Vintage Style #52: The Black Basque

Some of you may be wondering - what exactly is a basque?... and what's the difference between a basque and a corsette... and a bustier... and a torsolette....?  Yeah, it gets kind of confusing.

Don't bother googling it - that way lies madness. There are so many contradictory definitions, so many confusing explanations.  But have no fear, I will explain all... and provide a heaping helping of beautiful illustrations that will make your heart glad.

Joan Collins' iconic outfit in The Bitch is a basque.  But what's the difference between this and a corset, bustier, or Merry Widow?

If you could give a flying shit about the terminology, just sit back and enjoy the pictures.  The only reason I know a thing or two is because, looking through my old catalogs, the terminology started to drive me nuts.  I couldn't keep it straight.  So, let's have a look...

(left) JC Penny catalog Fall-Winter 1989, (right) 1984
Both of these girls are wearing something labeled as a "torsolette" in the JC Penny catalog.  But what the hell is a torsolette, and what's the difference between this and the basque?  It's actually pretty simple...

(left) 1991, (right) 1984-5 catalog
Think of the basque as simply an extended bra. It may or may not have straps or even cups, but it never - I repeat NEVER - extends to the crotch. In other words, you would always need to wear panties with a basque (at least in polite company) since it never extends all the way.  If it extends all the way, it's now a bodysuit, corselet or teddy.

I'm not really sure what Lydia's wearing.  I know she's hot and bothered, but I'm not sure if it's a basque, a nightie, a teddy or a bodysuit.  I can't tell if it covers like a leotard.  Get the picture?

Look at the picture on the far left, and look at the middle picture - you can see that the basque is just an extended bra.  But it can also be cupless (as in the picture on the right).

The torsolette,and bustier basically are just variations of the basque, of varying length.

Of course, the terminology can get get contradictory and confusing depending on what catalog you're looking in.  Take the two basques above - they're too long to be bustiers, and they're too short to be torsolettes.  So, in this case, they're called "mini basques".

Think of it in this spectrum (although, it's a bit overly simplified): bra, longline bra, bustier, long bustier, mini basque, then torsolette.  All of these will require panties (again, in polite company).

These look like textbook basques (or torsolettes), right?  Yes, but you have to be careful.  A corset can look similar.  The key difference is the corset is rigid, with laces at the back (not very comfortable looking), and they are always high backed.

Torsolette Basque at left; the other two are Body Briefs
Basque at left, Camisole at right
You can see here that the basque and a short camisole can look very similar.  But the basque accentuates the figure, rather than drape loosely.

So, I'll end the lecture with these textbook basques.   I suppose I know more about this stuff than any guy has a right to know... and probably got a few details wrong.  But it's good enough to get by - enjoy a gallery of black basques....

Basque left, Playsuit right

Two basques and a corselette
Two mini basques, the one on the left is a French Lace Mini Basque

Two basques from 1988

Whoa!  Hold the phone.  This is not a f***ing basque.  You can call it a bustier, you can even call it a strapless longline bra, but you damn sure won't be calling it a basque on my watch.

(I think I may be taking this a bit too seriously.  Sorry.  Moving right along...)

Elaine Devry (also at the top o' the post)

Can you spot the basque in the next picture?

Very good.  You passed.  In our next lesson we'll be covering the teddy.  Class dismissed.


  1. I fondly remember the lovely Ms. Devry from "A Guide For The Married Man".

    Walter Matthau almost got 'lucky' with her.

    BUT...with Inger Stevens at home, he was already REALLY lucky!

    1. Paul DucaJuly 02, 2016

      She did have one of the 577 Imperial Crown convertibles built in 1967

  2. An exceptional intellectual blog post

  3. Top stuff, professor. I eagerly await your next lesson.

  4. Marrianne Faithful on the cover of Tit Bits?