From Shoulders to Toes: Undergarments

Today’s post is a continuation of yesterday’s. We’ll take a look at the undergarments worn by men in the 19th century.

From Shoulders to Toes: Undergarments


Unless they were laborers, men in the 1800s wore trousers and jackets pretty much all the time. The shirt beneath the waistcoat (vest) was considered an undergarment. During the Regency period in the early part of the century, the man’s linen or cotton shirt was full and loose as Colin Firth graciously displays for us below. Though his is rather wet.

Mr. Darcy returns to Pemberley. Colin Firth in A&E's Pride and Prejudice.

The basic undergarments usually included shirt, drawers, and stockings. In an illustration that I couldn’t use because of copyright restrictions, the drawers were short and the stockings extended above the knee with garter ties. Another illustration showed knee-length drawers with the drawstring fastening below the knee over knitted white ribbed-cotton stockings.  And that was it for underwear. Simple, right? Not so fast.

1826 A corset was necessary to achieve this look.

Some men during the early 1800s wore corsets. Yes, corsets. Though they were called girdles, belts or vests. The only reasons for this that I could discover were (1) clothes were very tight and (2) some military officers wanted to maintain a straight upright posture and pull in a stomach bulge. Cavalry men were known to insist on the back support a corset could provide. And, if one wanted to remain among the fashionable, the waist must be cinched.

Men’s undergarments remained basically the same throughout the century, though the corset fell out of use. Long knit underwear in separate tops and bottoms were developed and later transitioned into union suits, or “combinations.”

Mid 19th century wool underpants and undershirt. ©Victoria & Albert Museum

Clearly the men had a lot easier time of it as far as undergarments went in the 19th century. They did, however, have their share of accessories to complete an outfit. A bit different from today’s boxers, t-shirt and jeans.


2 Responses to From Shoulders to Toes: Undergarments

  1. Rosemary says:

    Hi Tricia!
    The reason I am commenting on your submission is because I was fortunate to volunteer as a Park Ranger at Ft. Davis Nat’l Hist. Site last summer. Part of my duties were to dress as an officer’s wife from 1884. Oh my, did I gain a new respect for the ladies and gents of that time! I wore all the undergarments (okay, I did cheat just a little, but the chemise, the corset, the bustle I did don!). The soldiers wore long johns under their wool uniforms because they itched so badly, and then went out on horse patrol in the heat of Texas. It was a wonderful experience, the minute you dress in those clothes, you feel very different.
    I pray all is well with you and your family.
    In Messiah’s love, Rosemary

  2. Great post, Tricia! Thanks for such thorough information. I’m writing a chapter book right now that takes place in Victorian England. It’s through a nine year old girl’s p.o.v., but it’s always great to know what everyone else would have been wearing. And it’s not always easy to find out!

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