Transparency in the Forties

Dazelle Foster Lowe, 1940

Dazelle Foster Lowe, 1940

My impression that older women favored transparent fabric is just that—an impression. I base it on my photo collection featuring older American women, cobbled together from found snap shots, magazine and newspaper articles, and pictures from online archives. Although it is large, I cannot claim that it is representative.

Los Angeles County Fair

Los Angeles County Fair. Click to enlarge

But left me present some examples from one decade, the 1940s, to illustrate my claim. At top is a photo of the head of the African American division of the Home Demonstration workers in North Carolina, Dazelle Foster Lowe, in a dress with a transparent bodice.  Next we see a lace maker at the Los Angeles County Fair in the 1940s with an entirely transparent dress.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Transparent arms and bodice were quite common on dresses for special occasions.  Here are three of many.

Do you have any examples to add from your family photo albums?


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5 Responses to Transparency in the Forties

  1. Bunny says:

    I think the arrival of nylon on the dressmaking scene suddenly made all this transparency available to the masses. Just my theory!

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    The same thought that Bunny has was my first thought, too. No ironing with nylon! But my strongest memory is not of adult dresses, but dresses for babies. They were hot and slippery. A danger was a girl baby slipping right out of your arms, so slippery was a nylon dress with its nylon slip underneath.

  3. Jennifer (from Holliepoint) says:

    I frequently find sheer nylon dresses from the midcentury period in large sizes and matronly styles. I’ve wondered about their popularity with older women as well. I too think they were likely popular with older women which has always seemed a bit odd to me because they seem somewhat immodest (then again, perhaps that was part of the appeal!). I think the point made above about the easy care nature of nylon is probably a pretty solid theory as to why this particular style of dress was popular with older women. I suppose after a lifetime of housework one would have readily embraced wash and wear dresses. Maybe they’d just had enough damned ironing!

    • Lynn says:

      Thank you all for your thoughts about nylon. I hadn’t made the connection, since I have seen these transparent clothes before the late thirties–maybe then they were silk organza. But the link with their proliferation just as nylon hit the shelves makes a lot of sense!

  4. I also think of nylon dresses as the first wash, drip dry, and wear clothing. My Uncle Mel was very proud of his waffle-textured nylon shirt around 1949. (Yes, you could see his tank-type undershirt through it.) I say it was waffle-textured, but so was seersucker, the traditional summer fabric, so maybe that was the reason for the textured nylon. I think practicality — no ironing! — sold nylon dresses to older women (and sheer summer dresses had been chic for several years. The sad fact is that nylon looked cool, but wasn’t, really.

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