Style

How Can I Channel My Inner 1930s Movie Star?

Around Christmas and New Year’s, my husband and I enjoy watching films from the 1930s and ’40s. I always admire the women’s glamorous loungewear, especially Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in the “Thin Man” movies. But every place I look for loungewear, the offerings are either decidedly un-glam jersey garments, or more luxe looking satin weave pajamas, but with a big, boxy cut. Can you help? — Suzanne, Ann Arbor, Mich.


Between the #MeToo movement, which cast many assumptions about traditional definitions of glamour and seduction in a new light, and the pandemic, during which the meaning of “loungewear” evolved from lingerie-for-before-bed into something more akin to athleisure, old notions of loungewear have largely been reassessed. With the result that the category has moved toward stretch and comfort and away from those old Hollywood representations of glamour.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something still alluring about the idea of lounging around at home in silk and satin. Or that it can’t be empowering. Those women of the silver screen did, after all, often talk circles around their male co-stars, and Nora Charles was a crack detective.

As Cora Harrington, also known as the blogger “The Lingerie Addict” and author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear and Love Lingerie,” said when I emailed her, “There’s a lavishness and a sensuality in this type of lingerie. Long trains, flowing sleeves, delicate lace, romantic satins, gauzy mesh — these are the sorts of things that only work in the bedroom or private area of the modern-day individual. There’s an allowance for drama and indulgence, and I think many of us want that, even if we’re told we shouldn’t.”

But where to find it?

To discover an answer, I went to Liz Goldwyn, a writer, filmmaker, burlesque expert and founder of TheSexEd.com. “I regularly trawl Etsy looking for vintage 1940s loungewear,” she said. “It is the most ecoconscious way to achieve this vintage glam look, and modern cleaning is a miracle.”

Ms. Harrington agreed, noting, “There are always deals and treasures to be found there, many of which contain fabrics and details that are no longer financially feasible to reproduce.”

If you don’t want to take a chance with vintage, however, and you are working on a budget, Ms. Goldwyn recommended Bettie Page Lingerie, especially the “showgirl wrap tie PJ top and bottom,” and feather robes.

Ms. Harrington suggested looking at KaFemme, from Ukraine, which, she said, “like a lot of Eastern European lingerie, is wonderfully lavish and over-the-top.” Check out this lace and gold gown and peignoir set.

At the higher end of the scale (after all, a select few of these pieces might go a long way, and it’s not as if they go out of style; they’ve already been around for almost a century), or just for inspiration, Ms. Harrington said her “ultimate peignoir/dressing gown experience” was Boudoir by D’Lish, which was “founded by the noted burlesque performer Catherine D’Lish.” And Ms. Goldwyn directed me to this Lunya washable silk high rise pant set, “a modern, minimalist take on old Hollywood loungewear,” as well as Morgan Lane pajamas, for a Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Harlow vibe.

Then go ahead and quote Myrna Loy: “They say the movies should be more like life; I think life should be more like the movies.”

Your Style Questions, Answered

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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