My mother loved pretty underwear. Lace bordered panties and brassieres were rolled, folded and snuggled next to each other in a drawer lined with crisp white tissue paper and sweet-smelling sachets. Hosiery… two separate nylon stockings per pair…was safely nestled in another drawer, one which was hopefully free of any wood splinters or nail-heads.

Unless it was to sneak out the front door at day-break in a chenille bathrobe and fluffy slippers to bring in the milk, butter, eggs and newspaper, ladies in the 1950’s and 1960’s rarely left the house without gloves on their hands, hats on their weekly-coiffed heads and nylon stockings on their legs. My mother went to frequent bridge games, afternoon teas and cocktail parties, and needed longevity from her hosiery. When she snagged or ran a stocking (prompting a spate of cursing and knuckle-biting) it wasn’t discarded, but delivered into the hands of the local hosiery-repair specialists, skillful needle-women who slipped a smooth darning egg into the stocking, and with the tiniest and finest needle and thread, repaired the holes and runs.

If it can be said that my mother had a favorite type of lingerie, it would have to be “the slip.” Half-slips, full-slips and full-circle crinoline petticoats were de rigueur elements of the wardrobe of the era, and I vividly remember Mom’s obsession with them. It was unthinkable to wear a dress or skirt without a slip between it and our female body, and heaven forbid should we be caught with the sun shining through our skirts, revealing that we actually possessed two separate legs.

The lingerie care routine meant gentle hand-washing in the bathroom sink with special lingerie soap, and draping the innumerable dripping garments over the shower bar and towel racks. Often with only one bathroom in the house, my father, outnumbered three to one by wife and daughters, had to slap his way through the jungle of dripping brassieres, panties, slips, stockings, garter belts and girdles to get to his morning shave, only to find the sink full of soaking unmentionables.  This routinely evoked a big sigh and a holler, “One of you come and get this STUFF out of here!”

Back then, even though ladies lingerie was lacy and glamorous, no one but the wearer was actually meant to see it.  An exposed bra-strap or a slip “slipping” past the hemline might be perceived as slovenliness, and discreet whispered remarks between ladies, “Pardon me, but your slip is showing,” or young girls, “Hey there, it’s snowing down south,” were genteel reminders to get your act together and pull up your underwear.

This picture was taken in Hong Kong, during an R & R trip from Ceylon in 1971. My father films my mother as she assesses the qualities of a lace-trimmed half-slip, making sure of her purchase. I take my own snapshot of the two of them and the sign in the background clearly stating that, regrettably, “…garments in this boutique may not be taken on approval or exchanged.”

One comment on “Unmentionables”

  1. Didn’t all mothers use Dreft, the pink powder, to wash their delicates in those days?

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