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 free of splinters and 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, 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. Snagging or running a stocking prompted a spate of cursing and knuckle-biting, and the damaged stockings were promptly delivered into the hands of hosiery-repair specialists, needle-women who slipped smooth darning eggs into the stockings, and with the tiniest and finest needles and threads, repaired the holes and runs.

Mom’s favorite type of lingerie was “the slip.” Half-slips, full-slips and full-circle crinoline petticoats were de rigueur elements of the wardrobe of the era, not just for their lacy prettiness but to create a barrier of modesty between ladies’ two separate legs and and the sun shining through them.

Our lingerie care was gentle hand-washing in the bathroom sink with scented lingerie soap, and draping the 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 brassieres, panties, stockings and slips 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!”

Although lingerie was lacy and beautiful, no one but the wearer was actually meant to see it.  An exposed bra-strap or a slip slipping below the hemline indicated 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.

My father films my mother as she assesses the qualities of a lace-trimmed half-slip in a Hong Kong lingerie shop. Mom loved pretty underwear and apparently Dad did, too.

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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