The underwear of the Victorian lady was a complicated affair. It took many layers and shape altering underwear to achieve the fashionable silhouette.

The first layer was the chemise. This protected the corset from the dirt of the skin and was changed daily. At the beginning of the century the shift was loose, voluminous and quite plain. Necklines and sleeve shapes changed to suit the fashions of the day. By the 1860’s the chemise was often decorated with embroidery and lace and the majority of the time made of cotton rather than the previous linen. In the 1970 the fashion was for dresses to have a very tight fitted bodice, this meant a change in the chemise style. Its volume was reduced and its length shortened and sometimes included tucks at the waist and under the bust.

1882 Chemises
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1888 Chemises
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1892 Chemises
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

The next item a lady put on after her chemise was her drawers. These became popular in the 1850’s when the cage crinoline was introduced replacing the layers of petticoats. Drawers were then worn for warmth and modesty in case of crinoline accidents.

Early drawers came to below the knee and were open at the crotch seam. They were usually cut straight and baggy at the seat so they did not gape. Later in the century the crotch was often closed and instead had a flap, these were commonly worn with sporting dress. They usually fastened with draw string ties or buttoned at the back.  In the 1860’s drawers came to just below the knee and often gathered in at the bottom with a leg band trimmed with lace. Another development was the addition of a yoke to the waistband when the fitted bodice was fashionable in the 1870’s. This reduced the gathers and bulk at the waist. At the end of the century drawers became wider and loose again. 

Thought the vast majority of women wore drawers by the end of the 19th century the mention of such intimate garments was frowned upon. Even fashion plates would usually only show the garment in a folded state, see the examples from Harpers Bazar below.

1888 Cambric, muslin and flannel drawers
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1892 Drawers
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

 

Combinations, an alternative to the separate chemise and drawers, were introduced in the 1870’s. These removed a lot of the bulk at the waist meaning a slimmer smother silhouette which was so desirable in the 1870’s. The crotch was either open or with a flap at the back similar to drawers. They had tucks and darts to fit the body and were fastened with buttons at the centre front.

1892 Combination
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1897 Bloomers and combinations
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

An underskirt was then worn on top of your chemise and drawers or combination. This was an added layer of warmth or modesty. These also sometimes had a yoke to reduce bulk on the waist

 

The next layer was the corset. The corset was worn to create a smooth shapely outline. It reduced the size of the waist and accentuated the bust and hips. The fashionable corset shape in the later half of the 18th century was an elevated bust, flattened stomach, narrow waist, pushed back hips and smoothed hourglass curves. As the hourglass silhouette became popular corsets elongated to cover the stomach and amount of boning used was increased.  Corset fashions changed in the 1890’s, they were straight fronted with the bust pushed up and out to create the mono-bosom, pigeon breast and the S bend stance.

1869 Corsets
g for girls of 8 to 10
i for girls of 12 to 14
j for child of 1 to 2
l shoulder braces for girls of 8 to 10
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1875 Corset back, cut shorter at the back to accommodate a bustle
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley.

1875-99 Corset Corset made from grey cotton jersey with a twilled 'fleecy' back, trimmed at the top with white machine-made lace through which are threaded two lilac silk tapes. Made in two parts. They have metal wire busks which fasten with 4 brassed metal loops and buttons. There are 13 metal bound pairs of eyelets at the back for lacing. There is a corded panel under the bust. There is a white tape waist-band stitched inside the corset. The bones are of metal, bands of curved and flattened wire and slot through grey twill casings on the face of the corset. A gap is left so that they can be removed for washing. They give a straight front silhouette. The corset reaches from just above the bust to the top of the hips. It slants to a point in front and a less deep point at the back. Source - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O351700/corset-unknown/

1875-99 Corset
Corset made from grey cotton jersey with a twilled ‘fleecy’ back, trimmed at the top with white machine-made lace through which are threaded two lilac silk tapes. Made in two parts. They have metal wire busks which fasten with 4 brassed metal loops and buttons. There are 13 metal bound pairs of eyelets at the back for lacing. There is a corded panel under the bust. There is a white tape waist-band stitched inside the corset. The bones are of metal, bands of curved and flattened wire and slot through grey twill casings on the face of the corset. A gap is left so that they can be removed for washing. They give a straight front silhouette. The corset reaches from just above the bust to the top of the hips. It slants to a point in front and a less deep point at the back.
Source – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O351700/corset-unknown/

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1880-95 Corset
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley

1882 Corsets
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1887 Corset To improve shape, performance and comfort, manufacturers claimed numerous inventions. One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby 'the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure' (The Ladies' Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879). Source - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115825/wedding-corset-edwin-izod/

1887 Corset
To improve shape, performance and comfort, manufacturers claimed numerous inventions. One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby ‘the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure’ (The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879).
Source – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115825/wedding-corset-edwin-izod/

1885-95 Corset with steel spoon busk
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley

1890 Corset Brown cotton twill corset with the bones covered with a darker cotton twill, black fabric covered busks and a trimming of black machine-made cotton lace. Lined with white cotton twill and the top and bottom are bound with reddish brown tape. The corset is made in two parts. The front fastens with a busk and the backs are provided with metal eyelets for a lace. The corset is hip length, curving to a rounded point in the front and less deeply at the back. The bones are close-set and splayed out at the bust and hips, and at the tops are trimmed with fancy stitching in cream. There is a band of dark brown cording at the top, covering the breasts. At the waist there is a V-shaped band in darker brown stitching. The corset is machine-stitched. With metal fastenings. Source - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O351699/corset-unknown/

1890 Corset
Brown cotton twill corset with the bones covered with a darker cotton twill, black fabric covered busks and a trimming of black machine-made cotton lace. Lined with white cotton twill and the top and bottom are bound with reddish brown tape. The corset is made in two parts. The front fastens with a busk and the backs are provided with metal eyelets for a lace. The corset is hip length, curving to a rounded point in the front and less deeply at the back. The bones are close-set and splayed out at the bust and hips, and at the tops are trimmed with fancy stitching in cream. There is a band of dark brown cording at the top, covering the breasts. At the waist there is a V-shaped band in darker brown stitching. The corset is machine-stitched. With metal fastenings.
Source – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O351699/corset-unknown/

1892 Corset
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1893 Summer corset, morning corset and travelling/sports corset
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1895 Corset with a low flat front to push hips back
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley

1895-1900 Corset
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley

The corset cover then went on. This protected the corset, added modesty and avoided the corset from showing if the bodice was low cut or sheer. Along with the chemise the neckline and cut of the sleeves adapted to the changing fashions. It was usually waist to hip length and fastened at the front with buttons and fitted used darts and curved seams.

1892 Corset cover
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1892 Corset cover
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1893 Corset cover
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1896 Corset cover and skirt
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

It was now time to add the shaping to the bottom half of the silhouette. In the late 1860’s the majority of the skirt was pushed toward the back which was structured by the crinoline to form a triangle silhouette. in the last few years of the 1860’s the crinoline shrunk, to what is often call the crinolette, and the bustle was introduced to the rear. These were anything from stuffed pads to steel structures to rows of stiff frills and ruffles and were worn with or without a crinolette to create a dome on the rear. In the mid 1870’s the hips became slimmers and more fitted, this resulted in the bustle dropping and shrinking to a small amount of padding. The large bustle made a return in the 1880’s, bigger than it was before causing the skirt to jut out horizontally from the figure. At the end of the 1880’s the bustle was discarded and replaced with a small pad to create the then fashionable S bend shape.

 

‘Bustles came in a variety of fabrics, including silk, cashmere, flannel, brightly printed cottons and horsehair. Some were constructed almost entirely of steel, others resembled colourful cushions. Bustles were often stiffened and padded with horsehair to retain their shape and give form to the dress. Tapes secured the bustle to the body. The wearer tied them over her petticoat around her waist, hips and often under her bottom.’

Source – http://www.vam.ac.uk/

1870-5 Horsehair and linen bustle This bustle is constructed of horizontal and vertical steels, which support the gathered rows of fabric. The bustle shape is obtained by lacing bands with eyelet holes, which when laced and pulled up cause the back of the bustle to curve and be held firmly in shape. There are hooks at the waist to fasten the bustle onto a petticoat and two pairs of ties to secure it around the waist and hips. Source  - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128005/bustle-unknown/

1870-5 Horsehair and linen bustle
This bustle is constructed of horizontal and vertical steels, which support the gathered rows of fabric. The bustle shape is obtained by lacing bands with eyelet holes, which when laced and pulled up cause the back of the bustle to curve and be held firmly in shape. There are hooks at the waist to fasten the bustle onto a petticoat and two pairs of ties to secure it around the waist and hips.
Source – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O128005/bustle-unknown/

1872 Crinoline tournure
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1872 Crinoline bustle and steel spring bustle
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1872-4 Crinolette
Source – Hennessy, K. 2012. Fashion. London: Dorling Kindersley

1872-4 Crinolettes
Source – Levitt, S. 1986. Victorians unbuttoned. London: Allen & Unwin.

1881 Dimity bustle
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1884 'The New Phantom' Bustle Many manufacturers named their bustle designs after popular figures of the time. This bustle is similar to the 'Lillie Langtry', named after the well known actress. The steel wires are attached to a pivot, so they folded in on themselves when the wearer sat down and sprang back when she rose. Source - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O73542/the-new-phantom-bustle-unknown/

1884 ‘The New Phantom’ Bustle
Many manufacturers named their bustle designs after popular figures of the time. This bustle is similar to the ‘Lillie Langtry’, named after the well known actress. The steel wires are attached to a pivot, so they folded in on themselves when the wearer sat down and sprang back when she rose.
Source – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O73542/the-new-phantom-bustle-unknown/

 

The petticoat like the underskirt provides warmth and modesty, however it also helps shape the dress on top of it. Before the cage crinoline was introduced the skirts fullness was created with multiple  petticoats often stiffened with horsehair (then known as crinoline fabric), corded or starched. When the crinoline was worn the need for numerous petticoat was reduced. Flounced full petticoats were common and were used to soften the crinolines outline of rings. When the bustle became popular the petticoat included rows of ruffles and extra gathers at  the back. When the silhouette became more streamlined in the 1870’s the petticoat often tied at the back of the knees and then fanned out into a train. In the 1880’s flounces returned with the bustle revival and then in the 1890’s the petticoat was gored to create the fashionable triangular skirt shape.

 

1872 Petticoats with trains
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1876 Muslin petticoat
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1882 Foulard petticoat
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1882 Muslin petticoat
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

1882 Muslin petticoat
Source – Blum, S. 1974. Victorian fashions and costumes from Harper’s bazar, 1867-1898. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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