresses. Left, early 1900’s; right, 1910’s or early twenties. These were photographed over a black slip to show the lace to advantage. A white slip would have been very visible through these dresses.
Thin cotton fabrics and lace inserts were used to make undergarments and also to make blouses. Butterick patterns from Delineator, 1917. The blouse/waist at right is sheer enough to show the model’s embroidered underwear, or a lace underbodice.
This beautiful — and very sheer — blouse was made of two layers of netting:
A blouse/waist so sheer that it is made of two layers of netting. Private collection.
Here is its equally beautiful back:
This sheer, embroidered netting blouse has a “sailor collar” in back. Circa 1910’s to 1920’s.
Sheer blouses like the one below are now called “Armistice Blouses,” but it probably dates earlier than 1918, when the Armistice ending World War I was proclaimed.
A sheer vintage blouse, circa WW I, sometimes called an “Armistice Blouse.”
In this photo, you can easily see the coat hanger through the blouse. Underwear would have been equally visible.
Skin and underwear would have been visible through this sheer cotton vintage blouse. Private collection.
During the 1910’s, a skirt and matching bodice (called a waist) were often worn instead of a dress. The patterns were sold separately. These surviving waists show that they were part of see-through fashions:
Purple chiffon waist, probably 1910’s.
Sheer, embroidered pink blouse or waist. Probably 1910’s.
It makes sense to me that women who wore these sheer clothes in their prime . . .
Sheer vintage blouse, before 1910.
. . . would be perfectly comfortable in sheer dresses in their middle and old age:
Older woman wearing a sheer, striped dress. Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Library of Congress photo by Ben Shahn. Detail.
No wonder they took to the sheer fashions of the late 1930’s:
A dress flattering to larger figures, Simplicity 3139, store flyer, Oct. 1939. Sizes 32 to 44.
DuBarry pattern 2319B, for a sheer afternoon dress. Store flyer, Aug. 1939. Available in sizes 32 to 42.
Vogue 8315, Vogue store flyer for May 1, 1939. Sizes 32 to 42 bust.
Companion-Butterick pattern 7989, from August 1938. Dotted sheer fabric.
Simplicity 3205, store flyer, Oct. 1939. A dress with sheer lace yoke and sleeves.
Fourth of July, 1938, Ashville, Ohio. Photo by Ben Shahn from Library of Congress. Detail. A sheer dress with polka dots and a lace dress.
The lace dress has a curving under-bust seam like this one:
“Figures are no problem to us.” A lace evening dress with bolero jacket, Butterick Fashion News flyer, August 1938.
Lace dress for larger or mature women. Butterick pattern 7998, 1938. “Wear with dignity and chic.” Sizes 34 to 52 inch bust.
For more about these and other sheer nineteen thirties dresses, click here.
Thanks again to Lynn at American Age Fashion for writing about photos of older women in sheer dresses!