Little Bitty Pretty Ones: Vintage Risque Towels

These vintage towels are not only pretty, they’re a little sexy!

Often labeled as “risqué” towels, these fun vintage linens were popular in the 1940s and were placed in guest bathrooms.

When I saw these first I thought they were made by those loving hands at home and just reveled in the image of proper 1940s housewives having a little fun by making these and feeling a little scandalous.

I have since seen many of the towels, and cocktail napkins with similar designs, with original labels and price tags and know that, while they were made completely by hand, they were made by experts, probably as part of the Madeira linen tradition, which was begun on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the 1860s. Madeira linens are known for exquisite quality of materials and handwork.

So, I had to re-vamp my mental image, from women making these and feeling scandalous to, instead, spending their egg money on them and feeling scandalous. Not much of a difference when it comes right down to it!

To me, in the 21st-century, when our ideas have changed about what defines titillating, these towels are a charming reminder that a sense of humor and a love for a little fun know no era. I display them in my guest bathroom, as my foremothers might have, and smile every time I see them!

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49 thoughts on “Little Bitty Pretty Ones: Vintage Risque Towels

  1. So CUTE and a little bit saucy! What fun! I have never seen any of these before and they brought a smile to my face on a cold and wet day here in England.
    Sitting cosily by the coal fire with my cats, I thank you for such a lighthearted post on Easter Sunday.
    Karen.

    • You had a cold, wet day and we finally had a really sunny, nice day! My cats were outside, acting like kittens, and I wore myself out, working in the yard. Glad you like my little towels!

  2. Oh, I love those so much I can’t decide which I like best! The little butts and boobs are so cute/hilarious. I’ve never even heard or seen of anything like these, but I too am having fun imagining the housewife who spent her egg money on them. =)

    • There are many other versions of these towels and similar designs got put on cocktail napkins. The cocktail napkins, in particular, sell for big bucks on eBay! I really like the one of the girl being scared by the mouse–and her braids sticking up in the air!

  3. And some of them even look three dimensional…how imaginative! You can’t help but smile just looking at them…

    • I wonder if they were sold in the UK? I don’t know why not, since they were made in Madeira, but they may not have been in vogue there as they seem to have been here.

  4. They are a little sexy and hilarious too. I didn’t know there was so much humour and fun in the 40’s. Thanks so much for sharing and enjoy the new week!

  5. What fun towels!–and thank you for the historical context. It’s interesting to see what people considered humorous (and just risque enough, but not inappropriate) years ago.

    • They’re always described as “rare” when I see them listed for sale but, not that you’re aware of them, I bet you see them if you go to vintage shops or flea markets.

    • And the padded boobs! That’s one of the funniest things about them. There are cocktail coasters with the same sorts of designs and I always wonder how you put a wine glass down on those lumpy parts . . .

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