Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hidden things - Regency underwear







Underwear was the very last thing on my mind as I was watching those women in the clip from the movie "Pride and Prejudice" whirling and twirling and having a jolly good time on the dance floor. But since the topic for today is underwear - what did they wear under those gorgeous Georgian/Regency era gowns? Let’s take a layer by layer look.

The first undergarment our lady of the era would have slipped on was a chemise, also called a shift. Usually made of thin, white cotton, it had close fitting short sleeves, a higher hemline than her dress, and a low neckline if it was to be worn under an evening dress. Chemises served two purposes. One was to provide a layer of decency under the sheer dresses that were all the rage. The other was to protect outer garments from perspiration as they were washed less frequently than undergarments.

 Next came the corset, which was worn over the chemise, though a slender woman wouldn't have needed to wear a corset under the high-waisted dresses of the time. I'll mention here that a lady of the era would have found it impossible to get dressed without the assistance of her maid. The corset was laced together at the back - and tightly. Made of linen, it was boned for firmness and often had a long busk of wood or whalebone in the front to create the lift necessary to carry Regency fashions off. Some women preferred tight linen stays (pictured above) that had the same effect as a push-up bra. These came slightly below the breasts, though there were stays that extended to the waistline for a slimming look. Some attempts were made to design undergarments that would serve the same function as the modern bra, but I’ll save that for a future conversation.

Petticoat circa 1800
 When I look at those dresses, I can’t imagine there could have been another layer under them, but apparently there often was. It was the petticoat, a sleeveless garment that closed in the back with hooks and eyes, drawstring ties or Dorset thread buttons. Since a lady would often lift her dress to prevent the hem from getting soiled, it was certain her petticoat would show. Because of this, petticoat hems were embellished with ruffles, lace or whitework. After a long search for a picture of a petticoat of the era, I finally found one on historyhoydens.blogspot.com. Here it is on the right. It was a real find. The hem is a beautiful example of whitework.

What about panties you ask? There was no such a thing because underdrawers (the predecessor to panties) didn't arrive on the scene until around 1806. But here's what they looked like.

 Are you thinking what I'm thinking? What was the point of wearing those? According to janeaustensworld where I found the picture, they were designed to allow a woman to “attend to her business without having to remove too many clothes.” I still don’t get the point of those two tubes of cloth tied to the waist, do you?

If you're interested in learning more, visit my sources below.

14 comments:

  1. What a bizarre set-up. So glad modern underwear has evolved. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell me about it, C&C (: Can't imagine how uncomfortable those women must have been.

      Delete
  2. An interesting post! I grew up in England, the North West of England to be precise, and we wore a thick kind of chemise in the Winter called a 'liberty bodice.' I'm sure the name goes back Centuries! Great blog, now following, Elizabeth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's interesting, Elizabeth. Dashed off to search for it the minute I read your comment. There was tons of info on the Liberty Bodice, but I snatched this from Wikipedia...

      The liberty bodice (Australian and British English), like the emancipation bodice or North American emancipation waist, was an undergarment for women and girls invented towards the end of the 19th century, as an innovative alternative to a corset. In the United Kingdom they were well-known for decades, with some older women still using them in the 1970s. A liberty bodice was a simply-shaped sleeveless bodice, often made of warm, fleecy fabric, usually with suspenders (US garters) attached. It might be straight or slightly curvy, and sometimes had buttons to fasten on other underwear: drawers (knickers or US panties) or petticoat/slip. A vest (US undershirt) might be worn underneath. The bodices had no boning, unlike corsets, although some had firm cloth strapping which might encourage good posture.

      While some writers discuss liberty bodices as a restrictive garment imposed on children,[1] these bodices were originally intended to "liberate" women from the virtually universally-worn, heavily-boned and firmly-laced corsets that were the norm of contemporary fashion.

      Thanks so much for following the blog.

      Delete
  3. Apparently even ladies in America wore those silly pantalettes well into the mid1800s....I think the idea was to cover the legs and ankles in case the petticoats blew up and revealed a lady's stockings. Or it may just have been to make a light dress hang better.

    ReplyDelete
  4. That's so funny. I used to wear a liberty bodice too growing up in Lancashire, England. It truly did fend off the damp and give another layer to trap warmth in that frozen tundra!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great piece as usual. I do like the fashion of this period excepting of course the drawers. Look forward to the next post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hmmm, all I can say is, thank goodness for Marks and Spencers! Very informative as always and I love the pictures used. Thank you :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. lol. Thank goodness for Marks and Sparks, though it's not often I get to pick up a pair there.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I do believe it's where the reputation for fainting women developed - those tight corsets caused a myriad of physical problems for women.

    P.C.Zick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mmmm. Think you have a good point there. Never thought of that, but yes, those tight corsets had to have caused health problems. Can you imagine eating while wearing one of those? Thanks for the observation!

      Delete
  9. I expect the two tubes of clothing retained the lady's modesty when she lifted her dress and petticoat to tend to business. Couldn't let her legs be bare for even a moment!

    The subject of corsets is vexing me at the moment, Joan, as it relates to the early 1900s. I understand even girl children wore corsets and of course women wore them (according to advertising of the day). Do you have any sources to recommend? Truly they seem unnecessary, particularly for slender women, but if they had children wearing them !!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. That's interesting, Carol. Have to check that out. Haven't been browsing about the early 1900s much. Will let you know what I find. Thanks for popping by (-:

    ReplyDelete