Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Your Granny's Panties: Tap Pants and French Knickers

My entry for the Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #3 Stashbusting is a pair of pink satin tap pants. But what are tap pants?

Tap pants, also known as French knickers or step-ins, are a style of loosely-fitted underwear that was popular from the 1920s to the 1950s. They are characterized by a fitted waistband and flared leg. They were usually made of silk satin or silk charmeuse in soft, pale, feminine colors like pink, beige, and a range of pastels, and were frequently trimmed with lace or decorated with lace appliques.

Here are some examples of tap pants/French knickers from the 20th century:

McCall's 6021, a pattern for tap pants and brassieres, via A Stitching Odyssey

Silk tap pants with ecru lace trim, via Ebay
Silk and cotton lace tap  pants, c. 1926, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tap pants & Brassiere by Boué Soeurs, French, 1920's via Vintage Textiles

Joyce Compton, 1931, no source

Lingerie and Sleepwear page from 1934 Sears Catalog, via

Black silk chiffon and beige lace knickers (tap pants) with scalloped hem and pointed yoke, attributed to Herminie Cadolle, French, c. 1930 via de Young Museum

Pink satin tap pants, via Voyeur Vintage on Etsy
Advance pattern 3082, via SoVintagePatterns
Powder blue pleated tap pants, via LindyShopper
White Nylon tap pants via Etsy
So what's the big deal with tap pants?
Besides adding the extra touch to your vintage outfit, tap pants are great to wear with modern clothes. Because most tap pants are cut on the bias, they cling to the curves of your body and can be very flattering. Tap pants are perfect to wear underneath dresses, skirts, and certain trousers because they won't give you Visible Panty Line (VPL). You can wear a garter belt underneath tap pants to make using the bathroom easier. Tap pants are comfortable, practical and sexy!

Tap pants sewing patterns
Because of the rarity and fragility of vintage items, I think the best option is to make your own tap pants. They take very little material to make and require basic-intermediate level sewing skills, like french seams, bias bindings, elastic casings, and plackets. There is quite a variety of reproduction tap pants patterns available on the market today.

Reconstructing History 1315 $$$
This pattern from RH features a pair of 1930s tap pants that are cut on the bias. These tap pants include a crotch gusset.

Folkwear 219 Intimacies $$
This Folkwear pattern is printed on thick, strong paper, and the pattern comes with a separate booklet for authentic detailing techniques like crochet, lace, bias binding, and embroidery. The style of tap pants in this pattern is appropriate for the 1920s and 1930s.

Mrs. Depew Vintage $
The Mrs. Depew Etsy store is stocked with a wide range of reproduction vintage lingerie patterns. She carries tap pants patterns from the 1920s to 1950s. Most of her patterns are available as e-patterns.

Vera Venus Tap Pants Tutorial FREE
Vera Venus has a free tutorial for drafting and sewing your own tap pants! This tutorial is easy to follow and a great way to "wet your feet" to period construction and embellishment techniques. Vera Venus also has a tutorial for circular 1930s tap pants.

Have you made or worn tap pants before? Share your experience with tap pants in the comments!


  1. I drafted up and made the Vera Venus tap pants last year :D It was really easy (I still consider myself a novice when it comes to pattern drafting) and relatively quick (I rewatched all of Firefly in the same amount of time), and then wore them all summer under my dresses. Aside from a pulling to left that happens with every last pair of ANYTHING that has legs longer than 3" inseam that I own, they were supremely comfortable. All the security of bifurcated pants/shorts/etc, all the breeziness of a skirt. Love!

  2. In my day called petit pants, and more fitted, I have bought a couple of vintage nylon pairs to wear under unlined wool trousers. Really makes those itchy fabrics behave!
    Auntie Nan

  3. Petit pants were a different style, more fitted, as you say. Tap pants (the name did not emerge until the late 1970s) were looser fitting, with wide legs. Prior to that, they were called step-ins. The term "tap pants" has been projected back to the 1920s and 30s on the notion that they were worn by tap dancers. This is not entirely correct. Women of that era would have called them "step-ins" or, simply, panties. Victoria's Secret may have had something to do with popularization of the term "tap pants," as their earliest catalogs featured them prominently. They are far sexier than the dreaded thong which lacks all sense of romance. The sweetest step-ins were made in the 1930s, featuring touches of lace, ribbons, embroidery and other feminine detailing. In England they are called French knickers, having been introduced by those sexy Frenchmen to allow easy access to their paramours privates.

  4. Funny article title - they're exactly what my grandmother wore!