It Wasn’t All Swinging In The 60s: A Personal Lingerie Talk With Bijoux, Focused On Color, Fabric & Culture

I’ve been wanting to talk lingerie with the fabulous Bijoux for quite some time now. We begin with her statement about lingerie fabrics, specifically negative sentiments regarding nylon:

One off the things I love about your blog, is it’s made me really think about my love of lingerie, in subtle yet powerful ways. You get me asking, ‘why do I think the things I do?’

Example, a couple of weeks ago I realized you loved, no LOVED shiny silky nylon! Flabbergasted! What kind of woman…. Then I started to remember the whispers in my ear from my mother about … relationships… about being prepared and compliant waiting for your husband, being clean and fresh, like the sheets (and the rest of the house) cotton and silk, natural fibers only. You don’t want to be associated with … nylon. It’ll make him wonder…

And concerns with color:

I always wondered why I detested lingerie in white and pastels, it ain’t going anywhere near me, that’s for suckers! It was always black. It’s now with the vintage inspired, I can get the deep peacock jewel colors I love, in satin and you never know, maybe nylon.

But it’s been reading your blog that has got me wondering how can she/you love that simpering cloud in peach and pink, mint green, baby blue etc. What’s this praise for nylon? I really had to work hard on figuring that out, and boy, am I glad I did. Revelation. And that’s all down to you. Thank you. Now continue as before.

Obviously I was fascinated! Aren’t you?

I knew her story would be personal, but also cultural — and I wasn’t disappointed!

The first thing I wanted to ask you, Bijoux, was about your notions of lingerie fabric — especially nylon. Can you explain more of that?

Ok. Here goes. And I’m going to be honest about loads of things. Reason, well as a mature feminist, let’s be realistic. Not all of us have the privilege to be guided to womanhood by healthy happily balanced mothers doing the best they could for their children. I’m one of the ones who had a mother tormented by psychological disorders which she inflicted on her children. The older I am the more I can see how she struggled with all things pertaining to sex. At the time, I didn’t understand, I became totally disinterested in her hysterics and just plain secretive. But in many ways, I think the battles I had although sometimes extreme, were pretty commonplace in 1950s-60 UK, especially to any child with older, super conservative parents. But I think it’s interesting to look at our darker influences.

I lived with my mother and grandmother from 1957 to 1975, from the age of 5. My grandmother, born in 1880 could remember Jack the Ripper in East London where she was bourn. Up to the day she died in 1980 she wore ‘stays’ and flannelette bloomers, I kid you not. It was downstairs at Downton Abbey in north London. My mother, born in 1918 wore only what I can only describe as white school knickers and those cotton bras with circles of stitching in the cups. Anything thing else was worn by whores. They both believed knickers were designed to keep in ‘your germs’. An abiding memory I have of my mother is the weekly boiling of knickers in a bucket on the gas stove followed by enthusiastic scrubbing of the crutch with household soap and bleach, to get out the germs!!!

In the UK we have school uniforms, which included regulation baggy uniform knickers in thick navy blue cotton, complete with pocket. So my childhood included these, liberty bodice and vests. She was happy, but I refused, point blank to wear flannelette bloomers in the winter, even aged 8. No-one at school understood why I was still wearing regulation knickers when I was 15, school girls or teachers. My first bras were as old fashioned and uncomfortable as hers, much to the amusement of other girls in school. Once I got a Saturday job and my own money problems developed big time, I wanted to buy my own clothes including underwear. However, I clearly remember smuggling clothes out of the house to change into when I went out, with other girls and it was not uncommon for friends to comment that they hid clothes from their parents. In the late 60s, many uptight parents (usual parents) were frightened that clothing would sexually awake their children. This was before people lived together (in sin). It was just as the permissive 60s started and we had a fight on our hands for our liberty. My mother, though odd was not that unusual, just extreme.

She ensured my school swimming costume had a modesty panel across the front. Her pep talks on married life, to me, just explained why she was divorced. All this freshly washed linen and cotton, clean starched sheets and ankle length white cotton nighties… Ugh. By the way, all my duvet covers are satin as well as some of the pillows, the bottom sheet is cotton mix and some of the pillows. (you tend to skid on satin sheets, so I keep those for ‘special occasions’) but the sets are either burgundy, navy and black. If I could find dark green, I’d get that, but I am considering cream/gold/champagne for the summer. So the 30s glamour is still going strong, but the colors are different. But I promise, I won’t dress to coordinate with the bed!

Often on TV, or in movies, especially in comedies, you would see women flitting around in floaty baby-doll nylon outfits, often with frilly knickers. (Think Barbara Windsor in Carry On movies.) And for a long time, these, in the UK, were not openly sold. You could see adverts in the back of seedier newspapers like The News Of The World or men’s magazines, but they were not sold in openly shops. Well not ‘respectable’ family orientated shops. (I think you posted about a US company selling similar lingerie called Fredericks of Hollywood, a few weeks ago.) My mother’s reaction when she saw these on TV, was incendiary. Unless it was an obvious comedy spoof, she would start shouting about whore’s and filthy, dirty tramps after your husband etc.

I did buy a pair of nylon frilly knickers, when I was about 16 because they reminded my of the frilly pants I used to wear as a small child when I did ballet lessons. She hit the roof big time, they were burnt in the fire. She made it clear, I was never to wear nylon see through underwear.

I can remember her spitting venom about ‘your hairs pocking through’ and germs.

Colored underwear was now becoming fashionable and available, lots of mint green, lemon, pink, baby blue, sherbet colors, all of which I intensely disliked. I hated the childlike quality to them, baby colors and sometimes with childish cartoons and slogans embroidered on them, if not the day of the week.

Then Mary Quant came out with an underwear range of navy and red, or black and white stripped knitted knickers without a gusset. I loved them. They fitted perfectly, I liked the panty line on my buttocks that they made and they didn’t form a half moon crescent if you bent over with the added gusset round your bum.

They were solid, so mum didn’t have a fit about pubes pocking through, or anything ‘showing’. But I loved the deep vibrant colors that they came in.

With bras, once I needed one, I needed a D cup, which were almost impossible to find in 1970s uk. A to C only. But I got on really well with the stretchy bras that were sold then. I wore these for about 10 years and could get them in black and navy.

When I went to Art College, I started wearing vintage clothes, and was really influenced by the fashions especially of the 20s and 30s. Now lingerie formed a real erotic link for me, and I loved the long sweeping satin robes of the 30s.

I was lucky enough to buy the most beautiful set of gowns and peignoir from Biba in mocha. That lasted for years as well. I loved the deep color. Later the nearest I could find was in a mid blue, which for me was always a bit of a disappointment. I also remember wearing black sheer Mary Quant body stockings!!! I thought these were really daring and really sexy.

For years I was never interested in overtly ‘sexy’ stuff around in the 80s. G strings, open cup bras etc. I just thought they were cheap and tacky and most of it was really badly made. It wasn’t until my 50s I seriously considered fetish wear, which I found via the rise in burlesque, which I love. I’ve been to Torture Garden once and just loved it. If I was younger, I’d be far more like Dita Von Tease or Midori. Just wish I didn’t have a latex allergy. Whatever you do, don’t think I’m just totally practical, for years I wore feather boas nearly every day! I like a sense of theatre and drama.

I still love black lingerie. Nearly all I have is black. There are a few items in burgundy, including a beautiful satin corset, some long nightdresses and pants in burgundy, dark emerald green, and midnight blue. I love the maturity of these colors. I’m an adult woman. I don’t want to be with a man who wants a girl. There’s something serious about these colors. I think they say, don’t start something you can’t follow through.

It’s likely I love satin, silk and other opaque fabrics as they caused less confrontation to start off with. For some reason, I’ve always presumed the thin transparent nylon would be itchy, and sweaty, I’ve had the odd nylon lace vest or bra that scratched. I know I certainly got that from my Mum, but it seemed to be backed up with all the health alerts against wearing nylon pants for health reasons.

This is but the first question — there will be plenty more!

Image credits: Vintage Vanity Fair lingerie ad from the 1960s; liberty bodice ad via Re Knitting; photo of Pat Carpenter in sheer panties by Joseph Jasgur; a trio of images sent in from Bijoux; vintage Mary Quant lingerie via Vintage Venus.

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