Monday, March 19, 2007

Underwear, or just what did they wear under there?


So what did they wear under those gowns. They certainly didn’t wear knickers, as I called them when I was young, or underoos or panties, at least not in the Regency. Nor did they wear bras invented way later, or corsets, picture the young ladies being cinched into their whalebone by a maid a la Scarlett O’Hara. That was definitely Victorian.

Okay, now we now what they didn’t wear. How helpful is that?

Patience child. I am getting there. Oh I do love to blog, one has so much power.

Those gowns were very flimsy, but they do seem to have hidden an extra ordinary amount of “stuff” under there.

First and foremost came the Chemise. I always thought of this as a modern day equivalent of a petticoat or slip. But not quite. The Chemise, a cotton or linen garment worn next to the skin was primarily there to protect the outer clothes from sweat. Remember, no dry cleaning in those days. So whereas the muslins and brocades were hard to wash, the chemise could be bashed around in lye soap by the washerwoman with little ill effect.


As you can see from these examples, they have short sleeves, and those for ballgowns had no sleeves, The chemise in this era did not show. They came mid thigh or just below the knee, and sometimes had a bit of lace trim or embroidered initials. They were loose and boxy with a draw string neck. The second picture is from the 1820's and you can start to see gathering at the neck as we move toward Victoriana.

Stays came next. A vital piece of underpinning, pun intended. And I do mean over the top of the shift for cleanliness. Without stays, a woman would look flat-chested, or worse flop-chested, in those under the bust gowns that had little in the way of tailoring, despite all the frills and lace.
Most stays were laced at the back, by tapes, through holes in the fabric. Get metal eyelets out of your mind. And this was the reason they were not particularly tight. They did have some boning, and there were even the lift and separate kind, with a central busk to emphasize cleavage. But definitely no pulling tight or the fabric would tear. To my Regency writerly delight, there were also stays that fastened in front. We need these, either for our girl to get out of them, or for our handsome rake to get into them. All my heroines have a partiality for front closing stays. Independent creatures that they are. I have a picture of one, just not right now. If you want proof, add a comment and I will post next time. This example has a busk down the centre. Not great for bending I should think. Might account for all the straight-back curtseys think you? Also, they were not always as long as this example. their main function was to keep those creamy globes up as high as possible, not to cinch in.


The next layer was the Petticoat. Yes, they wore petticoats as well as chemise or shifts. Remember in the last century robes, or gowns, did not close all the way down the front. These three are 1805, 1815 and 1820 (ish) and they change with the fashion of the day. But note the decorated hem. Petticoats were meant to be seen, along with a flash of well-turned ankle. Those of the Regency are nothing like the stunning creations of the earlier century or the next era, Victorian, but they went under very slender gowns designed to show more the shape of the figure that those other styles.



and the petticoat was a vital piece of outer clothing. this also happened in the Regency. Sometimes the robe would open at the front, I am pretty sure we have seen some examples here, and somtimes the petticoat formed the lacy trim at the ankle, with the gown shorter.

Well darn it, or dash it. I don’t have room for more. But there is more to come. Catch up on what a Regency Lady wore under there on Thursday.

In the meantime Happy Rambles through Victoria’s Secret for your own hidden treasures.