Victorian Software aka Underpinnings

Have you ever thought about Victorian underpinnings?  I mean, really considered all that a real Victorian woman would have worn on a daily basis?  The things that your very own great or great-great grandmother would have worn.

I’ve mentioned before that corsets, bustles, cages, etc. shaped a woman’s body to fit the fashion of the day — let’s think of it as “hardware” (technically, I guess it really was!)  Then there is the “software” such as the chemise, drawers, and petticoats – add collars, cuffs, undersleeves, and corset covers depending on the fashion at the time.

Today, I want to talk about drawers.  Bloomers.  Pantaloons.  There are other terms, but most people know what you’re talking about when you use these words.

I’m not sure exactly when (or if) the term “drawers” fell out of favor.  “Drawers” was the word most often used for this most personal item in the early Victorian years through at least the Civil War era.  In fact, “The Workwoman’s Guide”, originally published in 1838, refers to them as “trowsers” and “drawers”.  By at least 1859, Godey’s Ladies’ Book occasionally used “pantalettes” but Peterson’s speaks of “drawers” in 1858.  One thing is certain – the word “bloomers” referring to women’s underpants wasn’t used prior to the 1850s.  Amelia Bloomer (Ah ha!  See the connection?) advocated wearing long, baggy pants as OUTERWEAR.  At first, “bloomers”  referred to the women who subscribed to fashion reform rather than the actual garment.  Bloomers, as outerwear, didn’t catch on but it seems that, by the late 1800s up to nearly 1930, a lady’s poufy, knee-length under-pants were commonly called “bloomers”.

But I digress.   Today, I’m fascinated by this pair of late Victorian drawers because they’re patched.  There is a portion of the back interior lower leg that is a period repair.  Interesting, because in today’s “throw away” society, we would simply discard it.  In the mid-19th century, fabric was expensive but labor (yourself) was cheap.  While drawers could be purchased ready-to-wear, it’s likely that most women simply made their own – it’s pretty basic:  2 tubes of fabric slightly gathered onto a waistband.

Victorian Drawers (Back View) - Note Pieced Area on Leg C0050

Victorian Drawers (Back View) – Note Pieced Area on Leg C0050

Whether this is a period repair or a simple lack of fabric when they were being made, is hard to say.  In my opinion, the maker of the drawers didn’t have enough fabric for the entire leg and patched together enough fabric to complete it.

My opinion is based on two things:

    The drawers are perfectly clean and white with no evidence of wear.  If it was a repair, surely the drawers wouldn’t be quite as pristine.  If a hole was worn in the area, there would definitely be other areas of wear.  If this is a replacement piece, say caused by The Curse, I believe there would also be some other visible wear.
    In my personal collection is a pair of drawers that date to the Civil War era that have a patched in area.  I wanted to duplicate the drawers, including the patch.  As I was cutting my fabric, I found that I was short in the exact same place as the originals.  I had to make a nearly identical patch in order to make my new drawers!  (This is one of the reasons I love to reproduce antique clothing for my personal use/education – now I have first-hand knowledge of exactly WHY something was done 150 years ago.)

There are 2 photos.  The first is unedited. In the second, I tried to enhance it to show the stitching lines better. The antique drawers are, obviously, the yellowed ones.  They have much fainter seams/sewing lines than my reproduction.  They sewed theirs by hand in kind of a satin stitch.  I confess to much laziness and I did it with my sewing machine.  The antique drawers also have the patched in pieces on both sides of each leg piece, whereas I only had to do it on one side of each leg piece.

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces (ENHANCED)

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces (ENHANCED)

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces

Antique & Repro Drawers with Patched Pieces


This is actually physical documentation of the age of the antique drawers.  Early – mid 19th century fabric was only 26″ – 28″ wide.  Today’s fabric is 36″ or 45″ wide.  Measuring the larger piece of fabric on the old drawers shows about 26″ – slightly less because of seam allowances.  Mine measure about 36″ – I am, of course, quite a bit bigger around than a 19th century woman!  My patched in pieces would have been much larger if I were using 26″ wide fabric.

Why not piece together underclothes?  They won’t be seen!

I have a patched together Edwardian guimpe and I’m going to keep my eyes open for a pieced/patched together chemise and petticoat.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find a patched chemise because the chemise and drawers are the very first layer of clothing a female would put on and therefore, highly unlikely to be seen.  A petticoat, on the other hand, may have been meant to be seen peeking out from beneath the skirt, at least down near the hem.

What do you think?  Have you ever had a neatly pieced together Victorian article of clothing?  I’d like to hear about it.