As there has been so much interest in our fashion blogs, we have decided to include another fashion post.
What did women wear under their beautiful dresses? The dressing regime of a lady would be seen as incredibly tiresome by today’s standards. Because the fashions came from Europe, the clothing would have been terribly warm and claustrophobic in the Australian climate. Let’s explore the stages of layering required to achieve the desired result for the fashion of the day.
To begin with our lady would put on her pantalettes, which were leg coverings. These were worn from waist to ankle to ensure the legs were modestly covered should her skirt rise and expose the legs. Then she would put on her chemise. This is a French word meaning ‘shirt’, and it basically is a quite long shirt, falling to around the lady’s knees. This helped to protect her body from the corset.
Next the corset goes on. The corset is a very tight fitting belt-like garment designed to pull the waist in and give an “hourglass” shape to the lady’s body. The corset was usually stiffened with wood, ivory, bone or baleen which comes from the mouths of whales. The stiffening was used to create the desired shape of the time. The corset could be tied so tightly that women had difficulty breathing. It is also attributed to be the cause of many illnesses such as pneumonia, curvature of the spine and headaches.
Over the top of the corset the woman would wear several petticoats to fill out her dress shape. After 1854 women wore a new invention from Paris called a ‘caged petticoat’ or ‘crinoline’. This was a garment with several hoops sewn in that gave the illusion of fullness to the dresses. The hoops could be made of cane, rope, spring steel or baleen and could be in the form of a cage as per our picture, or sewn into a petticoat. The crinoline could be a very dangerous item of clothing in a home where fire was used for heating and cooking.
Next came the camisole which provided a corset cover used to help soften the lines of the corset under the dress.
Lastly one or two petticoats were worn over all this to also soften the line of the crinoline under her dress.
Whew!! Now she can put on her outer clothes and go shopping!!!!
For undergarments, there is some information about the history of crinolines and other aspects of mid 19th century fashion from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
This article was written in response to some questions from Brooke, a student from Wesley College at Clunes. If you have a question you’d like us to answer please contact us!