Ask a modern audience about their opinion of the teddy in fashion and chances are they’ll think you’re talking about a cuddly toy, not an item of clothing. Originating in the 1910’s, the teddy is an all-in-one undergarment that combines knickers and a camisole. Usually loose fitting and made from silk, it most closely resembled what we now call a playsuit. Why was it called the teddy? No one knows for sure, but American Speech IV, published in 1929, theorised the name was derived from ‘its real or fancied resemblance in general shape…to the teddy-bear.’
Gaining popularity in the 1920’s as the preferred garment to slip under one’s flapper dress, the teddy was a decidedly risqué prospect at the time. In 1930 film ‘Party Girl’ the titular character (a thinly veiled term for a prostitute) is seen wearing just a black lace teddy. The film was considered so unsuitable for public consumption it was banned in the UK. By the end of the 1940’s the teddy had fallen out of fashion, but it enjoyed resurgence in the 1980’s, seen on the likes of Joan Collins as the feisty Alexis in US soap opera Dallas. Reimagined as a tighter, skimpier bodysuit in the wake of the ‘hardbody’ ideals of that hedonistic decade, this teddy was altogether more provocative. Fast forward thirty years and the teddy has ventured into even sexier territory. Google the words ‘teddy lingerie’ now and the resulting sites are entirely NSFW. A far cry from their delicate belle époque ancestors, the ridiculously skimpy contraptions on sale now are more like porn star costumes – the words crotchless and fishnet feature heavily. That’s not to say the traditional teddy has entirely disappeared. Ebay is doing a roaring trade in vintage and replica silk teddies. For burlesque loving girls with their rouged lips and rolled 1940s hairdos, the teddy is as relevant as ever.