Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***

Sunday, March 2, 2008

What's Covering Her Lady Parts?

While men’s undergarments changed very little over history, women’s has changed drastically!

Just think what Queen Elizabeth I of England, would say if her ladies maids handed her a lacy thong and bra. She’d be spitting mad! Although have you heard of the Victoria’s Secret diamond bra and underwear? She may not have been as mad if they tried to put that on her… I bet if Katherine of Aragon had come to Henry VIII’s room with a diamond bra and panty set on, Anne Boleyn would have had a hell of time trying to turn his head!

Today I will deal strictly with the Medieval, Regency and Victorian eras, roughly the years 1200 – 1850. Let’s start off with the ultra-sexy smock!

Women in the middle ages, wore a garment called a smock, later renamed chemise by the Normans, which is French for shirt. The term was very fitting, because a chemise is basically a very long shirt, or today would look like a woman’s slip. It was a flowing piece that reached the ankles and had long sleeves, over time it shortened in length and in sleeve. In the 1300’s it would become a little more snugger to show off the figure. It was often made of a thin fine linen or silk material. She would not wear any ‘panties’ under the chemise. Yup, she was naked as the day she was born.

Could you imagine? I won’t get into what happens when she’s having her monthly you know what…but I will discuss it in a later blog...

Historians are unsure if women wore stays (corset) in the early medieval days or not. There has been some hinting to it, besides dresses being so narrow of waist it is hard to imagine they didn’t have one, but also an illustration of a demon who was wearing a corset, which was done in the 12th century.

This picture to the right shows a woman wearing a chemise worn under a corset.

We do know that stays or corsets were worn later on and still worn today, although it isn’t a part of women’s fashion. Some women today wear them to slim their waists, and others wear them for sex appeal. They were quite popular in the Elizabethan eras as well as the Regency and Victorian times. Corsets were made out of linen fabric that was stiffened with busks of wood or whalebone. It was then laced up the back. Depending on the style at the time, the corset would either flatten the breasts, or push them up to enhance them. Throughout history these contraptions, being tied so tightly, have been the subject of jokes (check out the cartoon below) and were a great risk to the health of women.

Pain is beauty, and for some women, it was painful to live. As it is today, being thin was popular in the past as well. Just so popular in fact that women would lace themselves so tight they could hardly breath, and would pass out. Don’t even think about eating…

It was very popular to be able to span your own waist with your hands.

Look how skinny this woman is…Ouch! (This picture is not from the medieval time period, it is from the early 1900’s, but they still cinched their waists this small in previous time periods.)

Petticoats came into popularity sometime in the earlier 1500’s. It was an under-skirt that was attached by laces to the corset. Their thickness depended on the skirts worn by the woman and the weather. As the gowns of women expanded it is said that the petticoats did as well. It wasn’t uncommon for a woman to wear three sets of petticoat skirts. Various materials and colors were used. Remember Mammy from Gone With The Wind? All she ever wanted was a red petticoat, and Rhett being the handsomoe sexy devil that he was, got her one.

Petticoats had a number of forms other than being simple skirts. The year is 1545 and in walks the farthingale. The material was made of the same thing as a skirt petticoat, but it was lined with wood, whalebone or wire, making it a wide cone shape. Look at Queen Elizabeth I’s dress, see how wide it was? That was from a farthingale. A simple petticoat/under-skirt was still worn under the farthingale.

By 1625 the farthingale was no longer popular, and women wore thick petticoats to widen their dresses. By 1690 they had another contraption they considered fashionable underneath their gowns, the bustle, or as I like to call it ‘The Booty Enhancer.’ Most people when they think of a bustle think of a wedding gown, and how you have to pin it up in the back, called a bustle. But a bustle back in the day, was an actual piece worn under the gown. Take a look at this picture on th right. Looks like a booty enhancer doesn’t it? I guess…We all know bootyliciousness is sexy, but this looks like A LOT of junk in the trunk, lol. Here’s a picture on the left, of a woman doing her daily ablutions dressed only in her chemise, corset, petticoats and bustle.

The bustle didn’t last long, and by the early 1700’s was replaced by the hooped petticoat, a milder version of the farthingale. It went from being pyramid shaped to dome shaped, and by the 1730’s, was wide and flat. So instead of using the bustle to accentuate their derrieres, they decided wide hips were in fashion(see the petticoat on the right)…hmm…maybe I should go back in time… This fashion lasted until the 1770’s, when “Oh no! The bustle is back!” Not unlike us with 80’s fashions constantly reappearing. It would disappear again for a few years before and after 1800, only to resurface again 1810. By 1815, it was back, but this time in the shape of a large sausage, and referred to often as the bum roll. “Pardon me, but have you seen my bum roll? I seem to have lost it…”

By 1830 women began to wear drawers/pantaloons/pantalettes. They were calf to ankle length, made mostly of linen or silk. They were however used more widely by the upper class than the lower class. So ladies…we’ve technically only been wearing some form of underwear for 178 years to cover our lady parts down under…not that long…

I hope you found this blog to be informative. Check out the poll on the main page and let me know what type of underwear you would rather wear: Medieval, Regency, Victorian, modern or just go commando… I think I’ll stick with modern.


Delilah Marvelle said...

Love it! Great post. I myself don't allow my heroine in 1830 to wear drawers just yet (why keep the hero from having fun?! LOL)...though seriously, I wouldn't be able to get away with it at any other later time in history.

Eliza Knight said...

LOL Delilah! You know they did have that convenient slit in it, that my hero's have taken quite a bit of advantage of in carriage rides...

Glad you liked the post!

Susan Macatee said...

I still can't figure out how they were able to breathe with those corset's cinched so tight!

Great post, Eliza!

Pat Shagoury said...

All I can say is, interesting as all these items may be, I'm glad I live in 2008!

Thanks, Eliza!

Tracey Devlyn said...

Great information, Eliza!


Nicole North said...

Great post, Eliza!! I always enjoy reading your blog!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Great post Eliza! I have one of my characters refusing to wear a corset in 1895, because of the way they distort women (she's a budding suffragette).

Eliza Knight said...


I think it was really hard! That's why they passed out so much, because they couldn't breath! I've heard that when a woman passed out they would rip the corset off, and all the sudden she would suck in a breath!

Pat, me too! Although I wouldn't mind going back in time to ogle the hot men!

Thanks Tracey & Nicole!

Elizabeth, I love that! Good for her! That shows what a strong person she is!

As always, thank you so much for the fabulous comments everyone!

Mona Risk said...

Great blog. In summary women are going back to where they started. No underwear under the chemise, to a thong or hardly anything now-a-days. LOL

Jennifer Linforth said...

I can just see Mr. Darcy wondering with horror and delight how to navigate with edible underwear...


Eliza Knight said...

Mona, you're right, we are sort of returning to medieval aren't we?

OMG Jennifer!!! I didn't even think about that! LOL Can you imagine?! That would be hilarious!

Julia Templeton said...

Excellent post, Eliza!
Love all the pics, too. The one of the woman in the cinched corset makes me cringe a bit though ;).

Eliza Knight said...


Glad you liked it! Yes, the one in the cinched corset gives me the chills, its just so painful looking!

Holly Greenfield said...

Great post, Eliza! Very informative and entertaining.