Pantalettes were longer undergarments worn by women and children during the 19th century. These undergarments fell under the hem line of dresses or slacks and were used to conceal a bare leg. At the time pantalettes were in style, it was not socially acceptable to leave the knees or ankles visible. The undergarments were initially made long to cover the entire leg but as the century progressed, they were shortened to just below the knee. They were made with ruffles or lace added to the bottom of the pant for a fancy look, but they were also made in plain styles.
It is a misconception that pantalettes were worn as underwear. They were designed to be incorporated into an overall outfit. For example, if a woman’s dress was not going to cover the knee area, pantalettes were worn to not only cover the knee, but to add a splash of color and style to the dress. Decorated with fancy ribbons that often matched the dress color, these undergarments were meant to be seen. Small boys also wore pantalettes if their pants did not cover their knees.
The materials used to make pantalettes varied depending on who they were made for. Women's undergarments were usually made using silk or linen. Younger girls could be seen in linen or cotton, and boys' pantalettes were made from either cotton, linen, or from the same material as the rest of the ensemble. Most of these undergarments were made using white material, but occasionally they were seen in different colors.
In the 20th century, pantalettes could still be seen in America and Europe. During this time, many more style variations were created. Undergarments were shortened considerably and went as high up as the inner thigh. White linen or silk tops were added to the pantalettes bottoms for a complete undergarment. Buttons or drawstrings were also added for convenience.
Young boys in the mid 19th century wore dresses until they reached around 12 years of age. Kilts also became fashionable during this time period, so undergarments were needed. They came in the same styles for young boys and girls and it was up to the mother to choose one that was acceptable. Even today, these frilly types of undergarments can still be found and purchased.