Edwardian Undies – What, When and Where.

Window display of unmentionables (underwear). Lewisham High St., England. 1901

Window display of unmentionables (underwear). Lewisham High St., England. 1901

When trying to reproduce a style from a certain era I try to be as accurate as I’m able/willing to. And accuracy starts from the skin and builds outward. It’s the basis for getting things to look right – the under layers must be correct or the outer layers won’t be. Which means that before I start on my 1912 dress I want to understand 1912 underwear.

The Victorian period and early Edwardian years followed a standard pattern. The style of dress changed through the decades but the under layers remained essentially the same:

    • chemise
    • unders/drawers
    • stockings
    • boots/shoes
    • corset
    • corset cover
    • bustle (starting in the early 1870’s and gone by 1890’s)
    • petticoats – lots and lots of petticoats

 

"Help me! Is this right?"

“Help me! Is this right?”

It took me all of about two minutes to realize that doesn’t apply to the Edwardian era. Until I started planning my sewing strategy I hadn’t really paid attention to just how many changes happened in such a relatively short period of time. It’s the reason we’re able to delight in such a variety of fashions when watching Downton Abbey – shapes were moving from antique to modern at a rapid rate. (See end of post for a montage of style from 1901 to 1914 to see the changes, year by year.)

The underwear required to support the silhouette of 1905 was different from that required in 1912, and different again by the WWI years (1914-1918). I thought I had a good start with the Edwardian and Edwardian reproduction underwear I already had. Not so. The things I have work for the early Edwardian years of nipped waists and flowing skirts. None of them will work for the columnar styles of 1912. For this, I don’t want bulk – I want sleek.

Enter the revised underwear list for 1912:

  • combination (also called a combination suit = chemise top + drawers on the bottom)
  • stockings
  • boots/shoes
  • corset
  • a single petticoat
  • a dress (or blouse and skirt)

Fewer layers and a lot less poundage. I can do that. And I already have what I need in my stash.

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Combination Underwear: I have Truly Victorian #TV105, a small mountain of muslin and period mother-of-pearl buttons. I’m going to make it sleeveless to accommodate a variety of dress styles and fabrics.

TV105

TV105

This is what “combination suits” looked like by 1914. TV105 is obviously more Victorian in style, but it will do.

(VintageAdGallery/Etsy)

(VintageAdGallery/Etsy)

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Corset:  A while back, I had a 1912-style corset custom-drafted to my measurements by AriaCouture. It’s named “Rose’s Corset” and was inspired by the corset worn by Kate Winslett in Titanic. I also have some lovely robin’s egg blue coutil that I’ve tagged just for this. I may or may not be able to get it done in time, it’s last on the “to be sewn” list, but I have a long-ish Victorian corset that I can use. But Edwardian corsets have interested me for a long time, so I’d like to get it made someday. (Photos courtesy of AriaCouture)

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Petticoat: Happily, this will not be a monstrous fabric-eater that requires endless hours for gathering layers of flounces and ruffles. Even better, I only need one. I can make it either princess-style or with an “empire” waist, but since my 1912 dress has a raised waistline I’ll probably go in that direction. Either way, I’m eager to finally use a lot of the antique and reproduction lace I’ve been hoarding diligently collecting.

Or I could just jump two years ahead and go with a 1914-style petticoat, which would serve quite as well.

fortunately, I have a handful of dress patterns that will easily convert into a proper petticoat, and that mountain of muslin. I also have Folkwear #226 Princess Slip pattern, but it needs serious altering so I’m trying to avoid it.

fw226

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And that’s it for the underwear department. The muslin is in the wash for the combo and petticoat as I write this. In addition, any one of these will fill the gap for HSM#1 – Foundations. (More than a bit late, but better late than never.)

MONTAGE OF FASHION: 1901 TO 1914

Disclaimer: I am not a fashion historian, just a fashion history student. This is by no means a rigorously researched tutorial. These are the changes I notice happening throughout the Edwardian years.

1901-1904: The S-bend corset, wasp waist and pigeon front. Skirts are smooth at the waist and hips, then flare at the hem.

1905-1907: Droopy pigeon fronts go away and a smoother line is favored. Skirts are fuller, starting to flare at the hip.

1908-1911: A variety of waistlines are worn, but they steadily move upward. As the waistlines move up, skirts become more columnar.

1912: The waistline is up and stays up. Skirts are straight.

1913: The waistline starts drifting a bit again. Skirts gain a more ease in the hips, but lose it at the hem.

1914: Silhouettes are loosening up. Overall form is less structured, skirts are hobbled. WWI begins and the Edwardian period is long gone.

Then styles start to go crazy. Waistlines come and go, rise and fall, and shapes evolve rapidly as the effects of war are felt until its end in 1918, by which time most shape has been completely lost.

MODE ILLUSTREE PATTERN. Sept 8,1918

MODE ILLUSTREE PATTERN. Sept 8,1918

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3 thoughts on “Edwardian Undies – What, When and Where.

  1. Ohh, combinations. I have a period book on all kinds of Edwardian ladies’, men’s and children’s undergarment here. Your post just reminded me that it is about time to break it out and start making some. They are so frivolously gorgeous. 🙂

    • “Frivolously gorgeous” – perfect description! And they’re ridiculously comfortable, too. Mine won’t have the wide legs and layers of ruffly fluff, since I need to keep the silhouette slim. But that won’t prevent me from having fun with flat lace and ribbon. Can’t wait to see what you decide to make. It could work for the HSM “Heirloom” challenge, you know.

      • It definitely could. I have no idea what I will be making for that one, yet. But my Regency corset will definitely take longer than the one month I have allotted to it. Perhaps I should save on shipping for the boning and make an Edwardian one from the leftovers… 😉

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