Did we slip up?

Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - and her underslip
Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof - and her underslip
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What ever happened to underskirts?

Beneath your uniform, you wore a static-crackling slip of lace-edged nylon.

I’m not talking about a full slip with bra-style straps, the kind of thing Elizabeth Taylor lounged languidly in on nights so humid she had to take her dress off before lighting a cigarette.

No, I mean the underneath-skirt, with an elasticated waist you could tuck your blouse into if you wanted to feel snug. It had a little slit in one of the hems so you could walk properly (whether you swizzled it to left, right or to the back it made no difference. It still wrapped itself around your American tan tights like an insecure child).

At the start of term, your underskirt was pristine-white. Come half-term, after its weekly boil-wash, it had always turned to grey. Everyone’s was the same, give or take a shade. You HAD to wear this ugly thing even though it served no obvious purpose; the school skirt was no flimsy, flirty affair that might flip at the first sign of a breeze, but sturdy and thick and fashioned - if you can call it that - from Crimplene. Rather, it was a sign of grown-upness. You got one about the same time you got your periods.

Young girls these days wouldn’t be seen dead in one. Though maybe they ought, given the statistics on under-age binge-drinkers. I vividly remember the night in 1976 we discovered how handy an underskirt could be. My little brother insisted on being the barman at my 15th birthday party. Mother decreed it fine: the only drink she’d bought in was pop and shandy. Only, proper booze was smuggled in, he drank as much as he poured and when his 12 year old stomach could take no more, it was Tracy Thackery’s party dress that took the brunt. Poor Tracy, dripping in shock, tears and spew, knew exactly what to do, though. She stripped down to her trainer bra and underskirt.

Just a few years later, they went out of fashion. Proof that they were no longer a modesty-saving staple in every woman’s wardrobe? Those 1980 photos of a naive nursery school teacher, one Lady Di, sweetly oblivious to the fact that the sun was shining though her flimsy skirt and the entire world could see her legs all the way up. Bet she wished she hadn’t slipped up and slung out that modest sheath of greying, lace-edged nylon...