Riddle Me This: Vintage Topless Slips?!

I read and answer my emails — I really do!

Hey, Slip Of A Girl, as the vintage lingerie expert, can you help me figure out what this is? Is it really, as the seller says, a “vintage open under bust slip”? Is this some sort of topless nightie thing? Or has the seller or someone modified an old full slip, trying to make the item “sexier” by making it topless? Maybe it’s a converted half slip? Maybe I’m missing more “up top” than this vintage lingerie is! In any case, will you help a girl out and tell me what it is?

Thanks much,
Ashley (who feels very silly!)

Of course I’ll help you out, Ashley! And don’t feel silly; the only dumb question is the unasked question!  

Plus, what we have here is not a very commonly seen vintage lingerie item.

While I cannot hold and closely examine this vintage lingerie piece from Hollywood Vassarette (by Munsingwear), it is very likely a vintage slip and not a “topless sexy vintage nightgown”.

The first clues are the adjustable straps. Some well-made vintage nightgowns did have adjustable straps; but, generally speaking, adjustable shoulder straps are signs of a well-made full-slip. (The more hidden the adjustable slides and mechanisms are, the better made the piece of lingerie.)

Another clue to the authentic original design of the garment are the seams and lace work; this all appears, to my eye in the photos provided, to be original — and rather well done.

The construction design is that of a true open-bust or open-bodice slip, allowing the woman to wear a bra of her choosing beneath the foundation garment. You’ll notice how beneath the bust, there is a bit of a “shelf” which would make sure the bottom of the bra is covered, providing a smooth flow — no lines, no bare skin gaps, etc.

Lots of shapers today employ this same design. You see it in full-shaper slips, camisoles, and bodysuit styles. (Although, in my opinion, many of these shaper designs are flawed; they leave gaps between bra and shaper that the vintage ones did not!)

Note: The black shaper with beige bra depiction does not indicate that a different or contrasting color bra is actually to be warn. In the ads and promotional images, this color contrast is there to differentiate the shaper garment being considered for purchase from the bra, which may or may not be available as “sold separately”. (While some consider the contrasting or different colored bra as an option for say a light colored top with dark colored skirt, the straps on the shaper — which go over the bra — are likely to be noticed under the top.)

But why then would anyone want an open bust slip when you’d wear a bra or all-in-one girdle with a full-slip anyway?

There are several reasons:

* Full-slips traditionally have what we’d call “full coverage” cups today, meaning the cups or bodice might be visible with the sweetheart or low-cut necklines of dresses. Such full-cups may also prevent the desired amount of cleavage to be seen. An open-bust slip allows you to select a bra that’s more suited to the design of the outer garment.

* Back then, as today, a woman may have had a very different size up top from down below. Wearing an open-bust slip with a separate bra allows for more precise individual sizing where needed.

* Also, in the mid to late 1960s, the natural or bare-breasted look was coming into vogue. A woman might have wanted to skip the extra layer of a full slip (especially over one of the newer, less padded bras) up top, but retain her modesty and fashion sense below the belt.

Why would you want an open bust shaper? 

Many, if not all, of the same reasons still apply — but today it’s even more about the need for buying a separate bra to go with your shaper.

* Today, as most foundation garment and lingerie companies do their best to limit costs by limiting the number of sizes, the open-bust shaper means they can have more generic and flexible “Small”, “Medium”, “Large”, etc. sizes for their shapers, leaving women to get the more specific sizes necessary for properly fitting bras to better support their breasts.

* Also, today’s shaper garment construction and/or fabric may do more to “pancake” rather than enhance a lady’s bosom. Again, having separate pieces allows for more precise and flattering (not flattening) fit. 

But back to this vintage black beauty…

Vintage open-bust full-slips are actually rather rare to find. I’m not sure if it’s just because they were made in far fewer numbers, or if people just don’t know what these beauties are… Perhaps daughters and granddaughters just assumed they were (somewhat) terribly altered or considered them tacky-topless and therefore (more than somewhat) embarrassing — and tossed them out.

(It kills me to consider this because the few I’ve seen are as lovely as can be!)

In any case, they are rather rare finds. I’ve met a number of both sellers and collectors of vintage lingerie that I’ve had to educate on this, so you certainly aren’t alone in not recognizing them, Ashley!

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