Second Hand Shopper’s guide to: Slips

Here it is, as promised, a guide to the oft-overlooked world of slips and petticoats.

Definitions
Full Slip: “A woman’s sleeveless undergarment the same length as a dress, usually suspended from shoulder straps.”

Half Slip: “A woman’s topless slip that hangs from the waist, Also called a waist-slip.”

Petticoat: “An underskirt often full and trimmed at the hemline as with lace or ruffles, worn by women and girls.”

Crinoline: “A full stiff petticoat made of crinoline fabric; a skirt stiffened with hoops.”

Buying new

Unsurprisingly, my first port of call for new slips is granny’s favourite, Marks and Spencer. For simple, anti-static slips in modern shapes and neutral shades, St Michael can’t be beaten. They’re great for work-a-day staples with neither too much fabric nor too many embellishments. The value range plain full slip comes in at £8.00 and is available in black or white.

For shapewear M&S are also good, but as someone who needs support in all the right places I prefer to invest in something just that little bit more specialist. Here I defer to Gemma Cartwright of Big Girls Browse, who raves about the Spanx Hide and Sleek Full Slip, £66 from Fig Leaves. This little number is ideal for giving you that Joan Holloway shape beneath your shift, or smoothing out your muffin-tops under a wrap dress – and gives you the “modesty insurance” up top that wrap dresses so often require…

(Check out Gemma’s Ultimate Shapewear Review.)

Buying vintage


For vintage-inspired pieces you could do a lot worse than look to Ebay for inspiration. My full petticoats are both modern recreations of vintage designs – something of a godsend for the fuller-figured amongst us as clothes just weren’t made to accommodate a sizeable derriere back then. A bit of browsing can throw up some fabulous retro pieces, some originals, some reproduction, as well as modern-day takes on original shapes. For example, I have a wonderful half-slip with just three layers of deep chiffon around the hem, which adds fullness to my circle skirts without making me look like an extra from the local amateur production of Grease!

Etsy is also an amazing source for vintage slips – just narrow the search to vintage, pop “slip” in the keyword box and bring back (last night) 3500 odd results. Some of these are for slip-on shoes, but the majority are relevant. You can search by colour, but Etsy does require a bit of effort in finding the right sizing…

For reworked vintage I am in love with etsian Doublespeaks’s embroidered slips, which feature cute hand-embroidered slogans and images. (Note: some of her slogans are less “cute” and may not be office appropriate.) My personal favourite slip is my bright orange “Yours til Niagara Falls” number, which I like to wear under my button-through denim dress to add a very literal “flash” of colour.

If you want true vintage and are willing to splash out, the best online dealer of vintage slips I’ve found is Dorothea’s Closet. If I were wealthy I’d be investing in the Lipstick Red Vanity Fair slip ($70) and the Koro crinoline ($95), and wishing the rest (particularly the “Love Lace” navy half slip) were in my size!

It won’t surprise you to discover some of my most oft-worn bargain slips are charity shop finds, and have cost under £3. In fairness, £3 is my cut-off for slips, and I’m very particular about what I buy. Always check armpits for staining and both fabric and trimming for holes and tears. I always check lace very carefully for bobbling too, as I’m picky about my undergarments being “as new”. Check labels and fabric if you’re interested in true vintage – labels will have “that vintage design” to them and fabrics will be less synthetic and less silky to touch (unless they’re real silk…) – stiffer nylons and heavier cottons. Some true vintage slips may even have zips. Personally, I find Vanity Fair (who have been manufacturing undergarments since 1899, and whose slips I’ve found in charity shops ranging from post-war era to present day) and Charnos slips fit my shape especially well.

Things to look for


I’m always on the look out for unusual colours – anything that breaks away from the usual black, white, navy and flesh tones, but particularly mint green, baby blue, lemon, cobalt… It’s also worth keeping an eye open for traditional fabrics – starched nylon being great for creating structured lines under tailored pieces. And anything that catches your eye and will make you feel special in that particular item, be it luxurious lace, ribbon trim or embroidery – my blue slip has a pleated hem which flicks out from a pencil shape and is something I love to wear, particularly when it’s windy and I think my skirt might catch a breeze…

Shape guide

It’s best to match your slips to the dresses you’ll wear them with for best fit.

  • Traditional slips were fitted over the bust and sold by chest size, and are great under anything close-fitting. If you’re wearing a dress with a cleavage, nightdress (1) or bra-style (2) tops are the only way to go, as anything else will peek over. Slightly fuller traditional bust shapes (3) are great for creating a smooth line under knitwear.

1) Vintage Slinky Purple 70s Nightgown
– this would be perfect under a clingy maxi dress

2a) Vintage yellow pin-up full slip

2b) Charnos Superfit bra slip: £24

3) Vintage 1950s Van Ralte slip

  • A more modern style with a straighter cut top can provide much-needed modesty insurance if your v-neck is just a little too risqué for the office, or if your blouses have a tendency to bulge. Go plain (4) for crisp practicality, lightly trimmed (5) for  a romantic look, or lacy (6) for a sexier evening take. Modern slips are often a looser fit too, with a more forgiving waist to accommodate the current typical female form.

4) Calvin Klein Solution v-neck chemise, £34

5) M&S lace-trimmed full slip, £19.50

6) Gossard Artemis black lace slip

  • Bias-cut slips (7) hug closely to the hips then offer just a little kick at the hem, and are best worn under bias-cut dresses – ideal if you want to smooth out your base silhouette.

7) Late 40s strainless rayon bias cut slip

  • Waist-fitted slips (8a) are harder to find, and in most cases will be quite high-waisted (8b), characterised by a bust panel that extends beyond the typical under-bust line. On rare occasion you may be able to buy a waist-fitted slip, petticoat or “under-dress” from a vintage dealer, and I’ve seen them listed on the likes of  Posh Girl Vintage VERY occasionally.

8a) 1950s Bullet Bra full slip from Posh Girl Vintage

8b) Vintage 50s vanity fair full slip

  • Be careful of wearing chemises (9) as slips. Their length means they’ll often end up ruched up around your waist, and they are made for sleeping in, so with extra room for comfort and less fit. In a pinch they can work… but it’s a bit of a trial and error process!

9) Fig Leaves satin chemise £20

Any questions?

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4 thoughts on “Second Hand Shopper’s guide to: Slips

  1. Thank you for the link!

    I recently got a good shapewear slip with built-in bra (bit like the Charnos one above) by a brand called Marilyn Monroe (I know, *vom*) at TK Maxx for a few quid. Really pleased with it. It doesn’t have quite the power of the Spanx one but for a fraction of the price it’s a good budget buy. TK Maxx is definitely worth a look.

    But now you’ve got me wanting to search ebay for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof style pieces…so pretty!

  2. Great topic! I wear slips almost all year long. I really find that they make my clothes look better, make me feel prettier, and definitely more pulled together. I get most of my slips at thirft stores and then dye them the colors I want. You wouldn’t believe the rainbow I have created.

  3. Wow! Nice write up on my favorite vintage wear……collecting vintage slips is what got me into selling vintage years ago (when I needed the extra money and realized my slip collection had surpassed 100 pieces!). I still hoard them, just at my shop rather than my home. That said, thanks for the shout out for my website (Dorothea’s Closet Vintage). Its nice to get a mention for something I love so much! I’ll have to add some slips soon, there are easily a couple hundred in the loft at my vintage shop!

    Thanks again!

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