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Regency Petticoats

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 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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Dressing the Part: Children’s Clothing in Regency

Children’s Clothing in Regency and how it evolved For the first time in History, around 1770, children began to have clothes that were designed just for them; they were no longer dressed as miniature adults. This is very noticeable in portraits of the time, the adults still wearing stiff formal costumes, while the children appear relaxed and free; the boys in shirts which are open at the neck, the girls in simple gowns with a sash at the waist. Many experts attribute this, at least in part, to the influence of Rousseau. In ‘Emile’, published in 1762, translated into English the following year, he dealt not only with methods of raising children, but also with their clothing. “The limbs of a growing child should be free to move easily in his clothes: nothing should cramp their grown or movement; there should be nothing tight, nothing fitting closely to the body, no belt of any kind. The plainest and most comfortable clothes, those which leave him the most liberty, are what he likes best.” How different from the boned and panniered dresses for girls and the satin suits for little boys of previous times. Naturally, this process was not an instant change, but by 1800 it had permeated all levels of society. The most significant fact is that what the children wore gradually became the model for adult clothes. Thus, a young girl born about 1770 would wear almost the same style until she was 50! The “trousers” which were part (more…)
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Corsets and Drawers: A Look at Regency Underwear

Fashionable young ladies of the Regency were fortunate to escape one constriction that had haunted the lives of their mothers and would later fall to their daughters and granddaughters: The Boned Corset. Where both the Georgian and Victorian sillouette called for unnaturally small waists and straight backs, designers during the Regency were captivated by the “natural Female form.” Drawing inspiration from classic greek and roman statuary (all things ancient Greece were the rage at this time) they allowed for column dresses with minimal flouncing. Where once layers of hoops and petticoats reined, now almost modern dress shape took over. Waists were raised to just under the bosom while skirts hung free. These new styles called for an all new type of support garment. Thus was born the short corset, forbearer to today’s modern undergarments. Unlike Victorian corsets which hooked in the front and laced up the back, older corsets only laced up the back in a zigzag fashion using one string—cross lacing would be invented later on—and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the bosoms for the “heaving” effect, so popular at the time. Pre-Regency corsets constrained the body from the hips to the bust line and were held on with straps over the shoulders where gown sleeves could be laced on. These corsets could be a separate garment worn under clothes, or used as the bodice of the dress itself. It would be worn over a chemise (more…)