Slip Into Something Victorian

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Beneath It All #1

Okay. The time period I write is the Civil War. Visions of small waists, confined by corsets and bell-shaped hoopskirts likely fill your head as you think of that time period. I’d like to start by discussing what Victorian women wore underneath those dresses. As a Civil War reenactor, I actually wear all the layers beneath my dresses for authenticity purposes. As a romance writer, when thinking about characters of the period, I want to be as authentic as possible when I describe the heroine dressing, undressing, or ah . . . er . . . being undressed by the hero. Just what did they wear under those clothes? I’d like to begin by discussing the first layer. Next to their skin, Victorian women wore a chemise, a pair of drawers (not bloomers) and stockings. The chemise was a loose shift-like garment with short sleeves. It had a scooped neck collar and could be pulled down over the shoulders for wear with a low cut ball gown or evening dress. It came to just below the knee. Most women owned several of these. The drawers had either a button or drawstring closure on the waistband. Women wore them to mid-calf length, while girls and more fashionable women wore them a bit shorter. The interesting thing about the drawers was that the legs were only attached at the waistband, leaving the crotch completely open. There was a reason for this, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Tsk, tsk. Since women wore tight fitting corsets over the chemise and drawers, plus several layers of petticoats, it would have been impossible for them to have reached up and loosened the waistband of the drawers to use the necessary. I can tell you from my own experience it’s much easier to pull up your skirts, pull the legs of the drawers apart, then when finished, let them drop back into place. Last is the stockings. These were thigh-high and generally knitted of wool, but fashionable women wore silk stockings. Next time I’ll discuss corsets, petticoats and crinolines. That’s all for now, back to work on my book.

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2 Comments

  1. Mary Ann Webber says:

    The Split Drawers worn by can-can dancers became one of the wardrobe nightmares faced by the makers of the movie MOULIN ROUGE. They decided to use something like modern underwear in wild colors and hope that would be distracting.
    The original dancers wore white Split Drawers – or nothing at all. Which is why Paris police regularly infiltrated and closed it down for a little while or hauled girls off to jail.

  2. Mary Ann Webber says:

    Beneath It All #1

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