March Curator’s Corner

March is Women’s History Month and while we recognize many different fashionable eras of dress, this year, we are going to take a close look beneath it all…what undergarments did 19th century fashionable dressed women wear under their crinoline, bustle or petticoats?  Sometimes called knickers, drawers or pantalettes/pantaloons, these undies have many variations.

It is curious to look at such intimate garments and wonder why they are so large and voluminous.  Without elasticity, there is no give and the undergarment has to be able to move comfortably with the wearer. It is not until the development of vulcanized rubber that elastomers are incorporated into the design of drawers.

It is also intriguing that women’s drawers, when they first became acceptable attire were open at the crotch, e.g. the center front and back seam was left open.  This surprising design feature was ultimately closed in the 1880s, when it became associated with sexual availability.

Of the various styles of drawers, pantalettes were meant to keep the legs warm and can be seen, extending down beyond the hemline of the dress.  And knickers were a specific type of drawer that was secured at the knee.

Curatorial Postcard from Jan Loverin, Curator of Clothing and Textiles.

No, it’s not laundry day, but rather a selection of stylistic differences in 19th century women’s drawers.