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What Are Camisoles?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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Camisoles, sometimes called camis, are usually short sleeveless shirts worn as underclothing by women. They tend to cover the bust to the waist and may be used to provide a little extra weight, or under tops that are see-through. Camisoles used to provide minimal bust support, but now many have built-in bras.

Some camisoles are simply worn as outerwear, following fashion trends set in the 1990s. They may have thin spaghetti straps and may be made in a variety of fabrics. Silk and polyester are typical fabric choices. However, stretch camis made of cotton knit, or a combination of lycra and cotton are becoming more popular too.

Because of their thin straps, most outwear camisoles are typically worn without a bra. This makes some people reluctant to wear them since they may provide inadequate support for the bust. The type with built-in bras may be a little challenging to fit, since bust size does not always correspond with waist or body size. In particular, women with a C or D bra size or higher may find it challenging to find well-fitting garments.

One of the more popular ways to wear camisoles presently is underneath a suit jacket or matched shirt. This allows women to wear bras under the tops, since the jacket or shirt will hide the straps. This works in most cases, unless the covering shirt is very sheer. Some tops could more rightly be called tank tops, since they provide wider straps, which allow one to easily disguise bra straps.

Camisoles and teddies were a typical replacement for more ironclad undergarments used in the early 20th century and before. Flappers often discarded bras and wore teddies, a combination of camisole and underwear together. Alternately, the tops might be worn with coordinating underwear called tap pants. These tended to be wide-legged underpants that began at the waist and ended at the top of the thigh. Alternately, the tops could be worn with a matching half-slip. This was an improvement on the full slip, which was camisole and slip combined in one garment, since each piece could be worn separately as needed.

Camisoles as well as being undergarments, or outerwear, are often worn as pretty lingerie. They may come in prints, have the necklines edged in lace, and are typically either silk or polyester. One can still find a variety of styles of camis sold with tap pants. More informally, camisoles and shorts are quite a popular variant on pajamas, or pajamas come with camisole tops. Some confuse the camisole with the chemise in purchasing lingerie. The chemise has a camisole type top, but ends at about mid-thigh. Chemises are often sold with robes in a set. In a pinch, a chemise makes a good substitution for a slip if one is wearing a sheer, relatively short, dress.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Jan 11, 2015

Another good use for a camisole is layering. My office is freezing year-round and it's been really cold lately, and since I don't want to wear my coat all the time, I've been wearing knit camisoles under my clothes. They're much lighter weight than thermal underwear, so they don't add any bulk to my clothes. I'm making them a regular part of my work wardrobe until the powers that be decide to turn the heat up a little higher!

I'm not cold-natured, either. Everyone is freezing in my office. It's great when the temperature is 100 degrees outside, but when it's 30, it's not comfortable. The office temperature has dropped into the high 50s this winter. Insanity.

By Grivusangel — On Jan 10, 2015

I had a thin blouse and wore a camisole under it all the time. the advantage of wearing a camisole under a blouse or dress is that it creates a more unified look. Some women don't care if they have a bra that shows through, but most women don't want that look, or they work in an office where that's not appropriate for a professional.

A camisole is an insurance policy that a woman isn't going to show more than she wants to show in a venue where she doesn't want to show it. I have several and I wear them a lot to work.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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