The author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web this passage from the second edition of her Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000 (2000), published by A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd., which retains copyright. Readers wishing to obtain of the complete book can e-mail the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Decorated "T" based on Thackeray's illustration from Vanity Fair, which is set around thr time of Waterloo (1814).
hroughout this period women's underwear became more elaborately trimmed and progressively prettier and more alluring, culminating in the 1890s with 'frou-frou' petticoats. The chemise continued, and drawers reached tojust below the knee with a frill; a fashion for drawers of scarlet flannel occurred around 1855-60. Drawers and chemises were combined in 1877 as combinations, sometimes high-necked and longsleeved for day wear in linen, merino, calico or nainsook, but by the 1890s sleeveless and more glamorous with frills, tucks, lace trimmings and ribbons. Undervests of coloured washable silk with shaped gussets for the breasts were worn by 1875, and knickers made of flannel, similar to men's knickerbockers, might occasionally replace drawers in the 1890s.
'Petticoat' in the 19th century referred only to an undergarment, whereas previously it might be the name for a visible underskirt or the actual skirt of a gown. In the 1850s, as in the 1840s, numerous petticoats decorated with broderie anglaise, tucking and lace, some stiffened to support the widening skirts, were worn; but with the advent of the crinoline frame in 1856, only one or two petticoats were necessary -- one reason, perhaps, for the crinoline being considered somewhat immodest, although this opinion probably stemmed more from the fact that, in spite of its solid appearance, it was liable to sway and occasionally tip to reveal a tantalizing glimpse of an ankle or, in a high wind, even a little more. Petticoats followed the shape of the outer skirt, cut with a shaped band to give a smooth line over the hips during the 1870s and very much like a second or third skirt in the following decades.
Stays or corsets in the 1850s-60s were short, lightly boned but often stiffened by cording or quilting. White was considered ladylike, but they were also made in grey, putty, red or black, always lined with white. In the 1870s the corset grew longer, moulding the hips, and more rigid. This decade also saw the introduction of elastic suspenders attached to the border of the corset to support the stockings, previously held up by garters. Corsets remained extremely rigid until the end of the century, but the front gradually straightened over the stomach, pushing the surplus flesh out over the hips and bottom, evolving into the S-bend of the 1900s.
Although not intended to be visible, as were many 18th-century corsets, those of the 1880s-90s were elegant and beautifully made; black sateen was machined with yellow, blue, pink or green and embroidered, or a wedding corset might be of white satin embroidered with orange blossom motifs. A short-sleeved or sleeveless under-bodice called a camisole or, in the 1890s, a corset cover or petticoat bodice, was worn over the corset to protect the tight-fitting dress. Towards the end of the century, petticoat and bodice might be combined.
Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume, 1200-2000. 2nd edition. A & C Black (Publishers) Ltd; Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
Last modified 17 August 2001