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An Examination of Regency Petticoats

Regency Petticoats

Regency Petticoats: What Were They Like?

A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing for women; specifically an undergarment to be worn under a skirt or a dress. The petticoat is a separate garment hanging from the waist (unlike the chemise which is more shirt like in nature, and hangs from the shoulders.) In historical contexts (sixteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries), petticoat refers to any separate skirt worn with a gown, bedgown, bodice or jacket; these petticoats are not, strictly speaking, underwear as they were made to be seen. In both historical and modern contexts, petticoat refers to skirt-like undergarments worn for warmth or to give the skirt or dress the desired fashionable shape.*

A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place.
A highly decorative Regency petticoat, complete with shoulder straps to help it stay in place. Note the plain front and gathered back. From the Oregon Regency Society

Prior to the Regency, any number of petticoats might be worn under a gown, with the outermost layer often meant for display, like the elaborate underskirt worn in this portrait:

Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1864, by Drouais.
Madame Pompadour at her Tambour frame, 1764, by Drouais.

Naturally, these Regency petticoats would fasten at the waist, however, the connical shape of Regency gowns, not only meant a reduced number of petticoats (one to five) mostly meant to stay hidden, they also had to fasten as high as the bust to accommodate the raised waistline. Some petticoats were even “bodiced”, including a bust support, which could even be worn in lieu of stays. As in any era, having the correct underpinnings was paramount to carrying off the fashion of the day.

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The Chemisette

Regency fashion (1800-1820) was based on classical principles of flowing Grecian robes. Although gowns enjoyed thin fabric and plunging necklines for evening wear, day dresses required something a little more substantial both for the sake of modesty and comfort in drafty old houses. A tucker or chemisette (a side opening half blouse) answered perfectly, filling in during the day, and able to be removed in the evening should the occasion so require it. They had the additional benefit of being able to be worn with any number of gowns further expanding the wardrobe.

In our shop, you can purchase your own ready made Chemisette or buy the Regency Underthings pattern which includes a corset, chemise and two different chemisette patterns.

 

 

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Nightgowns and Underthings

Yes, he had no engagement at all for to-morrow; and her invitation was accepted with alacrity.

He came, and in such very good time that the ladies were none of them dressed.

In ran Mrs Bennet to her daughter’s room, in her dressing gown, and with her hair half finished, crying out,
“My dear Jane, make haste and hurry down. He is come — Mr Bingley is come. — He is, indeed.
Pride and Prejudice

Shift

This garment, basic for both men and women, was straight cut, usually knee length, and had the elbow length sleeves set straight into the shoulders. The women wore their shifts under their corsets, and in the second half of the 17th and 18th centuries the frills at the low cut neckline at at the elbow were intended to show in the openings of the dress. Most was of white linen, easily washable. There was little change in cut or material until the last quarter of the 19th century.

 

Chemise

Chemise is the French word for shirt. Since the Rococco period this has been the term for an under garment with short sleeves; somewhat later (1785-1800) the shirt type garment, the chemise, was the fashion. The name was transferred to a day dress of similar cut.

This pattern for a period correct Chemise and Stays was designed by Jennie Chancey for Simplicity and can be purchased at many pattern retailers.

Nightshirt

It was first found in the late Middle Ages under the term bedshirt; until then people had either slept naked or had kept on their day clothes. The first nightshirts were very capacious, otherwise they were by and large similar to a day shirt. In general the nightshirt prevailed first in the 19th century, in many countries later. At night, Women often wore a night jacket over the day chemise.

Visit our online giftshop to purchase a Regency inspired Nightgown and chemise patterns!

Dressing Gown, Undress Gown, Nightgown, Négligé

All of these were terms for a comfortable house garment. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was known as a nightgown and worn by both sexes as in informal house-dress. It was orignally based on the Far Eastern kimono or banyan. Men’s dressing gowns preserved their classical style; they were made of silk or flannel and reached to the calves. They were worn for morning toilette, including breakfast. Women’s dressing gowns were mostly long, so that they covered the length of the nightdress.

According to fashion expert Cathy Decker, During the Regency,”Undress” meant simply casual, informal dress. It was also called “dishabille” or “deshabille,” the French word for the same type of dress. Another clue is anything “negligently worn” or “à la négligé” is probably either undress or designed to resemble closely undress. Undress is the sort of dress to be worn from early morning to noon or perhaps as late as four or five, depending on the engagements one had. Compared to half dress and full dress, undress was usually more comfortable, more warm, more casual, and much cheaper in cost.

The male equivalent to the dressing gown was the Banyan. The Banyan was a Persian inspired, Asian style robe that was worn by fashionable men, at home. During the day it could be worn over a shirt/vest/breeches combination– a warm alternative to a coat or jacket in a drafty house. At night it would be worn, like a bathrobe, over the nightshirt, until retiring to bed. It would not have been worn to bed. It was the precursor to the Victorian dressing gown.

Well-to-do, intellectual men, such as Ben Franklin, often had themselves painted “at home” in their Banyans, instead of full formal dress.

Information from The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion, Kybalova and Herbenova, Crown Publishers, 1968