20th century · Personal Research · Sewing

Research: Vintage Guide to Sewing Slips

This post is meant to complement a project I am working on for my other blog, What Would Nancy Drew Wear? I am replacing a wardrobe staple, a bias-cut (silk) slip. Even though I am using a modern pattern, I wanted to consult my vintage sewing manuals to see what advice they had to offer on this topic. Skip to the end for a summary of my findings.

I reviewed passages from the three books in collection which contained information on slips. The Complete Book of Sewing (1943) and Sewing Made Easy are sewing manuals, while Experiences with Clothing (1961) is a home economics textbook.

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1943)

Image from Amazon.com

pp. 136-137 (Available for digital borrowing at The Internet Archive Open Library)

Costume Slips:

A slip improves the appearance of the dress worn over it and protects it from soil. Slips should be carefully fitted through the hips and waist. The fabric must be smooth and lovely to look at, and in addition must wear well. National tests of the wearing qualities of slips can give us information on the better-wearing fabrics and points in cutting and construction which add to wearability.

Seam Slippage:

The commonest cause for discarding slips is “seam slippage”, which must not be confused with a ripped seam. “Seam slippage” means that the fabric tears and frays at the seam. Tests prove that to avoid it you should: (1) buy textiles which have been tested for extra strength and are so labeled, and (2) cover all seams to prevent raveling. Use a flat fell or a French seam; overcast seams do not show good results in these tests.

Holes and Fuzz:

If the fabric roughs up in fuzz or wears through in holes, it was unwisely chosen. French crepes tested for wear give twice the value of taffeta or satin in the long run. Viscose rayon and viscose acetate blending are recommended for good wear. Novelty fabrics rough up more quickly.


If a bias slip twists, the reason is either scanty cutting, or that the seam does not lie on the true bias of the fabric. Even if it entails cutting the slip a little wider, make sure that the seam lies on the true bias. A slip cut with the straight-panel front and back does not ride up. This popular four-gore construction has bias sides which ensure a fitted line.

Shoulder Straps:

Shoulder straps must be double-stitched. When the strap is turned, both edges must be stitched; when it is joined to the garment, it should extend 3 inches below the top of the garment. This joining is double and triple stitched through all the thicknesses of the fabric. If the top of the slip is lace or a single thickness of fabric, it is often reinforced at the joining with a small patch of fabric or net.

Making a Slip:

Whether the fabric is rayon crepe, broadcloth, chambray, sateen or silk crepe, fine needlework should be employed. Before cutting decide whether the top is to be single or double. Decide upon the length and allow a generous hem. Fit the pattern carefully before you cut, and save a fitted pattern for us again and again.

First join and finish the brassiere top. The edge can be bound or finished with a narrow lace edge. When the edge is single, the lace can be applied in a hand-rolled hem. When it is double, the lace is basted on the right side of one section and held in place by hand running stitches, the work is turned to the wrong side and the second section applied so that the seam under the lace is turned down and the edge of the second section is turned in; the turned edges are matched and basted, then stitched on the right side as close as possible to the edge of the lace.

Seam the slip and apply the top. The seam which joins the top to the slip does not receive as much strain as the long seams of the slip; it is pressed down and overstitched close to the edge and the edge is then overcast to prevent raveling. The long seams, however, must be covered, by either a French seam or a flat felled seam. Make shoulder straps of ribbon or fabric. Fit them carefully so they will not slip off your shoulder, then fasten them securely.

Sewing Made Easy by Mary Lynch & Dorothy Sara (1960 Revised Edition)

Image from Amazon.com

pp. 258-262 (Available for digital borrowing at The Internet Archive Open Library)

Lingerie for the Trousseau: (The 1943 book also had its slip information under a Trousseau section!)

[…] Generally speaking, however, a trousseau usually includes the following: tailored slips, nightgowns, panties, pajamas, bed jacket of nylon, silk, rayon, cotton, and drip-dry materials. Lace-trimmed or embroidered slips, nightgowns, panties, bed jacket of nylon, silk, or sheer cotton. Evening slip, full length, of nylon, rayon, or silk. […]

Slips, too, should follow simple lines, even though you may trim them elaborately. You will be thankful for their simplicity should it be necessary to make alterations later-widening or narrowing them, turning up the hem, or adding a longer hem line of matching material or lace to meet dress-length requirements.

An evening slip will last for years if it is made correctly. It should be cut along simple lines, tailored, and long enough to reach to about 1 inch above the hem line of a long evening gown. It should also be cut as low as possible in the back to permit you to wear the lowest-cut dress. […]

Materials for Lingerie:

If only for sentimental reasons, you will want your trousseau to last a long time so that you can enjoy wearing the things you made. Therefore, do not practice false economy in buying materials. Look for remnants, yes, but not for cheaper quality. These are the best choices you can make in materials:

Cotton-batiste, crepe, nainsook, lawn, voile, fine broadcloth, and cotton and dacron broadcloth.

Silk and synthetic mixtures-crepe, crepe de Chine, jersey knit, crepe-back satin, chiffon, georgette, dacron crepe, arnel, and nylon tricot.

Wool-Sheer crepe, fine challis. […]

Self trim, applied in bands and stitched down flat, is always good, because it eliminates the laundering problems which arise when two different types of materials are used in one garment. An effective lingerie trimming is satin bands on crepe, or vice versa. Whatever your choice, make sure you use the same type of [fiber]; that is, rayon satin and rayon crepe, or silk satin and silk crepe. Remember this even when buying ribbon for trimming. Lace trimming, applied in bands, edging, or appliqued, should be carefully selected; a good cotton lace is preferable to rayon lace. It will withstand laundering better and retains its strength longer.

Sewing Hints for Lingerie:

If you are not an experienced sewer, start by making lingerie that is cut on the straight grain of the material; later on you can make the bias-cut slips and nightgowns which require more intricate cutting and sewing. Bear in mind that when you wear bias-cut lingerie it is apt to get much shorter as you move in it, for slips have a habit of “riding up” when you sit down. For this reason it is best not to wear a bias-cut slip under a sheer dress.

The same holds true for the evening slip, and if you plan to wear it under a lace dress, you won’t want it to slip up to your knees when you sit down or creep up when you dance. While we are on the subject of evening slips, if you have a strapless evening gown, you can make detachable shoulder straps to be snapped on and off the slip and if you’re afraid the slip won’t stay up, use a few stays from an old girdle and sew one under each side of the seam of the slip, from the waistline up to the top of the slip. These should hold it up.

Lingerie which gets frequent laundering must have strong, flat seams and no exposed edges to fray. (See Chapter 6 on seams). The hems, especially on bias-cut garments, should be very narrow, and preferably rolled. (See Chapter 7 on hems.) Lace edgings, appliques, and all other trimmings and decorative stitching must be put on as flat and as securely as possible. (See Chapter 17 on applique and decorative stitching.)

Experiences with Clothing by L. Belle Pollard (1961)

Image from Amazon.com

(Not available digitally)

A Suggested Basic Wardrobe: pp. 8-9

[…] 3 to 5 Slips or petticoats, cotton, synthetic or blends. […]

A Limited Wardrobe:

[…] 3 to 5 Slips.

Care of Garments in Dressing: pg. 67

[…] To put on a slip with straps, insert your arms in the arm openings and extend them straight over your head. Thrust your head into the slip and permit it to fall into place. Straps on slips are easily broken if you are careless in putting them on over elbows and shoulders. Straps should be properly adjusted so that the slip never shows below the hem line of your dress or skirt.

Standards for Constructing or Purchasing Garments: pg. 313

Petticoats, Slips, Panties

Type: Determined by comfort and type of outer garment; in petticoats and slips straight or full skirts[.] Shadow panel for sheer outer garments[.] Plain or decorative finish[.]

Fabric or Material: Soft, durable, colorfast, absorbent[.] Preshrunk, washable, quick-drying[.]

Workmanship or Construction: Cut on correct grain lines[.] Seams strong, appropriately finished[.] Straps strong, firmly attached, adjustable[.] Trimming durable, washable[.]

Fit: Ease on curves of body, allowing for movement[.] Slip top high enough to cover top of bra[.] Hem length 5/8″ above hem line of dress[.]

Summary of Findings

Recommended Fibers/Fabrics for Slips:

Choose materials which will be long-lasting.
Fibers: Silk, nylon, rayon (aka viscose), rayon/acetate blends, cotton, dacron (polyester), arnel (triacetate). Cotton lace is preferable to rayon lace for long-term durability.
Fabrics: Crepes (esp. French) over taffeta or satin, fine broadcloth, chambray, batiste, sateen, sheers.
Tips: Avoid novelty fabrics. When mixing fabrics, use ones made of the same fiber for easier laundering. Choose fibers/fabrics/trims which are soft, durable, colorfast, washable, absorbent, and quick-drying. Pre-shrink/wash fabric.

What is drip-dry? One book recommended drip-dry fabrics for slips. Pollard explains that, “On many cotton fabrics a finish requiring minimum care, sometimes described as drip-dry, is used. The advantages are greater resistance to wrinkles and soiling and ease of care. Drip-dry cottons are practical because of the time and energy saved in their care.” Wrinkle-free finishes for non-synthetics are formaldehyde based chemical treatments. While the amount of formaldehyde used in them has been significantly reduced since the 20th century, thanks to regulations, one must be careful when considering using vintage fabrics and clothing that may have a wrinkle-free finish. When stored in a sealed plastic bag, these textiles will release a fishy odor when the bag is opened.*

Personally, I would avoid synthetics for slips when possible. Synthetics are naturally staticky. I also do not like cottons (which would be found as broadcloth or chambray or batiste here) because their texture causes them to “grab” skirt hems and then bulk between the legs.

Recommended Construction for Slips:

  • Sew it so that it is easily altered later.
  • Cut on correct grain lines; a bias slip twists if not on the true bias.
  • The horizontal seam which joins the top to the skirt is not as strained as the vertical seams; it can be pressed down and overstitched close to the edge and the edge is then overcast to prevent raveling.
  • The vertical seams must be either a French seam or a flat felled seam. Overcast seams in slips are threatened by “seam slippage”, where fabrics ravel and fray away from the seam.
  • After the strap is turned, both edges are top-stitched.
  • The strap should extend 3 inches below the top of the garment and is double and triple stitched through all the layers. If the top of the slip is lace or a single thickness of fabric, it can be reinforced at the strap join with a small patch of fabric or net.
  • Top edge can be bound or finished with a narrow lace edge.

Recommended Design/Fit for Slips:

  • Choose a simple design. Decorative touches may be added later.
  • Slip top high enough to cover top of bra.
  • Top may be single or double layer.
  • Hem length should be 5/8″ above hem line of dress.
  • Talbot recommends a generous hem, while Lynch and Sara recommend a narrow rolled hem, especially for bias-cut slips.
  • Straps are adjustable.
  • A slip with a skirt of four gores, cut with the straight-panel front and back does not ride up, while bias-cut sides ensure a fitted line and may eliminate the need for closures. (This is referring to the type of slip as seen in the Simplicity pattern above.)

Wardrobe Recommendations for Slips:

  • 3-5 slips are recommended, whether one has a limited or basic wardrobe.
  • Type is determined by comfort and style of outer garments. Slim slips for slim-cut dresses/skirts, fuller slips for fuller dresses/skirts.
  • Use as a shadow panel for sheer garments. Bias-cuts ride up when seated, so for sheer garments, choose a slip cut on the straight of grain.


  • Collier, Billie J., Bide, Martin, and Tortora, Phyllis G. Understanding Textiles. 7th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 2009.

4 thoughts on “Research: Vintage Guide to Sewing Slips

  1. This is a great post. Sewing slips and underthings in general is tricky. I agree, cottons cling and make such frustrating slips to wear. I love to use china silk when I can find it but it’s getting harder and harder to source. I have one slip I made with it that’s all of 4 years old now and going strong still.

    Jennie from theuglydame.blogspot.com


    1. Thanks! I was hoping it would be useful. China silk is great. I’ve been able to get it at Mood when I lived near NYC, now I’ve been buying it from the Fashion Fabrics Club website.


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