You would think a game of Chinese Whispers were in progress, given the way some names mutate or adapt over time or across cultural and geographic boundaries. Certainly in the fashion sector we see items adopting similar but uniquely different names in different situations. The item they call a vest in the USA is known here at home as a waistcoat, whereas what we call a vest is more commonly known across the Atlantic as an undervest. Our trainers are known by Americans as sneakers and their jumper is actually a lady’s pinafore dress.
Then we have the camisole, which until modern times was strictly underwear and never seen or worn as an outer garment. As its use has become more generalised, the term has changed from signifying a sensual, lightweight type of upper-body underwear to a stronger, more substantial outer garment used for much more than wearing beneath other fashions.
It’s a trend that has taken place with other types of underwear too in recent times, where undergarment items that were never put to other uses have found a place elsewhere. Previously bra designers concentrated on coming up with invisible, seamless supports, but their visibility in formal and professional contexts is perfectly acceptable now. And don’t mention male designer briefs, which all too often find the light of day above low hanging waistlines of jeans and cargo pants – a trend that most other people can’t wait to pass by.
The camisole top first emerged with the fashion for visible underwear, but seems to have lost something of its lingerie roots. Materials changed, the fit became closer and designs more colourful. And whereas some of the first camisoles offered support, the modern derivatives are provided with underwiring and other structures to remain flattering and comfortable when worn as the main support.
So is the time right for the camisole to make a proper comeback. There’s a stylish elegance, comfort and pleasure to this item that can’t be forgotten. Worn well they’re make perfect sense as a bold statement with a purpose. Modern colourful designs and patterns don’t blend well with semi-opaque tops though; a certain a clash of colour and a crash of patterns can only spell trouble. They’ll work more harmoniously below knitwear, dresses or shirts, and can have a smoothing effect, allowing the over garment to move into its natural shape rather than grabbing and clinging.
A high street vintage clothing shop is a great source for a variety of camisoles, old and newer. Of course the high street is not the only way to sift through the offerings as many of the better establishments also maintain comprehensive online inventory with a complete range including lacey, frilly pastels to bolder silky designs, showcasing the many eras of camisole taste. If you are from the generation for whom “camisole” or “cami” is not purely underwear, you may be surprised by some of the original styles. You’ll find they are more lightweight and revealing and need to be worn with care of for certain intimate occasions only. But this overt feminine look is certainly not the preserve of underwear only, with all kinds of previously hidden styles now experiencing the light of day.
Edward Banks writes endlessly on fashion in all its different varieties. Underwear derivatives like the camisole
are always in sought after. Edward explains how vintage clothing
stores keep an eye on changing trends and cover demand.