Vintage Lingerie: French Knickers

Vintage Lingerie: French Knickers

Why Were French Knickers So Popular?

Why were French Knickers so popular in the first half of the 20th century? Find out the answer and see some pieces from my vintage collection.

If you're new to retro style hosiery, or hosiery of any kind, then the terminology can be confusing - but help is at hand!

Check out our guide to hosiery and all will be revealed.

Knickers Pre Elastane and Lycra

The first thing you have to take note of is back in the '40s and '50s you didn’t have lycra or elastane. To have a stretch elastic in your lingerie, you would have had something called lastex and lastex which was a lot heavier than modern lingerie mesh. So while lastex is fine for corsetry, fine for shapewear, for knickers it’s just too heavy. If you've got a '40s girdle, you know exactly what I'm talking about; because the rubber used on the sides of those, the elastic stretch panels are very, thick indeed. If you were going to make a stretch knicker back in the day including lastex, you'd have a very functional, very indestructible, but very heavy garment!

When you look at our knickers, which contain powermesh at the backs, the mesh is heavier than the meshes you'd find in modern day underwear or knickers, but it's still a lot lighter than what would have been used in the '40s and '50s. So yes, our stretch knickers are sexier than what were made in the 1940s or 1950s, because back then, if you were going to make a stretch knicker, it would have been made out of a stretch knit material like a cotton knit or a silk knit or moving onto the 1960s, a nylon knit.

The knickers most women used to wear it in the 1940s and 1950s tended to be French knickers. And I've got a pair of our CCO9 French knickers here, which are based on a 1940s pattern. There are two plus points for these kind of knickers. One is they're made of non stretch fabric. So ours are made of a very, very light satin, which you would have been able to get back in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. And also they were relatively easy to make at home. And when I say relatively easy, I know making these French knickers, our CCO9 French knickers is very, very tricky because the fabric we use is so fine. It takes a long time for the machinists in our factory to actually be able to make these. But in the 1940s and 1950s a lot of them were made at home and they were made out of heavier fabrics as well as lighter weight fabrics and things like cotton. So you were able to make them at home and many, many women did. And I've got a few of my vintage samples to show you.

One of the questions I often get asked with French knickers is that how do you actually go to the bathroom in them? French knickers are designed to be worn over your suspender belt or girdle. So really all you'd see when you were wearing your French knickers would be the little garter straps sticking out the bottom and it's a very elegant and sexy and flirty look. Of course you often see pictures of women in '30s and the '40s wearing French knickers and they're almost down to their knees, but there were a lot of glamorous French knickers around as well.

1940s Inspired CC09 French Knickers

So firstly, I'll just tell you a couple of things about our CCO9 French knickers. They are based on a 1940s CC41 British pattern, and I have made other videos about the French knickers which I’ve added below so please check those out. There is no elastic in our French knickers and I have tried to incorporate elastic into the back of the French knicker just to make the fit easier several times. But when it comes down to it, the best fit and the best looking French knicker is always one without elastic. So if you can get these to fit you, and I know they either fit you and look amazing or sometimes the fit isn't quite there. If they do fit you, they do absolutely look absolutely fantastic.

Hand Embroidered Vintage French Knickers

The first pair of vintage knickers I have to show you are this beautiful pair of semi sheer French knickers, and these are handmade and hand embroidered. We have been inspired by these a couple of times in the past. This yoke section at the front we've incorporated in a few of our pairs of French knickers, but it's the kind of detailing you just won't find on a modern pair. These are totally hand-sewn and hand embroidered and there's just hours and hours of work put into these amazing knickers. I'm really proud to own them and keep them safe because you just don't get workmanship like this anymore. You wouldn't have someone who would have spent this amount of time making a pair of knickers.

These French knickers have a narrow strip of elastic at the back to help with fit. And they also have a button at each side and we've also incorporated this trick into some of our French knickers as well. Instead of having just one side opening, we've got a little opening at both sides. So these are really cute and really fancy French knickers that you won't see made in modern day.

1920s/30s French Knickers

To prove to you that knickers could be risque in past I have two pairs of French knickers which I found on Portobello Road in London, just around the corner from our boutique.

The first pair are homemade and they have a Peter Pan zig zag trim, which was so popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and they've got a really interesting crotch detail which is just a strip between your legs. So it's not that flattering, not that comfortable, but the knickers are just adorable. It would be very difficult to remake something like this, especially with the modern expectations of but they're just gorgeous knickers.

'Eve's Leaves' French Knickers

Lastly I have an even racier pair to show you. They are called ‘Eve's Leaves’ by Chevette and that gives you a hint. Eve's Leaves French knickers are made from a very fine tulle and they have the fig leaf across the crotch, which is very saucy indeed. There was a matching bra made to go with it but unfortunately I don’t have that in my collection yet. We have made a pair of French knickers influenced by these with an art deco emblem on the crotch and that was part of our cabaret range a few years ago.

While I would like to remake something like these, the tulle now is soft and I don't know whether that's because it's been washed a few times or whether it's through age, but I know when I've tried to source tulle, it's very, very stiff. The French knickers we made with the art deco emblem on the front, they were made of a sheer nylon fabric and it had to be quite stiff to be able to sew the emblem, and they were difficult to make. They looked cute, but they would have been nicer if they had a softer fabric, but then of course we wouldn't be able to sew the emblem on with a softer fabric.

The Eve’s Leaves knicker emblem is overlocked all the way around the outside, so they have a very, very fine stitch all the way around the outside to cover the raw edges. The stitching is beautiful and very very neat but it's a workmanship that it'd just be too expensive to do these days due to the time it would take and the intricacy of the design.

Shop & Credits

In the video I wear our Felicity Circle Skirt with Dark Floral Edith Top (coming soon), with jewellery by Luxulite and Splendette and Shazam Hair Flowers.

The 1940s CC41 Label

Learn about 1940s lingerie and the CC41 label. Including our CC09 French knickers adapted from a pair of genuine CC41 French knickers.

If you're new to retro style hosiery, or hosiery of any kind, then the terminology can be confusing - but help is at hand!

Check out our guide to hosiery and all will be revealed.

Would You Iron Your Lingerie?

Last year I spoke about using natural fabrics for lingerie and now we are working with rayon and cotton for our clothing, it has become a possibility. What do you think about ironing your lingerie?

If you're new to retro style hosiery, or hosiery of any kind, then the terminology can be confusing - but help is at hand!

Check out our guide to hosiery and all will be revealed.

french knickers

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