Vintage Appreciation: 1930s Silk Kestos Bra & Tap Pant Set with Ribbonwork Boudoir Cap

When it comes to lingerie history, I can easily pinpoint the 1920s and 1930s as my favourite eras.  In no other decades was such exquisite construction and attention to embellishment quite so commonplace. In my growing vintage collection, it’s always these pieces that I return to as inspiration. Elements like delicately hand finished silk binding and exquisite floral ribbonwork are just so utterly irresistible. I adore that this level of craftsmanship was considered far more the norm then it is in today’s fast fashion world and truly it is something to aspire to.

Silk Kestos-stye bra and tap pants, ribbonwork silk boudoir cap. Modelled by K. Laskowska, photography by Jessica Flavin
Silk Kestos-stye bra and tap pants, ribbonwork silk boudoir cap. Modelled by K. Laskowska, photography by Jessica Flavin

In this first installment of ‘Vintage Appreciation’ I’m looking at one of the jewels of my vintage collection: a 1930s ‘Kestos’ style bralet and tap pant set with a fantastically frivolous boudoir cap to top it off.  The Kestos bralet is a rather significant milestone in lingerie history. Patented in 1926, it was the first ever commercially available bra with seperately defined cups (prior to the 1920s, the ideal bust shape was the heavily structure ‘monoboob’, achieved with spectacular contraptions and padding known as bust improvers!).

Kestos style silk bralet. Strappy details most certainly aren't a modern invention! Photo by K Laskowska
Kestos style silk bralet. Strappy details most certainly aren’t a modern invention! Photo by K Laskowska

Kestos was a British brand, founded in London by Polish designer Rosaline Kiln: that may be one of the many reasons I feel such affection for this bra style! The Kestos bralet was characterised by its two lightly darted triangle cups (offering a subtle lift and seperation of the breasts that had previously not been seen in fashion). What is particularly striking about this style, however, are its intricate strapping structures: I am forever amused that these details are seen as modern inventions when they can be traced this far back! Although Kestos was a specific brand with a patented design, this of course didn’t prevent a multitude of copies arising. I am fairly certain that the silk bra in this blog post isn’t a genuine Kestos piece. It is certainly too intricate and detailed for a mass-produced utilitarian garment and lacks the signature label: but that’s what makes it so much more interesting…

Kestos style silk bra embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Kestos style silk bra embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

This bralet/tap pant set showcases an intricacy in hand finishing and embellishment that is almost entirely lacking in modern lingerie (indeed, the closest I’ve been able to find so far are the creations of Pillowbook!).  They feature beautifully elegant cording, embroidery and cutwork. I particularly adore the layering of silk satin over crepe: that contrast of textures is so subtle but delicious. The motifs are repeated on each cup of the bra and leg of the knickers: clearly painstaking hand work, yet so accurately repeated.

Kestos style silk bra inside hand finished binding detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Kestos style silk bra inside hand finished binding detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Every element of these garments has been carefully considered and impeccably executed. The neck and underarm binding of the cups is exquisitely narrow. Even the wider underbust binding and the tap pant French seams are beautifully hand stitched for a near-invisible finish: no machine would be capable of such refined construction.

1930s silk tap pant embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
1930s silk tap pant embroidery and cutwork detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

The tap pant itself is another great joy of mine; although its popularity has long since waned and outside independent brands you’re unlikely to find them, they remain my comfiest knicker style. Fitted at the waist with loose, voluminous hips and legs, they’re essentially knickers you forget that you’re wearing… With the added bonus that there’s an immense amount of satisfaction in their swishiness, particularly if they are cut on the bias.  Although my modern tap pant purchases lack such intricate embellishment, it does warm my heart that embroidery and lace appliqué were quite commonplace in bygone eras: I cannot wait to share more of my vintage tap pant collection with you!

1930s silk tap pant interior embroidery and cutwork stitching. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
1930s silk tap pant interior embroidery and cutwork stitching. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

It may seem a little strange to someone who doesn’t make garments themselves, but I always get the most satisfaction from the inside of garments. Lingerie doesn’t have the bulky linings of outerwear so this it the best way to get a garment to reveal its secrets. There’s an intense amount of joy I find in seeing the work that’s gone in to create the intricate outside shell of beautiful embellishment – particularly when it’s as neat as on these tap pants. The contrast between the two is quite stunning.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Boudoir caps are a relatively recent discovery of mine. Although headwear is not necessarily something that someone might immediately put in the lingerie category, this garment rather does epitomise some of my greatest loves of lingerie. I’m almost a little saddened now at how these bonnets have become more-or-less obsolete; I sincerely doubt that many modern women don these in the boudoir to protect their hair styles! Nevertheless, I’m continuing to collect these beauties for the pure satisfaction of craftsmanship.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

Boudoir caps almost appear to be the perfect canvases for lingerie embellishment. They utilise the most beautiful fabrics: exquisite silk satins, fine tulles, intricate Schiffli embroideries and delicate leavers lace. Expensive techniques such as pleating and decorative smocking are commonplace. My personal favourite, however, remains ribbonwork.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

I truly adore the ribbonwork of this era. It’s almost as if you see a beautiful floral garden sprouting from the finest silk ribbons!  Having attempted the technique many times myself, I am truly in awe of the skill taken to create these gorgeous frills and rosettes.

Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska
Silk, Schiffli embroidery and ribbonwork boudoir cap detail. Photography by Karolina Laskowska

I hope that you enjoyed this first installment of ‘vintage appreciation’! Truly, the joy of these pieces is in the details. I’ll be back soon with some more of my favourite vintage pieces and some suggestions on where to find these styles in the modern lingerie world. Plus, of course, how this gorgeous bra inspired me to take my own modernised design twist!

Which of these pieces is your favourite? Would you ever wear one of these garment shapes?

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7 thoughts on “Vintage Appreciation: 1930s Silk Kestos Bra & Tap Pant Set with Ribbonwork Boudoir Cap

  1. I’ve always wanted to try tap pants. They seem like they’d be perfect and would let your nether region breathe a bit. Also, your writing style is so lovely! I always learn something new when I read from you (even the technical bits I don’t quite understand haha). And black women might be one of the only groups to still wear bonnets at night. The majority of the ones I know (and me…when I don’t lose mines) wear silk bonnets to bet on the regular. If mines looked like this I might keep up with it more often.

    1. Tap pants are my absolute favourite type of knickers to wear, it truly feels like you’re not wearing anything! (and as a slight aside, when they’re in natural fibres they’re *so* much more healthy for you than anything close fitted. I’m so happy you enjoy my writing 🙂

      It’s lovely to know that boudoir bonnets are still in regular use… It makes me wonder if there might be a market to start making some ridiculously embellished pieces 😀

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