You are currently viewing What’s Underneath the Clothes: History of the Slip
Coach bag, Very Fine Dance Sport sandals, Rebecca Collins necklace, gemstone bangle, Covered Perfectly top, Nordgreen watch, sunglasses c/o Eagle Eyes, and scarf c/o Uno Alla Volta

A brief history of the slip. Read when the slip became in fashion as underwear, how it was looked at in different times, and when the underwear-as-outerwear popped up during the various fashion eras.


  1. History of the Slip: Smocks and Chemises
  2. The 18th Century France
  3. Motor-Fshion, Suffragettes, the Great War, and the Golden Twenties
  4. Slip as Underwear to Save Fabric for Lining
  5. Post WWII the Slip Gets Shape
  6. Birth of the Half-Slip
  7. Sartorial Minimalism of the 1990s
  8. The Underwear-As-Outerwear
  9. Slips, and Half-Slips in Alaska
  10. Stylish Monday Linkup Party: What to Wear Underneath
  11. References


Disclosure: This post has affiliate links.


History of the Slip: Smocks and Chemises

In Medieval Times, a smock, a loosely fitting lightweight underdress cut from rectangles of linen or silk for the commoners and Rich, respectively, served as underwear to protect the outerwear from sweat. Smocks also served for protection of the skin during bathing while the plague run over Europe. More on fashion and their relation to epidemics.

However, there are underwear issues beyond hygiene. For dresses to flow nicely and not clinch in dry cold weather, what is underneath is key. Therefore, It became fashionable to wear these slips underneath dresses as well. In France, the word chemises referred to smocks.


embroidered smock late 16th century
Italian smock from the late 16th century made of linen, silk and metal thread. Credit; Rogers Fund, 1910. Met Museum open source.



The 18th Century France

At the French Court, Queen Marie Antoinette and her female personal wore a so-called chemise as leisurewear when meeting casually among close girlfriends. Two versions existed: the chemise a la Reine (shirt of the Queen), and the chemise a la Guimard. Historians believe that the latter name referred to the famous French ballerina and Paris Opera star, Marie-Madeleine Guimard (27 December 1743, Paris — 4 May 1816). Chemises had a loose cut, and came in various fabrics and colors. A drawstring or sash at the waist or neck gave shape to the garment.

Chemise and underwear only differed in so far that the female court members wore the chemise over stays and a petticoat. No wonder that Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun‘s painting of Queen Marie Antoinette (photo below) in her chemise created a public scandal.


Queen Marie-Antoinette in her chemise painted by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun photo by Yann Caradec CC BY-SA 2.0
Painting of Queen Marie-Antoinette in her chemise by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Photo of the painting by Yann Caradec from Paris, France, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons



Motorfashion, Suffragettes, the Great War, and the Golden Twenties

The invention of the car, and young wealthy women driving them led to motor age fashion. The industrialization not only of clothes making increased the number of women in the work force. Consequently, parctical reasons together with the first women movements contributed to the end of griddles, and corsets. Finally, after the Great War, the slip replace those types of underwear.
Obviously, a loosely fitting, lightweight slip went well as underwear for the flapper and shift dresses of the 1920s. Some historians consider the flapper dress as an early version of the modern slipdress.


Slip as Underwear to Save Fabric for Lining

In the 1930s and during WWII, fabric was rationed. Therefore, a slip could substitute for lining to give dresses for nice flow. The wearing comfort of slips increased with the introduction of the biascut that permits more stretch of the garment.



Post WWII the Slip Gets Shape

Starting in the 1940s, the cut of slips defined the bust, and waist. Typically, lace and/or satin trims, small satin bows or a little fake pearl embellished the garments to add a sexy allure. They were made from silk, rayon, and later polyester. The full-slip was supposed to be about an inch to and inch and a half (2-3 cm) shorter than the dress. It was considered inappropriate when the slip would show.

No wonder that after WWII, Polish refugee women wore slips these beautiful slips as day-dresses. The West German women ridiculed them for not knowing that slips are underwear. At that time, in West-Germany, a lot of frustration existed among the people who had faced the war in the Rhine-Ruhr area. They lived in bombed-out houses, while refugees got assigned apartments in the newly-built housing.

The style of the full slip remained similar about 30 years. The second women movement finally made it acceptable for women and girls to wear pants in school and at work. As a result, by the 1970s, young women considered slips as old-fashioned underwear only worn by women in midlife and beyond.


Birth of the Half-Slip

In the 1950s, the petticoat was a half-slip worn underneath the new dress and skirt style introduced by Yes Saint Laurent. In the 1960s, slim, straight-cut half-slips aka underskirts came up. Their hame typically had a lace trim. Young women considered it sexy when the lace became visible under their sheaths when sitting down.

Elizabeth Taylor in slip on poster of a cat on a hot tin roof
Poster for the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) showing Elizabeth Taylor in a white erotic tailored slip with lace details. Public domain.



Sartorial Minimalism of the 1990s

In the 1990s, slip dresses became part of the underwear-as-outerwear trend. Typical fabrics were charmeuse, layered chiffon, silk, cotton, or polyester often with lace trims. More on what to wear with a slip dress.


mature woman in an original slip dress from the 1990s
Me in 2017 in an original slip-dress from the 1990s. Calvin Klein block-heel pumps, Celine tote, Fossil jacket, Hermes collier de chien bangle, half-tee c/o Halftee, Winkwood sunglasses, and Hana’s Czech glass necklace c/o Uno Alla Volta.



The Underwear-As-Outerwear

Towards the end of the 2010s, the underwear-as-outerwear or lingerie trend resurfaced. This trend includes corsets, bras, and the slipdress.


mature woman in slip dress
Chica maxi dress, metal bag, straw hat, Hermes collier de chien belt and leather band, Hermes enamel bangles, statement necklace, Ray Ban sunglasses, and Juicy Couture mules.


Slips, and Halfslips in Alaska

Recall the photo of Lady Diane Spencer in her summer skirt? Back in 1981, I considered it sexy in a romantic way. Call me a prude if you want. But today, I wear halfslips under summer dresses and skirts to avoid such see-thru. One reason is also that every fabric you can see thru also means that harmful UV radiation can travel thru the fabric as well. Living in a region with the Sun up 24/7 for nearly 90 days, you want to reduce your sun exposure.

2modern slips and 3 halfslips
From left clockwise: Gray bias cut silk slip, nude half-slip I wore under the feather skirt shown in the featured image, black knee-length half-slip, shapewear in form of a slip, above the knee-length half slip with thick lace I wear under (too) short (for my taste) dresses. I also have the nude half-slip in black and a longer version of the silk full-slip in blue. The shapewear is a lifesaver for all my body conscious knit dresses.



Needless to say, slips are also great for slim layering. With about seven months of winter, slips are part of my strategy to create thin air layers between fabrics for insulation. Consequently, I wear them in layering for thermal comfort during winter.


Stylish Monday Linkup Party: What to Wear Underneath

My blogging friends and I invite you to join us at the Stylish Monday Linkup Party with your outfit posts.


six fashion bloggers telling what they wear underneath
Hostesses of the Stylish Monday linkup party. Visit their blogs to see what they wear underneath their stylish clothes. Hint: We each feature different pieces of what’s underneath.




Bendall, S.A., 2018. Back to the Basics: The Smock in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. The History of Underclothes. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1951. Reprint, London: Faber and Faber, 1981.

DeWitt, Nancy, 2016. Motor Age Fashion, Toppan Leefung Pte. Ltd., China.

Döbler, Hannsferdinand, 1972. Kultur und Sittengeschichte der Welt – Kleidung, Mode, Schmuck. Bertelsmann Verlag, München, Germany.

Smithsonian, 2019. Women: Our Story. DK Publishing, New York.


Outfit details featured photo: Coach bag, Very Fine Dance Sport sandals, Rebecca Collins necklace, gemstone bangle, Covered Perfectly top,  Nordgreen watch (use code HLSTYLE for 15% off), sunglasses c/o Eagle

Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. My wife typically wears a half-slip under a skirt and a full slip under a dress. She WOULD NEVER…wear underwear on the outside of her clothes!!!!!

  2. Very interesting post Nicole. Made me go to my collection of slips and look at them – realise I need a couple more for summer – thanks for the post

  3. Nicole! Such a great history lesson on slips! I had a drawer full of slips until recently. I wore them regularly under skirts and dresses! I think it’s great that you still wear them and use them not only for smoothing out the layers, and to address shear material but also for warmth! Another fun monthly collaborations!
    Julie xo

  4. what a great blog on the history of the slip. I so find it necessary to have a 1/2 slip on hand; especially in the summer months. It keeps me cool and my skirts and dresses from sticking to me – also a necessity under white or sheer garments. Ah, and I do love a 90’s slip dress, I think they are wonderful layering pieces and can be worn with layers over or under them for endless options!\
    Great post Nicole!

  5. Lucy Bertoldi

    You know how I love reading the history my friend! And I too love slips and find them suitable for many reasons, that you also list. I’m finding it harder and harder to find some at the right lengths these days though! Great post!


    Thank you for your article. I believe all women should wear full slips under dresses and half slips under skirts. This gives your dress or skirt protection from your body oils, makes the fabric not see thru and helps the dress and skirt not stick to you but flow over your body much prettier!!! Young ladies dress like a lady!!!

  7. Oh that was a fun read, Nicole! I wrote an article a few years ago about the history of underwear and it was so fascinating to me. This was equally interesting learning the history of slips as well.