From Shoulders to Toes: Undergarments

July 30, 2010

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.

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From Shoulder to Toe: Undergarments

July 29, 2010

As I said in my previous 19th century fashion post, my focus will be on fashions in Europe. With undergarments, however, there probably wasn’t much difference between those in Europe and those in the US.

Regency Style 1813


Undergarments worn by women have, for the most part, always depended on their outergarments. Of course, cultural and social mores have had an influence, but the fashion of the day determined what was worn underneath. In the 19th century, women’s fashion went through vast changes, and none more dramatic than the Regency or Empire style at the turn of the century. As costume historian Elizabeth Ewing states in Dress & Undress:

Accepted types of petticoats, corsets and smocks were discarded along with all known styles of outer dress. High heels, elaborate headdresses, hats and hair styles all disappeared from fashion. . .  Instead the vogue was for slim, high-waisted muslin or cotton gowns, clinging to the figure and worn with the minimum of underclothing, sometimes with only flesh-coloured tights beneath them. (p. 52)

So let’s start with those tights, shall we?

Stockings/tights were made of silk, wool or knitted cotton and secured with garters.  At this time period they were mostly white. Later in the century, stockings were more elaborate with embroidery and contrasting colors.  A few women wore white cotton

1880s "drawers" Illustration from

drawers or pantalettes over their stockings and these became more common as time went on and fashion changed. (Little girls, however, wore them regularly.) Tied at the waist and open at the crotch, pantalettes were trimmed with lace and generally knee-length to ankle-length. The illustration at left is from later in the century, but it shows the basic construction of drawers.

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From Head to Toe: Hats and Shoes

July 27, 2010

Back in February Tricia and I did a five post series on clothing from 1800 to 1899.  Find it HERE! We will conclude it this week with Hats, Shoes and Undergarments.  Enjoy.

From Head to Toe: Hats and Shoes

The Panorama of Professions and Trades - The Milliner's Shop

Hats!  I assume most of you, like me, own at least one hat; mine being a winter hat that only makes it out of the closet on the coldest of winter days.  Also like me, you might remember your grandmother wearing a fancy hat with her Sunday best, or your dad donning a baseball cap when he brought you to a game, but imagine a world where women didn’t leave the house without a bonnet or men without their straw or top hat.  That world was the 19th century.

In the 1800s, neither women nor men went outdoors without some form of head covering.  In fact most women wore caps indoors as well.  Caps were typically soft linen bonnet-like head coverings.  Women generally wore them in the morning, while they did their housework.  In the afternoon, when calls might be made, they would change into more elaborate “dress caps” or bonnets.  The bonnet was a brimmed cap that was tied beneath the chin and could be made of fur, velvet, satin, wool, straw, gauze or cotton.  Women wore bonnets that ranged from elaborately trimmed to simple quilted hoods use in the winter to provide warmth.  Often women would add veils to their head attire when traveling.  This protected them from dust and excessive exposure to the sun.

Women gathered on the 4th of July attired in fancy head ware.

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Women: From Shoulder to Ankle

February 20, 2010

As I mentioned in Thursday’s post, I’m concentrating on fashions worn in Europe.

Women’s Fashion: 1850-1899

Women’s clothing for the last fifty years of the 19th century went through a myriad of changes and I can only give an overview here. But those changes can be summed up for the most part by silhouette. These varying shapes were brought about by use of the caged crinoline or hooped petticoat, the half-crinoline, the cuirasse bodice, the bustle, and leg o’ mutton sleeves.

1850s Bloomer style

Before I discuss those, I want to talk about the first attempt at changing women’s fashion into something less confining—Amelia Bloomer’s efforts in 1851. Her suggested outfit included a simplified bodice with a skirt that reached below the knee. Ankle-length baggy trousers with a lace frill were worn underneath. This costume gained hostility and ridicule with many thinking it an attack on a man’s position in life. In Costume & Fashion, British clothing historian James Laver calls the Bloomer movement a complete failure. “A few ‘advanced’ ladies adopted the costume, but the upper classes refused to have anything to do with it, and Mrs. Bloomer had to wait for almost fifty years before she had her revenge in the adoption of ‘bloomers’ for cycling.”

Caged crinoline. Punch Magazine, 1856

Caged crinoline. In the 1850s, women wore flounced skirts that had to be supported by wearing several petticoats. With the invention in 1856 of the caged crinoline, women had more freedom of movement. They could do away with the volumes of petticoats and wear the crinoline, a garment of flexible steel hoops worn alone or sewn into a petticoat. There were drawbacks, of course. Pantaloons had to be worn underneath in case of a high wind. Skirts became so wide, Laver says, that it wasn’t possible for two women to enter a room together or sit on the same sofa. “A woman was now a majestic ship, sailing proudly ahead, while a small tender—her male escort—sailed along behind,” Laver writes.

Wide skirts courtesy of caged crinoline, 1860

Gowns framed by half-crinoline, Godey's, 1869

Half-crinoline. After about 1862, the silhouette of the crinoline began to change, becoming straighter in the front until finally in 1868, the support was totally in the back. Skirts were long in the back with a train and were looped up and draped across the rear, a bustle being necessary to support it all. This style last only a few years, evolving into a style with the fullness lower on the legs and no bustle.

Punch Magazine, late 1870s, by George du Maurier

Cuirasse bodice. The 1870s saw the introduction of several different types of dresses.  The “Princess” style was a dress of all one piece, while another style consisted of a separate bodice and jacket. Corsets had been used all along, but with the advent of the cuirasse bodice in 1874, which

Dolly Varden dress

was tight and molded to the hips, women had to wear long corsets. The sleeves were also tight fitting. These gowns limited movement and became the subject of satire as the cartoon above depicts. Other styles of the 1870s included the “Dolly Varden” dress, thought of as a throw-back to the 18th century, and the tea gown, a loose-fitting (no corset!) gown for entertaining at home.

"Back shelf" bustle, 1885

Bustle. By the mid 1880s, the bustle came back in fashion. Sometimes referred to as the “back shelf” bustle, it stuck out horizontally from the small of the back. Technology had advanced the bustle from the very warm horsehair products to those of braided wire.  James Laver describes the Langtry bustle:

“There was also the ‘Langtry’ bustle, an arrangement of metal bands working on a pivot. It could be raised when sitting down and sprang back automatically into place when the lady rose to her feet!” (Laver, 198)

The Rational Dress movement began in 1881 by those concerned about the rigid, deforming corset and the many layers of drapery in current fashion. It brought about loosely fitting gowns, sometimes belted at the waist. The movement was, of course, ridiculed, but was successful over time “as women began to lead more active lives and rigid corsets thus became unfashionable.” (Laver, 200)

Walking suits with leg o' mutton sleeves, 1894

Leg o’ mutton sleeves. Still, the use of corsets prevailed into the 1890s when bodices were narrow and skirts long and bell-shaped. By 1894, sleeves had grown enormously to the style known as leg o’ mutton. “Some sleeves were so large,” Laver writes, “that cushions were necessary to keep them in place.” This style faded after a couple of years and tighter sleeves were adopted.

By the end of the century, the corset was elongated, bringing about the S-curve shape that remained popular for years.  Working class women wore simpler styles and sportswear became popular as attitudes changed about

Bike dress, 1896

women being involved in sports. The tennis dress and the bicycling outfit are two examples.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our miniseries on fashion in the 1800s. There’s more to be explored than we were able to touch on here. Following are our references in case you’d like to do a bit of research on your own.

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Men: From Shoulder to Ankle

February 18, 2010

For today’s post I decided to concentrate on the clothing being worn in Europe.  I have, however, included a tidbit of Americana that the astute observer can easily find.  I’ve used images from each decade, beginning with the 1850s.  Several of these are paintings.  I so enjoy the work of artists depicting their own culture and society.  So, here we go.

Men’s Fashion: 1850-1899

1856 fashion plate showing the morning coat (left) and two versions of the frock coat.

As Jennifer said in Tuesday’s post, men’s fashion changed little during the 19th century. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the basic coats prevailed.  The morning coat, which curved over the hips toward the back; the frock coat, which hit at mid-thigh or knee-length; and formal evening tails were standard wear. The short jacket, also called the box coat or the sack coat, was similar in length to today’s suit coats and popular among young men.

Parisian composers: The Circle of the Rue Royale, 1868 by James Jacques Tissot. Note the morning coats buttoned high up on the chest.

Gentleman in a Railway Carriage, 1872, James Jacques Tissot. The fur on this man's coat was most likely a complete lining, not merely the trim. At this point, usually only males wore fur. It wasn't fashionable for women until the 1890s.

Bat Masterson in a sack coat. 1879

Sketch of John Delacouur in formal evening tails, 1885, for Vanity Fair magazine by Sir Leslie Ward (Spy).

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Women and Children: From Shoulder to Ankle

February 17, 2010

Women and Children’s Fashion: 1800-1849

Fashion Plate example from Ackerman’s Repository - BALL DRESS

Now on the other hand, women’s fashion was constantly changing during the 19th century.  The beginning of the century saw the popularity of the Empire style, which took its name from the Empire of Napoleon, who ruled France from 1799 to 1815.  Women’s gowns had high waistlines and long straight skirts that fell to the ankles.  The dress was typically made of a nearly transparent fabric with a solid petticoat and brassiere worn underneath.  Sleeves could be either short or long.  The style was said to resemble an architectural column.  The Empire style freed women from tight corsets and hoop skirts.  However, by 1820 the skirts were once again widening and their waistlines dropping, bringing the corset and hoopskirt back into fashion where they would stick around until the 1870s.

Rural winter attire

By the middle of the century lace dresses with tight bodices and long flounced skirts were very popular for formal occasions.  Silk, velvet and satin were other popular fabric choices for formal wear.  The basic outfit, though, for women living in towns or cities was a combination of the hooped skirt, blouse and bodice, typically made of linen, wool or cotton.  The “leg-of-mutton”-sleeve,which got its name from its resemblance to a leg of lamb, was popular throughout the 19th century and could be seen on gowns of all styles.  Women wore overcoats made of flannel, cotton, tweed or water repellent cloth.  Many coats had a cape collar that draped over the shoulders.

Summer attire for the rural women and children

Rural women wore a much simpler dress made of wool or linen.  Corsets and hoop skirts were not a part of their attire.  The dress usually had very little adornment, maybe a simple collar, but that was the extent.  An apron would be worn over the dress to protect it from the grime of housework. On Sunday, a woman would dress up her apparel with a shawl and clean apron.

Throughout the first half of the 1800s, children’s clothing was made at home and typically mimicked the pattern and style of the adult clothing with small variations that symbolized childhood.  Infants in the early 19th century were as heavily clothed as young boys and girls.  Their garments included diapers (known as napkins, secured by pins), bands, shirts, and petticoats.  Over all of this the child wore a long, typically white, gown that usually extended a distance below the feet.  The gown was not just for his christening ceremony, but for everyday wear.  A cap, which could expand as a baby grew, and stockings completed the outfit.  These items were typically fairly large and used drawstrings, all so that they would fit rapidly growing infants for several months.  Toddlers, of both sexes, wore cotton or linen dresses—also called shifts—over pantalets until they were three or four years of age, when they would then start wearing clothing that differentiated their sex.

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Men: From Shoulder to Ankle

February 16, 2010

As already mentioned, clothing and fashion is a huge topic so I’ll just cover the basics of shirt, pants and dresses or as the title says from shoulder to ankle.  I’ll cover from head to toe or “Hats, Shoes and Undergarments” in the near future.

One aspect I’d like to point out is when we look at the 1800s we have two distinct social classes: the upper class (who mainly lived in the city, though many lived in country towns) and the working class (including the rural farmers, servants, mill girls, shop owners…).  While the rural working class’s fashions mimicked much of the upper class, work and situation in large part determined their style of clothing.  The tailored outfits of the city men were impractical for the farmer, just as the farmer’s wife had no use for tight corsets.  As I write today’s article I will talk about both rural and city fashion and hopefully provide you with a good idea of how they were both similar and different.

Men’s Fashion: 1800-1849

Farmer Attire

Farmer Attire

America adapted the latest fashions of England and France, which within months arrived in American cities.  French and English magazines, such as Ackerman’s Repository, which featured fashion plates illustrating the newest style found their way to America and were the main sources for adapting new fashions.  As the popularity of fashion plates grew American magazines adopted them.  In 1828 the Cotton’s Athenaeum would publish the first American fashion plate.  The latest styles would quickly make their way to the country side through letters from city friends and local dressmakers and tailors.  Rural women then adapted these fashions to their own needs and tastes, combing city fashion with countryside sensibility.

Fashion, whether you were rich or working class, was extremely important in the 1800s society.  “Dress” had a different connotation behind it in the 19th century.  Fashion wasn’t just about sporting the latest styles, but an attitude toward how one perceived oneself and wished others to appraise them.  The importance of this mindset is demonstrated by the many books published offering advice to both men and women on all means of proper etiquette and dress.  Mrs. Farra’s The Young Lady’s Friend dedicates an entire chapter to dress, covering topics ranging from the “Standard of Beauty”, “Effects of Good Taste,” “Appropriateness Essential to Beauty,” to “Neat Habits.”  Books such as the Laws of Etiquette and The Cannon of Good Breeding , the latter of which offered advice to men, were full of guidance:

There should be an adaptation of costume to the occasion, season, place and hour.  There should be harmony between the stiffness of the coat and the company; a buckram’d collar at a pic-nic would be as much out of place as starchless linen in a drawingroom.

Fashion divided the rich from the working class, but both took pride, whether in silks or wool, in how they dressed and all that their attire implied.

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