Playful Promises Blog

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Filtering by Tag: history of fashion

The History of the Corset

Hi, my name’s Steph and I’m interning at Playful Promises this week! I’m a Costume Design student at UAL, so I thought I’d write a blog post about historical underwear – more specifically, the corset!


When we think of historical corsets today, what comes to mind is the extreme hourglass shape fashionable during the Victorian period. But when did corsets really begin?


The first instances of corsets, or ‘stays’, being used under a bodice can be traced back to the end of 17th century. These were stiffened conical shapes which lifted the bust and shaped the waist. However they were not the restrictive garments we imagine today – women at the time would stitch their stays by hand, and there were no metal eyelets for lacing, so stays could not be laced very tightly or the laboriously stitched together garment would break. 






During the 18th century, stays were laced either at the back or at the front under or over an embroidered stomacher (a stiff panel which attached to the bodice) in a zig-zag shape. In her portrait to the left, Madame de Pompadour wears a stomacher decorated with a line of bows; a look she popularised.


Towards the end of the 18th century, the fashionable waistline moves upwards (think Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice), so corsets also change - dresses are looser so the body no longer needs shaping in the same way. The emphasis in this period is on the bust, so cups are built into the corset for the first time, and stiff wooden busks are used to keeps the breasts apart. Below is an example of a corset from 1790.

With the advent of the Victorian period, the waist moves back down and more recognisable corsets come into use. These make use of new inventions – metal eyelets and metal busks which use hooks to allow the corset to be fastened at the front, as well as laced at the back. Criss-cross lacing is introduced, and remains in use today. It is during this period that tight-lacing becomes popular, along with the hourglass figure. Below is an example of a corset from 1864. 

Corsets largely fell out of fashion during the 1920s, as a new "boyish" shape was desired by flappers. They began to come back into popularity in the 1950s in the form of bustiers and girdles like the ones to the right.


Modern designers like Jean Paul Gaultier have revisited the corset in haute couture, and the resurgence of burlesque has ensured that corsets are once again  fashionable and desirable items of lingerie!

Ready to try out corsets for yourself? Our corsets and waspies are designed for the boudoir or as outerwear (rather than waist training corsets, which need to be specially made to safely reduce your waist-line)!

A shift in fashion: The Shift Dress

The Shift Dress is an iconic, timeless item of clothing that is still as much of a must-have today as it was in the 1920’s! And Playful Promises is here to help keep you all bang on trend this season with their clothing line.

Yes, Playful Promises also offers clothes as well as underwear for all of you who did not know!

The Shift Dress is still a really prevalent trend in today’s fashions and never fails to appear every year. Not only are Playful Promises offerings delectable and help release your inner flapper, but they make you so ready to hit up a jazz club that you will be doing the Charleston down the street!

After researching the history of the Shift Dress I have come to realise how this fashion has managed to stay popular for decades, and I think you’ll agree that many of my findings are still relevant today.

It all began in the 1920’s, so a massive thank you must be said to all the fashion forward women of that decade as I think the ‘what to wear’ dilemma would be that much worse without the Shift Dress!

There were many factors that can be attributed to the development and success of the Shift Dress in the 1920’s:

  • Economic prosperity led to the Roaring Twenties, allowing women more spending power and women began to buy their clothes instead of making them themselves, meaning that fashion trends spread quicker and changed faster.

  • Social norms began to change throughout the 1920’s, becoming less rigid and enforced. Although alcohol was banned, people were allowed to drink a little within the home and soon women began to socialize and drink in public at illegal Speakeasies. Fashions begun to change becoming more revealing and freeing – a scandal at the time!

  • The textiles and garment industry became more advanced due to industrialization and women’s fashions became accessible to all consumers at different levels of the social spectrum.

  • As clothing was becoming easier to manufacture and produce in mass volumes, stores began selling ready-to-wear fashions in a variety of sizes and colours.

With these factors all playing a role in women’s fashions throughout the 1920’s, it’s no wonder that’s styles changed so drastically from the restrictive fashions of previous generations. Enter the Shift Dress.

The Shift Dress is not only an iconic piece of clothing it also represents a change in the way women were perceived in society. As well as this, it embodies and symbolizes the 1920’s; with its loose style and androgynous appearance it quickly became a favorite style of the infamous Flapper Girls of the 1920’s.

As well as being obviously stylish and big supporters of the Shift Dress, Flappers furthered the popularity of the style itself. Flappers were the iconic female representation of the 1920’s as a decade and were symbolized by their reputation for smoking from long cigarette holders, applying make-up in public and dancing wildly in short, shapeless Shift Dresses that exposed their limbs and created a flat-chested, androgynous look. This is the first example in history of women actively defying social conventions and instead of accentuating their figures through the use of corsetry; comfort was at the forefront of women’s clothing choices for once.

All this is pretty impressive for one style of garment don’t you think?! Not only was the Shift Dress stylish and comfortable but it stuck two fingers up at society encompassing clothing and revolutionary mind-set for women! Power to the people and all that!

As well as being an important fashion throughout the 1920’s the Shift Dress made a huge resurgence in the 1960’s. Audrey Hepburn often wore sleeveless shift dresses both onscreen and off, which had a major impact on 60s fashion.

The style was updated by designers such as Mary Quant, altering the length to create the Mini Dress. The Shift Dress became popular with women all over the world due to its simple style, adaptability to any situation and the way it suited all women. It even became a firm favorite with Jackie Kennedy!

Bound to be the most useful dress in your wardrobe, it’s a perfect choice for so many occasions because you can dress it up or down with your choice of accessories.

Why not experience the wonder of the Shift Dress for yourself and pick one (or more!) of Playful Promises offerings! The Digital Sunset Print Dress and the Swinging 60’s Lace Shift Dress are perfect for all you classy ladies out there. 


Based on all my research, I can’t help feeling that I was born in the wrong era! I would have fitted in perfectly in the 1920’s or 1960’s – not only do I love Shift Dresses, but I’m also flat-chested! Oh well, looks like I’m going to have to go on another Playful Promises shopping spree to cure my need for a Shift Dress!

The Origin of Lingerie

From the beautiful Etti sets, to the saucy Morgana collection. Playful Promises autumn/winter lingerie is the epitome of modern lingerie, but just how did the wonderful world of lingerie come about?

There is no exact date as to when the fashion of wearing lingerie came about, but the first sources of evidence point towards Ancient Egypt, almost 3000 years BC. For such a hot country clothing was not a necessity or a commodity.

Items of clothing were status symbols, something only the wealthy members of society would wear. Very often people would be happy to be naked or to wear a loin cloth and no more. Terra-cotta pots illustrate the fashions of the period giving us an insight into lingerie and more.

The first example of undergarments was worn by Egyptian women, of high-ranks. This would have been a long tunic woven from fine cottons and linens. The tunic would have started around the chest and flowed down to the ankles. It would have been tied around the body and shoulders using straps and was even sometimes used to mould the waist creating hour-glass figures.

From the dawn of lingerie, garments were worn to suppress or accentuate curves, the modern day bra was established as far back as 3000BC. When Egyptians were wearing tunics, Babylonian women were wearing what could be described as briefs and bras.  Most likely derived from the loin cloth and from suppressing women's breasts by wrapping cloth around the chest, this is the earliest evidence of lingerie.

And Cretan women were wearing hip corsets pushing their breasts upwards and outwards around 3000BC. This is surprising to know that the corset was in fact first worn on women, as many people believe men were first to wear the corset, and over 5000 years ago making this a very old fashion trend.

From these early depictions of wearing lingerie there was not much progression in what women wore. The 1500's saw the popularity in the corset increase, and from this period it became an integral piece of lingerie in everyday attire.

Today we still enjoy wearing corsets, some women still use corsets to shape their figure, but mostly corsets are a fun piece of outwear for a little boudoir fun. Playful Promises make their corsets and waspies from steel boning ensuring a rigid and tight shape is sculpted for maximum ooh-la-la.

Various bodices, bras and briefs were fashioned to wear underneath the corset, helping push-up busts, mould waist-lines and more.

Maria_Fowler at Playful Promises Party _020.jpg

The real revolution in lingerie happened around the 1920's where women decided to liberate themselves from the repressive corsets opting for girdles or less. This is where the lingerie revolution becomes interesting and where Playful Promises can base their inspiration and continue to create beautiful lines of underwear shaping figures and lifestyles.

The Original Pin-up

The original pin-up girl, the Gibson Girl, started as a pen-and-ink illustration by Charles Dana Gibson in the late 1800's. His sketch was the personification of the ideal female and was transformed from one illustration into illustrated stories. The Gibson Girl lasted over 20 years, beloved by her American public, she defines the history of fashion particularly for that era.

Her alluring S-curve figure, exaggerated breasts and hips and a slim waist, was achieved through a swan-bill corset. The Swan Bill Corset was fashionable around 1900 and was described as the 'health corset'. The corset busk was inserted in the centre front of the corset pushing the torso of the wearer forward and allowing hips and buttock to protrude out, giving an 'S-shape'.

The Gibson Girls's striking figure inspired a new fashion for the late 19th Century. Even her hairstyle became a popular trend, piling her strands of hair high on top of her head in a chignon. Much like today's trend.

Camille Clifford

The Gibson Girl was drawn from life models posing, such as Gibson's wife Irene and Evelyn Nesbit an artist's model, however Camille Clifford was rumoured to have inspired the Gibson Girl's fashion and figure. Camille Clifford was known for wearing a high coiffure and wearing a waspie to create her signature hourglass figure.

The Gibson Girl was depicted as a modern and independent woman, attending college and waiting to find the correct man to marry. The Gibson Girl was not just a pin-up teasing and pleasing men, she was a heroine amongst women, she inspired women's fashions and inspired a modern way of life.


In later years, towards the First World War, the Gibson Girl was not included in the suffrage movement, she was slowly beginning to loose favor amongst suffragettes and by the onset of the First World War popularity for this imaginary character had fallen.

Women seeked a more practical and masculine icon to guide them through the First World War and with this women seeked a change in fashions and lifestyle.

During the Second World War, the Pin-up girl made a come-back. Real-life Pin-up girls as well as illustrations and artwork. Celebrities and models posed to encourage the troops. The earliest Pin-up is said to be Betty Garble.

A pin-up girl would feature on mass produced pictures which were 'pinned-up' and displayed as part of 1940's and 50's popular culture. The Pin-up image could be torn out of newspapers and magazines and were in the form of postcards and more memrobilia.

In later years glamour models became what was a Pin-up girl, models such as Betty Page were the modern day Pin-up.

PUG 14 Pin-up tin Call me tin.jpg

We now enjoy retro-Pin-up girls, we are inspired by Pin-up models as well as now using male models as Pin-up boys!