Gertie’s Ultimate Guide to Foundation Garments – Bras & Corsets

The Waspie Belt vintage sewing pattern from Charm Patterns.

“What bra are you wearing underneath that dress?”

This is one of the questions I get asked all the time! The right foundation garments can do wonders to get that iconic ’50s silhouette, which was all about defined waists, perky busts, and curvy hips.

I don’t wear shapewear everyday, but when I do, I am so much happier with the fit and silhouette of my outfit. However, wearing foundation garments isn’t necessary or required for vintage style. While the right foundation garments can change the look and fit of a dress, it’s important to choose the foundation garments that fit your lifestyle and desires. 

This is Part One of the my Ultimate Guide to Foundation Garments. Part Two covers petticoats and shapewear for the lower half of your body.

Gertie from Charm Patterns wearing a longline bra and slip as foundation garments.

If you want your outfit to look like what you see in one of the Charm photos or have a traditional vintage silhouette, you’ll need some sort of shapewear underneath. Almost no one has “ideal 1950s proportions” – not even the women of the 1950s! We all need a little bit of help to shape our bodies into the classic ’50s silhouette.

And don’t assume that foundation garments have to be ugly and uncomfortable! Properly fitted shapewear made from quality materials will be comfortable to wear, transform your shape, and last a long time. 

Some of my favorite brands

All of the recommendations below come from brands I’ve tried and loved, as well as from recommendations from Charm patrons and members of our Preen Queens Facebook Group. Not every brand or maker will carry all sizes, so you’ll have to shop around to find the ones that fit your unique shape and preferences.

What Katie Did is a women-owned UK-based brand for high-quality vintage reproduction lingerie and shapewear. They ship worldwide and offer many different types of bras, merry widows, waist cinchers, panties, stockings, and more.

Rago Shapewear is a company that’s been selling classic shapewear for decades. They don’t make vintage reproductions; they’ve been making and selling the same styles since the 1950s.

Secrets in Lace offers many different styles of vintage-inspired bras, shapewear, stockings, and lingerie sets. They also have a curvy range that goes up to 42DDD.

Gertie from Charm Patterns wearing a merry widow and slip as foundation garments.

Strapless long-line bras & merry widows

This is my secret weapon! A strapless long-line bra (which ends at the natural waist) or a merry widow (which ends at the upper hip and often has garters for stockings) is the most versatile of bras, and provides comfortable bust and waist shaping for that perfect vintage silhouette. You can wear it under most things, and it’s an absolute must underneath strapless dresses and bodices with a wide-set neckline.

For comfort and maximum flexibility, look for spiral steel boning and a front closure. If you can’t find one in your size with spiral steel boning, it’s worth the effort to replace the plastic boning with spiral steel as it’s more flexible, longer lasting, and never creases or bends out of shape.

I often pair a longline bra with a control garment or high-waisted panties to get a smooth, continuous line with a slight hourglass shape. You don’t want to have a gap between your bra and knickers!

One of my absolute favorites is the What Katie Did Glamour Nouveau L3035 Merry Widow. It comes in sizes 32B-38D, and has an internal waist tape cincher as well as the spiral steel boning you know I love. It’s what I’m wearing in the photo above with Hattie and the blue hair bow.

For a pretty option, the Andrea Strapless Longline Bra from Secrets in Lace comes with removeable straps and is available in sizes 32C-42DD.

We love the Goddess Longline Bra for larger cup sizes! This is the one our model Suzie wears, and it comes in sizes 34B up to 50FF.

The Dominique Collete Longline Bra 8949 has been recommended to me for smaller cup sizes. 

Regular long-line bras with straps

This is my go-to everyday bra. Long-line bras end at the natural waist and use boning for bust support and waist shaping.

My absolute favorite is the Carnival 745 Longline Bra, which is a wire-free front-closure dream. You can see it above in the photo with the pink sweater.

What Katie Did offers the Longline Kate Cone Bra L6101, which give a more lifted and pointy look to the bust.

Regular bras

You can always wear your favorite bra combined with a waist cincher for that dramatic silhouette underneath your vintage-style outfits.

Bullet bras, and the slightly less eye-popping cone bras, are fun and dramatic choices. Both What Katie Did and Secrets in Lace have great options.

A lovely basic underwire bra that gives subtle 1950’s shaping is the Bali Flower 180, in cup sizes 32C-50DDD.

For a lacier option, the Chantelle 2101 Underwire Bra (32B-44G) is an unpadded and supportive option. Chantelle also makes the 2101 Soft-Cup Bra (32B-44DDD), for a similar look without the underwires.

I’ve also fallen in love with the Poesie Firm Support Wirefree Bra, only available in Australia. You can also find wire-free and vintage-style bras from companies like Maidenform, Playtex, and other brands that your grandma would recognize!

Waist cinchers

If you can’t find a long-line bra or merry widow in your size or if you don’t find them comfortable, you might want to try a waist cincher with a bra you already own. Waist cinchers start at the underbust line and extend to the upper hip, often with garters for stockings.

What Katie Did offers the popular Glamour L3018 Waist Cincher, which is great for those with a long torso, For my body, I prefer the Glamour L3034 Waspie Waist Cincher, which is a bit shorter.

Another classic choice would be any of the waist cinchers from Rago Shapewear. Their Waist Trainer with Extra Firm Shaping is especially pretty!


When people think of waist shaping, they often assume tight-laced corsets are necessary. While I’ll often wear a corset for photoshoots or very special events, they aren’t an every-day choice.

Look for an underbust corset you can wear with your preferred bra. My absolute favorite has held up for years and is a custom-made waist cincher corset from Dark Garden with a special busk cover in the front so the busk clasps don’t show through my dresses. The corsets from Orchard Corsets are lovely, too.

If you want to try your hand at sewing your own, my (unfortunately out of print) Butterick B6643 sewing pattern is an option if you can find a copy online. It creates a very comfortable waist-shaping corset with firm powernet, spiral steel boning, and back laces.

Another sew-your-own option is the Waspie Belt in purple shown above (which provides some waist shaping but isn’t as structured as a true corset), available to Charm Patreon patrons.

Petticoats, Slips, Girdles, and Panties

Check out Part Two of my Ultimate Guide to Foundation Garments for my recommendations for shapewear and lingerie for the lower half!