20th Century

Waialua to Wellington tap pants

I love tap pants.

You might think that is because I live in Wellington – one of the windiest cities in the world, where the Southerly gales lift your skirts over your head if you are lucky.  If you aren’t lucky they are lifting your feet over your head!

Or you might think it is because I am into vintage clothing, and dress like an early 20th century fashion plate half the time.

My love of tap pants goes back much further than this, to my childhood.

I’m kama’aina – Hawaiian born and raised.  And in Hawaii, people love shorts.  People love shorts so much that little girls wear shorts under their skirts, and bigger girls do too.

You know those emails that go around that go “You know you are from _____ if…?”.  The one for Hawaii says “You know you are from Hawaii if you always wear shorts under your skirts.”

Yep.  Tap pants are a part of my culture!

These are my favourite tap pants – they work perfectly under any skirt, are super comfortable, and are (if I do say so myself) pretty darn adorable.  This is one of the types of tap pants I’ll be teaching students how to make at Made Marion.

This particular pair are also the perfect melding of Hawaii and my life today – the fabric is a sumptuous stretch silk crepe given to me by Mrs C  (of Made Marion) shortly after we met.  The palest blue vintage lace and the contrast binding are things I inherited from Nana.  The pattern is one I’ve been tweaking for myself for years.  They tie together my childhood, the amazing group of friends I’ve assembled, my New Zealand family, and my work.

The tap pants, front

Lace applique

Hook and dome fastening placket

I love how smoothly they hang over the hips

French seams at front and back, and bias bound waist

The back of the tap pants

1950s soft nylon lace in palest blue. With bows!

And I love them.  How could I not?  The fabric is ‘the colour of a sigh’.  The lace has bows on it!  I got to use contrast binding on the outside!  And every single seam is perfectly finished.  Happiness!

Oh, and they mean that I actually did make something for this weeks Sew Weekly challenge: a garment inspired by a city or place.  Accomplishment!


  1. They look comfy.
    Is the fabric cut on the bias or straight grainline? I’m useless at telling if something is on the bias or just drapey material.

    • This pair is cut on the straight grain, because it is a crepe fabric with added stretch. If I’m using a basic fabric, like a soft craft cotton, I sometimes cut on the bias, though that isn’t absolutely necessary. Alternatively, with a straight-grain, non-stretch fabric I adapt the pattern and add darts.

        • Hmmmm…they are very basic. You should be able to look at some pants patterns and mock something up. I find old sheets very useful for all my tap pants trials – the weight and drape are just right, they are cheap as chips, and come in cute prints.

          • I’ve got a retro pattern for some high waist-ed trousers…could use that I suppose. Got some old wynciette sheets…if my first attempt goes wrong I’ll use them as PJ’s. 😉

          • I found some silk haboutai at the local fabric shop…fairly cheap….so bought a couple of metres to allow for mistakes. First attempt at sewing slippery material. eep!

          • Good luck! Habotai isn’t too slippery or hard to work with. Just go slow, pin lots, baste if needed. And blog when you are done!

  2. Yay, they are SOOO pretty and feel so amazing too. And I remember the sigh coloured silk, so nice to see it made up 🙂 Also love how you’ve woven the ideas and materials into such a lovely story of your linked lives xo

    • Thank you! And thank you so, so much for the silk. And the reminder that I meant to link to your blog when I mentioned you, but got distracted writing the post!

  3. Cute! Must make some of these for myself too I think. Some dresses need something underneath that isn’t going to show. I’m assuming these sit nicely for that.

  4. Nicole says

    Lovely! I just made up a button-up sporty 1930s skirt and cut out the matching shorts to wear under it yesterday- for a trip to Hawaii! Guess that will be perfect!

  5. Wendy Ratcliffe says

    Glorious! Do you sell copies of your patterns?


    • Thank you! I don’t have copies of my patterns available yet – it’s something I’m working on, but it’s going to take a little while.

  6. True! That wind has to be felt to be believed. I didn’t realise how bad it was until I left and moved to Sydney! The tap shorts are delightful!

  7. Lynne says

    They are super! Lovely lace work (the lace and the attaching!).

    • Thank you! I don’t think I did my best lace work on these by far, but I’m still very happy with it. I love attaching lace like this (still trying to figure out the proper name – insertion? applique?).

      • Lynne says

        I typed ‘insertion’ and then changed it! Wouldn’t ‘insertion’ be between two pieces of other fabric, as down the front of a blouse? And ‘applique’ on top of the other fabric? Oh, the trials of being a picky fuss-pot! That’s me. Someone will know the right word.

        • That’s exactly the thought I had. It’s the same technique as insertion lace – only you only do it one one edge of the lace. And it is applique because you lay the lace over the fabric, and sew just like machine applique, but then you cut away the under fabric and the extra lace. Which technically means that insertion is just applique with cut-outs. Gah! Now my head hurts 😉

  8. a) Those are awesome!
    b) I always used to wear shorts under my skirts/still sometimes do and I am from New England…it is life ruining to let your skirt get in the way of treeclimbing, cartwheeling, etc! The shorts/skirt combo, clearly the way forward.

    • I’m sure it’s not unique to Hawaii – we don’t have a monopoly on brilliance! 😉 And it is very important to be able to climb trees!

  9. Natalia says

    My granny always called them “step-ins.” They’re also called tap pants and French knickers (England). Whatever you call them, they’re oh so romantic and sexy, particulaly when adorned with lace, ribbons or other elegant touches. In my opinion the most elegant and romantic lingerie was produced in the 1920s and 30s, and into the 40s and was French inspired at the start. No one has duplicated what was produced in the period after corsets were abandoned in favor of loose fitting undergarments, including tap pants, teddies (camiknickers) and saucy little bloomers. It’s been downhill after that, reaching the nadir with the dreaded thong, despite periodic revivals of these classic underthings.

  10. lindsey says

    I have just found your site today 11/22/13, where have you been all my life. I think we should be friends! I mean, I love everything you do. My sewing buddy moved away and I have been trying to find a new pattern or two to ease my mind. Your site has so many patterns, I don’t know where to start. Thank you for sharing. The sewing community needs to save these beautiful patterns and keep them alive for generations to come. Wonderful job, and again thank you for keeping these little treasures of history alive!!!

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