Close up of a Victorian chemise under a waist cincher corset. Despite what “bodice ripper” romance novels may tell us, very little bodice ripping actually happened in Victorian times. Not through all those layers! A lady in say, pre-1856 (when the crinoline was invented), wore a minimum of a chemise, corset, corset cover, possibly 5 stiffened, flounced petticoats (infrequently washed and highly unsanitary), her dress or skirt and blouse and probably a coat or shawl because she was cold. Oh, and pantalettes, if she should choose (though it was considered vulgar to speak of a woman’s nether limbs, so don’t ask her). These were two separate legs tied at the waist, no crotch). Try ripping through all that bub.

A corset was never worn next to the skin. A woman would want to protect her investment in complicated and double sewn canvas (or preferable coutil – a tiny-weave herringbone, that didn’t stretch) and bones (first wood or whalebone, later spring steel). A chemise would protect the corset from her skin and her skin from the corset. To some extent. The chemise, depending on her station in life and her capability to fund a full wardrobe, might have been her nightgown as well.

Lest my tangent continues… This particular chemise is made of fine lawn. It is very full and gathers into a narrow neckline. It falls to the knee and is decorated with delicate lace at neck and armhole.

 

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