Monday, August 20, 2018

Victorian Underpinnings.

By Sophie Dawson

I’m in the midst of making historical garments. Authentic reproductions of late Victorian and Edwardian dresses, which actually are a bodice and skirt. They called one piece garments gowns. In doing so I’m doing a lot of research and looking at many photos.

We don’t think too much about the undergarments a lady wore beneath the beautiful bustle dress or Gibson Girl clothing. There were quite a few layers which we no longer think necessary. Each had a specific purpose that makes sense when you know the reasons.

The first layers, those against the skin were the drawers and chemise. I know it sounds sort of gross to us, the drawers had open crotches. There was a method to their madness, however. I’ll lit you know why in a minute.

The drawers were basically two legs attacked to a drawstring waistband. You can see the slit in the photos below of the drawers on the bottom row. They were the first item of clothing put on. Over that was worn the chemise. Note the lace and ribbon trim on these.
Next came the stockings (not socks) which came up to or over the knees. Early they tied ribbons or garters to hold them up. Later garter clips appeared attached either the the corset or a garter belt. Then the shoes were put on. It was much easier to do these before the corset since bending down was limited after.

Everyone girl and woman wore a corset. Yes, even children, boys and girls. When looking at corsets and their waist size remember one thing; the back had space of 2-6 inches between the lacings. So add that to whatever the waist measurement says. Suddenly those tiny waists aren’t so tiny. Also, smaller corsets were most likely worn by teenagers. Much smaller all over than grown women. Many of the corsets that survived to this day are probably those of teenagers and only worn for a short time. Those worn as women with more mature figures were used for many years and wore out.
Anyway, the corset was placed over the chemise which often reached do to the knees.
As you can see from the images, many corsets were made from satin or brocade and decorated with embroidery and lace. We ladies love our fancy underpinnings.

Next came the corset cover. Excessive, you say? In a day when laundry was hard physical labor and most women had to do their own, wearing the chemise and corset cover protected the corset, which couldn’t be washed or only sparingly, those two cotton garments surrounding it kept the corset from body oils and sweat, and stains.
One function for the corset not thought about much concerns the bustle and petticoats. The boning in the corset allowed that to support those layers that gave structure to the skirt itself. Each layer of petticoat had a waist tie. Women often wore up to five layers, plus the bustle. Imagine all those ribbons tied around your waist with the petticoats hanging below.
Lace, ruffles, tucks and ribbon often decorated the petticoats. Ruffles added support for the skirts again. Plus they are pretty.
After all this, the lady finally dawned her skirt, bodice, and overskirt. And don’t forget the hat and gloves.

 As I said, I’ve been researching Victorian garments and, though I knew it before, those ladies, whether rich or more like the rest of us, liked pretty undergarments. Chemises, drawers, corsets, petticoats, whether they were handmade or made for some socialite, were adorned with lace and ribbons. Ruffles and tucks also were used as decoration. Even though no one, or very few, saw them other than the wearer, those unmentionables were beautiful garments in their own right.

Oh, those open crotches... They were so you could easily do your business in the ladies retiring room. Imagine trying to find a waist tie under all those layers, laced into a corset, take them down, pull them back up, and rearrange those layers to be presentable before your joined the public again. Now you know why they wore split crotch drawers.


Sophie Dawson is an award-winning author of romance, both historical and contemporary. An eclectic conglomeration of interests and accomplishments, she has made up stories in her head all her life. Now she types them out. Her critically acclaimed series include Cottonwood, Stones Creek, and Love’s Infestation. She’s also been part of several Multi-Author projects.
Her latest release is Wanted: Shopkeeper available in Kindle, print, and KU

1 comment:

  1. Great info. I can't help feeling a little guilty because I hate bras now and it's the first thing I want to discard when I come in. I can't imagine having to put on all these layers. It sure makes me hot and tired just to think about these clothes. Some things have changed for the better. Thanks for posting.