Copyright (a) Jane Austen’s World. Gentle Readers, The previous post elicited a question about Regency underdrawers or a lady’s unmentionables. My answer was so long that I decided to create a new post from it.
Drawers, which made their first serious appearance in 1806, and were fashioned after men’s underdrawers, were still optional during 1810. They would be worn more frequently as the century progressed. Underdrawers were considered risque, for the garments resembled men’s pant legs. Even if the garments were worn, they did not resemble the pretty underdrawers that we associate with the Victorian era.
As you can see in this image, early ladies underdrawers consisted of two tubes of cloth that were tied to the waist, allowing a woman to, uhm, attend to her business without having to remove too many clothes. In an era without indoor plumbing, this must have been an important consideration.
I recently viewed a shameless cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson of a group of travelers (3 ladies and a gent, all family members), who were attending to their calls of nature on the side of the road. Because the image is quite vulgar, which many of Rowlandson’s images tend to be, I will only link to it. From the headdresses that the ladies are wearing, this cartoon was drawn much earlier than 1806. As you can see, no underdrawers obstructed the group from relieving their most pressing needs.
Rowlandson’s Exhibition Staircase cartoon has a given date of 1800. The ladies’ tumble down a steep, crowded staircase forcibly reminds us that underdrawers were still a fashion consideration for the future.
By 1820, wearing drawers was still optional, but by the 1850’s, the caged hooped skirts made them a necessity, for a hoop could be wildly unpredictable. One wrong swinging move or errant gust of wind, and a lady’s most delicate (or indelicate) parts would appear in full view. The 1956 version of The King and I contains one of my favorite scenes in which the King’s wives wear Western dresses for the first time. When the King enters, they immediately drop down to bow to him. Their hooped skirts swung straight up in the air, revealing their bare bottoms and shocking Anna, who had not anticipated such an END (ahem) to her well-meant scheme.
Needless to say, by the mid-19th century, ladies wore drawers as a matter of course.