Monday, March 20, 2006

Beneath It All #3

Now I'll wrap up my series on Victorian undergarments.
Petticoats were used to keep dresses clean by avoiding contact with skin and also to provide fullness in the skirt and protect the wearer's modesty. Victorian petticoats were often constructed of white cotton, although they also used flannel for warmth in cold weather. I've also heard references to women wearing red petticoats. To men of that period, a flash of petticoat beneath a woman's skirt could be erotic.
This essential undergarment had a ruffle at the bottom and was heavily starched to provide extra fullness. Before the hoopskirt, women would wear as many as five petticoats to make their skirts appear full.
The petticoat was worn tied around the waist over the corset, if one was worn, with a ribbon drawstring inserted into the waistband.
The hoop or crinoline (and these terms were used interchangeably) freed women from having to wear all those petticoats. Now they only needed two. One for underneath the hoop to protect their modesty, the other worn above the hoop to keep the bones of the hoop from showing through the skirt. Period hoops were boned with watch-spring steel, steel bands or whale bone. Now, just imagine having to sit down wearing that.
The hoop was essentially a fashion item. Working women of the period wouldn't have worn them. As with the corset, it depended on many factors as to whether the hoop was worn. They certainly didn't wear them all the time.
Skirts grew to their fullest in 1856 after the cage crinoline appeared, freeing fashionable women from wearing all those petticoats. Unlike the whale bone hoops, the steel bands of the crinoline could be compressed allowing some flexibility.
After 1862 the silhouette changed. Dresses became flatter in the front. The hoop was replaced by the bustle.
For photos, illustrations and further information about all the undergarments I've been discussing, check out these great links:
Next time I'll talk about how they washed all those clothes.

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