You don’t know what a step-in is??

I have a special place in my heart for lingerie but most especially vintage lingerie from the 1920’s and 1930’s. They were usually made of silk, crepe de chine, silk charmeuse, cotton and crepe silk and decorated with embroidery, lace, and applique. In the later 1920’s and early 1930’s, vintage lingerie would be made from crepe satin and crepe de chine. The step-in and the chemise were the must-have undergarments for flappers to wear.


Lingerie models

A step-in is very similar to a chemise except that they buttoned or snapped at the crotch. They were soft, smooth, luxurious and light but most importantly, they were easy and comfortable to wear which was a complete deviation from the Edwardian undergarments which were very restrictive and uncomfortable. All you had to do was ‘step-in’ to wear it.

The chemise is usually straight cut and has been around since the 5th century. In the 1920’s, the chemise evolved into a shorter version of its predecessor and was often worn to replace bras and panties.

Lingerie model

Billy Jane

Images found here

In HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, set in the prohibition era of the 1920’s, you get to see a lot of scenes with women wearing lingerie. I love the scene in Season 1, Episode 3: Broadway Limited between characters Lucy Danziger (Nucky Thompson’s girlfriend) and Margaret Schroeder (Nucky’s new love interest) in the dressing room. Die-hard fans of the show will know what I am referring to.

Lucy Danziger

Paz de la Huerta and Kelly Macdonald as Lucy Danziger and Margaret Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire

At boutique dress and lingerie shop, La Belle Femme, the manager Madame Jeunet tells her new employee Margaret that they have an important customer who needs assistance in the dressing room. In the dressing room awaits a very impatient Lucy. Lucy tells Margaret to undress her without realising that it was Margaret she was talking to. Lucy recognises Margaret and is unimpressed. Posing nude and pouting, Lucy demands for Margaret to get her the step-in to try on. Margaret doesn’t know what a step-in is so grabs the wrong item to show to Lucy. This aggravates Lucy and she angrily points this out to Margaret. Lucy then demands for Margaret to bend down and help her into the step-in.

It is probably one of the funniest scenes in the show. Although, I shrug in embarrassment for Margaret. I remember working as a sales assistant in one of my first jobs and I must say that attitudes towards ‘shop girls’ were not too dissimilar from that of Margaret’s experience – although she does get her own back later on in the series.

9 responses to “You don’t know what a step-in is??

  1. The writers of “Boardwalk Empire” missed the boat here. Margaret was not incorrect to grab the panties. Panties with wide legs (what we now call “tap pants”) were also referred to as “step-ins in the period from the 1920s to the 1940s (and beyond for mature women). There are numerous examples in film, including “Our Blushing Brides,” with Joan Crawford, or “The Saturday Night Kid” with Jean Arthur and Clara Bow.. Somewhat less commonly, the one piece teddy (camiknickers in England) was also referred to as step-ins.

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