Saturday, May 1, 2010

Things: 18th century women's undergarments

The chemise, or shift was the basic women's undergarment from the middle ages to 1900. For most of the 18th century the shift had a drawstring neck and arms with a hem at mid-calf or just below the knees. Ruffles could be added to the neck and sleeves.

18th century stays or corsets were lightly or fully boned and created a conical shape, while flattening and lifting the bustline. There are two major styles of stays in the 18th century. The first are formal stays, which were cut very high in back and have shoulder straps to limit mobility and ensure perfect posture and great bust support. The second are working stays, which are cut lower in back and have removable or no shoulder straps. These allowed for greater mobility and provide excellent lower back support.

Stays were considered so essential to a women's wardrobe that there were charity funds throughout England and the Colonies to provide women with stays. The term "loose woman" refers to prostitutes who left their stays unbound, or women too poor to own stays.

Jumps were soft, front-lacing stays that were worn during manual labor like washing or farming, in very rural areas, or when a woman was pregnant. They had four bones, two in the front and two along the sides. Sleeves could be laced on through eyelets or left off entirely.

Panier supported skirts first appeared in England in 1709 and in Paris in 1718-19. Over the years there were many variations. In England paniers were sometimes called improvers.

An important style change occurred about 1772 when the overskirt became drawn up by invisibly placed inner tapes producing a ruched festoon bustle. It was called the polonaise skirt and was supported by special basket hoops. Basket paniers could be made into large pockets or left open at the bottom. It was said that the fashion arose when maids picked up the sides of their Panier skirts and pushed them into the pocket slit openings to enable them do their work more easily. The drawn up skirt revealed the petticoats and these then became an important fashion. The chest was forced forward and gave a pouter pigeon effect.

Hip pads were a poor or working woman's solution to paniers, and were worn for informal occasions by wealthy women. They add some extra volume to the hips without getting in the way of washing, cooking or gardening.

Petticoats were worn under the stays for warmth, and for modesty when wearing hoops. Under-petticoats were made from warm, utilitarian fabric. Sometimes a decorative hem was added to match or complement the outer petticoat and gown.

Stockings were made from silk, cotton, or wool, and were tied just above the knee with a satin ribbon, cord, or soft leather strap.

In Susanna's Act II aria from The Marriage of Figaro, she makes fun of Cherubino as she dresses him up like a girl.

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