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Victorian women wore a wide variety of underwear, starting with drawers, a type of underwear that hangs from the waist to the mid shins. The chemise, a thin cloth worn like a sheer dress and similar to the modern slip, was worn next to protect clothes from a person’s skin and vice versa. In addition, another piece of Victorian underwear is the corset, which was worn over the chemise to cinch and compress the torso. Petticoats were also worn by Victorian women primarily to add volume under their skirts or dresses. Finally, camisoles are a type of Victorian underwear traditionally worn over corsets.
Traditionally, drawers are the first piece of Victorian underwear a woman puts on. Otherwise known as pantaloons or bloomers, drawers attach at the waist and fall below the knee to a varying length at the shins. Some pairs of drawers have an open seam between the legs. This piece of Victorian underwear is typically white.
The chemise is a Victorian undergarment worn over a woman’s drawers. Its main purpose is to protect the wearer’s clothing from sweat. In addition, the chemise protects a person’s skin from the sometimes rough and chaffing material of a tightly cinched corset. A chemise looks similar to a modern slip or a thin silk dress, and they are typically plain and white. This undergarment reaches a woman’s calves and folds over part of a corset.
Typically, the third layer of underwear that a Victorian woman wore is the corset. This piece of Victorian underwear was a valued aspect of Victorian fashion. Its purpose was to encapsulate a person’s torso to compress it. The point of this was to make a woman more attractive by presenting her with a slender, hourglass shape. In modern times, there are many concerns about the damage a classical corset can cause to a woman’s body.
The petticoat is a piece of Victorian underwear that was worn around a woman’s legs but on top of her chemise. Petticoats provide volume and can disguise other volume-producing undergarments. Victorian women usually aimed to have a domed skirt appearance, and petticoats were integral to this.
A camisole is a Victorian undergarment that was worn over a corset. The main purpose of this garment was to hide the corset. In addition, the camisole created a layer between the corset and other clothing.
How did women survive in the heat in all that underwear? I've wondered that for years. No wonder there was a stereotype of the fainting woman! They wore enough clothing for five people!
I couldn't have worn a corset. I guess women did what they had to do at the time, but I think a corset would have driven me bananas. The very thought of wearing one in 90- degree heat makes me feel a little faint. I can't imagine wearing one all day long. The idea of wearing a girdle in that kind of heat is bad enough. A corset would have been torment! To say nothing of all those darn petticoats and a hoopskirt! I've worn hoops. They weren't fun.
Pantaloons were more frequently called "pantalets" or "drawers" when referring to women's drawers.
Several good examples of everything a Victorian woman wore are found in literature. Laura Ingalls Wilder talked about getting dressed in a couple of her books. She discussed putting on her under petticoats, hoops, a starched petticoat over the hoops, a starched corset cover and then the underskirt and polonaise of her dresses. It was an involved process. I suspect women spent more on their underwear than they did on anything else, because they had to have so much of it!
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