Posted on

Children’s Underwear in Regency England

There they are, in portraits, paintings and engravings, with earnest faces and cute clothes. But what did they wear underneath? Surely not the whole understructure their parents wore?

Just like their mothers, both boys and girls would have worn a chemise. This basic garment was usually made of linen, and followed the lines of the adult version, with one exception: Children’s chemises often omitted the side gussets, which added width to women’s chemises, thus being basically T-shirt shaped. On the other hand in well-to-do families they did even sport lace ruffles at the decollete and sleeve seams.

Over the chemise followed a pair of stays. During the earlier Georgian period current medical opinion held that the tender bodies of infants had to be protected and shaped by stays, and in many costume collections we find heavily boned specimen made for children not even one year old. Towards the last quarter of the century, when enlightenment finally won the upper hand and children’s clothes began to show signs of classical influence long before they made their first appearance in ladies’ fashions, the small corsets became less resticting and less rigid, most of them being almost entirely unboned. The garment itself was retained, however, serving a new purpose now: Since the children no longer had artifcially formed “hips”, other ways to keep the petticoats up were needed and found in buttons attached to the stays, on which the petticoats could be fastened.

Infants’ stays, 1780 – 1810, showing cording on the front and buttons to fix petticoats and pantalettes. The only two bones are in the back to strengthen the lacing.

A plain under petticoat would have completed the underwear during the first half of the 18th century, there is no mention of drawers or pantalons yet. There is also no evidence of formgiving understructures such as hooped petticoats or hip pads for children: With the simple lower class clothes they would not have been neccessary, and except for most formal occasions the more fashionable lines seen on portraits of better-off children can be achieved without such devices when contemporary and rather stiff silk fabrics are used for the garments themselves.

By the end of the century drawers made their first appearance in children’s clothing for both boys and girls. They were, like the underpetticoats, buttoned to the stays to keep them from sliding down. Another new item were pantalons or pantalettes, although it can be argued they are not truly underwear, as they were quite visibly peeping from under the dresses commonly worn by both sexes under the age of five.

Somewhere between age three and seven, young boys were “breeched” and exchanged the infant’s dresses and pantalons for boy’s clothes such as the skeleton suit, usually also discarding their stays and chemises along the way. Clothing for girls just became gradually more like that of their mothers, the seams descending and (except for the very end of the Regency) the pantalettes vanishing. Stays (when worn) became more figure forming, and lost their buttons.

 

 

Ann-Dorothee Schlueter, Proprietress of Arts Et Metiers, in Germany is a textile historian and historical seamstress. She is registered with the Handwerkskammer, Berlin. Visit her website to see samples of her work and purchase items.

Posted on

Maternity fashions in Regency England

maternity fashions

 

“Poor woman! how can she honestly be breeding again?”
— Jane Austen, October 1 1808

late Georgian dress with bib front closure for easy breast feeding, one side opened Historical maternity fashions – did they exist at all? Did women just make do and rearrange their everyday clothes? Did they simply stay in bed? Here are some answers.

Up to the Middle ages dresses did not follow the female figure, and thus your shape under the clothes would not matter anyway, so there was no need for specialised maternity fashions. When the dresses began to be shaped by seams at the sides and elsewhere, women obviously simply opened these seams again when they were pregnant to make their clothes “fit”. You can see this on many paintings of the pregnant Mother Mary.

It is not clear how long exactly this seam-opening was carried on, but during the Baroque period women began to wear loose dresses when pregnant, such as the so called “Adrienne”, a gown-like garment with no waist and lots of voluminous folds to cover the growing body. Although I did not find a portrait or other picture that shows a specifically pregnant woman wearing such a garment, there are lots of sources showing these robes, and they are also mentioned and expressly connected to pregnancy in letters.

Also recorded is the use of garments much like men’s waist coats, which allowed the wearer to regulate the width with a laced vent in the back. These were worn under bed gowns. Aprons are also mentioned in connection with pregnancy (“…must be with child, is wearing her aprons again!”), probably because they were used to cover the space left open by the no longer fitting front closing jackets.

late Georgian dress with bib front closure for easy breast feeding, one side opened Dating from the Georgian and Regency period you can find a lot of dresses or combinations that were simply so adaptable that they would “grow” with you, and were also quite practical for nursing, which, inspired by reformers like Rousseau, became increasingly en vogue among the upper classes again during the Regency period. These dresses are not labelled as “maternity dress”, but they would fit during every stage of the pregnancy, and, like the Adrienne, also when you were not pregnant, which must have made them extremely economical.

True maternity wear in the modern sense of the word, fitting quite possibly only during a certain stage of the pregnancy, appeared for the first time around the middle of the 19th century, when prudery dictated that such unmentionable circumstances as pregnancy had better stay hidden.

We also have to keep in mind that most of these observations are true only for the well-to-do. Poor women’s dress throughout the times was almost always rather baggy, so that with little ado it would still fit during pregnancies.

Result: Unlike today there was no special maternity fashions, fitting only during one stage of the pregnancy, but instead we find a type of every-day clothing that would simply fit and grow with you, and which was possibly favored by young married women, who were likely to get pregnant. Since most people did not posses and could not afford the number of clothes we own today, this was simple necessity

And yes, if at all possible, women stayed in bed for the last few weeks before and at least four weeks after giving birth. To do otherwise was considered improper and dangerous for the health and well-being of mother and child. And since most women were closely connected to their various relations who could step in if needed, this practice was possible even in less wealthy families. Only among the well and truly poor exceptions will have occurred out of bitter need.

*****

Enjoyed learning more about Regency maternity fashions? Why not explore our costume section at our online giftshop for costume, patterns and accessories?

Arts Et Metiers

Ann-Dorothee Schlueter, Proprietress of Arts Et Metiers, in Germany is a textile historian and historical seamstress. She is registered with the Handwerkskammer, Berlin. Visit her website to see samples of her work and purchase items.