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Shapewear Nightmare

A wonderful article on the (im)practicalities of underwear, from the Regency period through to the modern day likes of the Wonderbra. Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels. *** It may be the third millennium, but not much has changed*  since the days of getting laced into a corset so stiff that one could barely lean over, let alone breathe. It’s no wonder ladies had to carry around smelling salts, or “vinaigrettes,” as they were called in Jane Austen’s day. Those Mr. Darcy types may have been swoon-worthy, but it was likely more a lack of oxygen than romantic flutterings that caused ladies to faint. It wasn’t only ladies who were wearing corsets or “stays.” The Prince Regent was a favorite target of cartoonists for trying to mask his size with a corset. Today, we call these instruments of torture “shapewear.” Sounds friendly and appealing, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to have a shape? The promise and the reality of shapewear, however, can be two very different things. If you’ve ever had a shapewear nightmare of your own, you will love Melissa McCarthy’s story.   But here’s where we can really explore the WHY of shapewear–and ROFL in the process. This is about three guys who decide to test out a girlfriend’s Spanx just for a laugh, and get more than they bargained for. Brilliant. If sheer discomfort isn’t enough to inspire you to choose jiggles (more…)
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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 (more…)
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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.

Continue reading Regency Petticoats

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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…)
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Dressing Elizabeth Bennet|Regency Undergarments

LizzieA New Exhibit at the Jane Austen Centre Lizzie stands 75 cm. tall and wears a promenade dress circa 1813. She is shown in her chemise, donning stockings. Here, we see her in her stays (corset) and drawers. Stays were always worn over a chemise and, during this period, were designed to push the bosom up and slim down the hips. Drawers were a new addition to the female wardrobe in the early 19th century. These are made of silk stockingette.   Next comes the petticoat, constructed with an 'apron front' and side ties which pass around the body Lizzie On top of all this she wears a fine white lawn dress, also made with an "apron front". Lastly she puts on her shoes, hat and shawl and takes up her parasol, ridicule* (bag) and gloves. She is ready for her promenade   All these garments are based on research of fashion plates and garments C.1813 in museum collections. This amount of underclothing would have been typical for a young Englishwoman like Elizabeth Bennet. Although the dresses themselves were diaphanous, the undergarments were decorous and only the most daring style leaders (mainly in Paris) took the fashion to extremes and wore the ‘semi-naked’ look so beloved by cartoonists of the time. “Elizabeth Bennet” (Doll and costume) was researched, designed and hand-made by Susie Ralph. Susie does do commissions – ask at Centre’s shop or email us: curator@janeausten.co.uk. *Often mistakenly called a reticule. While `reticule’ was the proper name for a (more…)