December 4, 2018

Know Your Fabrics When Writing About Nineteenth Century Fashion

Suppose you want to describe the dress worn by a young woman as she walked across the prairie beside a covered wagon.  Do you know the difference between calico and chintz, muslin and pique?  Know how to describe what ordinary folks were wearing so your readers can see it too.  Forget about the aristocracy and royalty - silk and satin - yawn.  Let's define common, everyday fabrics worn by common folk.

Calico, circa 1836-1837
Wiki Commons
Calico:  As worn in the United States:  A printed (commonly a small floral print) plain woven textile made from unbleached and often not fully processed cotton

Chintz, circa 1800
Wiki Commons

Chintz:  Glazed calico with a large floral pattern

Gingham, date unknown
Wiki Commons

Gingham:  A type of cotton cloth with a pattern of white and colored squares - in other words checked.  Note:  It would be redundant to say "She wore a blue and white checked gingham dress." Gingham is by definition checked with white always being one of the colors.

Twill ribs on bustle, 1872-1875
Wiki Commons
Twill:  A type of textile weave with a pattern of diagonal parallel ribs

Muslin, circa 1830-1840
Wiki Commons

Muslin:   A cotton fabric of plain weave made in a wide range of weights from delicate sheers to coarse sheeting.

Pique, circa 1840
Wiki Commons

Pique:  A stiff fabric, typically cotton, woven in a strongly ribbed or raised pattern

References and Additional Reading

September 18, 2018

Carol"s Quaint Quotes

From Common School Question Book and Review, Isaac Hinton Brown, A. Flanagan Co., circa 1903
(a book designed as a study guide for a teacher's examination, in question and answer form)

Q:  State briefly some important directions regarding the manner of dressing most conducive to health.

A:  All garments should be as light as is consistent with the warmth and comfort of the wearer.  Two or three thicknesses of flannel is warmer than double the weight of cotton or linen;  and in a climate subject to sudden and extreme changes, flannel is preferable at all seasons of the year.

Flannel, cotton and linen - no synthetics developed yet - and while we would all agree a flannel shirt is comfy in the winter, wearing flannel in the summer seems a tad uncomfortable and not in the least "conducive to health".

April 13, 2018

When Did Women Start Wearing Underpants?

Did you ever stop to think when watching a costume drama set before the 19th century that those women in the elaborate gowns were wearing nothing over their nether regions?  Think Marie Antoinette or the six wives of King Henry VIII.  It's true. Women did not usually wear underpants until the early 1800's.

But there's a caveat.  Roman women wore a form of underpants - a loincloth or a garment called a subligaculum.  But after Rome fell in 476 AD, this practice disappeared. 
Roman woman wearing a subligaculum
(from Wiki Commons)
Prior to about 1800, women wore a long linen garment under their dresses called a shift, smock or chemise. And that's it - no panties, no knickers, no nothing. After 1800-1820, women began wearing a type of undergarment called a drawer.  This name came about because the undergarment had to be "drawn on".  Why the change?  Well, it was simply warmer in the cool, north European climate to have something covering your bottom.

The drawer had two separate legs which were joined at the waist.  That's right - drawers were open between the legs (and you thought Frederick's of Hollywood or Victoria's Secret invented open crotch panties!)  Why the open crotch?  It was a matter of hygiene and convenience.  Imagine trying to lower your drawers while struggling to scrunch up yards and yards of skirt while crouching over the chamber pot. 
Open drawers circa 1874
(From Wiki Commons)
By the 20th century, drawers were no longer open between the legs and the rest is history:  from above the knee panties in the 1920's to the briefs of 1940's and 50's all the way up to the thong of the 1990's and beyond.

So to answer our question "when did women start wearing underpants" we have to answer with "when in Rome do as the Romans do".

References and additional reading:


February 3, 2018

What's the Difference Between a Corset, a Bustier and a Bandeau?

In the previous article we discussed the difference between a corset and a girdle - important to know when writing about the nineteenth century.  A distinction between these garments and the bustier and the bandeau are important to know, not only for writer's of history, but for contemporary ones as well.

(Wiki Commons Public Domain)

Corsets and bustiers are quite similar.  Both can be either clothing or lingerie (in other words, worn outside as clothing versus inside as an undergarment).  The difference comes in the intent.  The bustier is worn to emphasize the wearer's curves and to create cleavage.  Corsets are intended to produce a smooth line from waist to bust and to reduce, over time, the size of the waist.
Contemporary bustier
(uploaded to Wiki Commons using Flickr upload bot on 27 February 2012, 17:34 by Infrogmation. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.)

Today, we are familiar with the bandeau as a sleeveless, strapless, strip of cloth worn around the breasts, such as the top of a two-piece swimsuit or bikini.  However, in the 1920"s, a bandeau was worn under the clothing to flatten the breasts in order to achieve the "boyish" silhouette in fashion at the time.  Thus it was the exact opposite of the bustier.

Bandeau of the 1920"s
(Wiki Commons - Public Domain)

References and Additional Reading: