In today’s society, women have it easy when it comes to fashion compared to women from the 1800’s. When it’s cold, we have jeans and thick sweaters to keep us warm. Shorts and tank tops keep us cool on hot summer days while capris and short-sleeved shirts are perfect for a fall day. And when it comes to undergarments, design and comfort have come a long way from what women used to wear.
Before the 1800’s, the only undergarments women wore were a knee-length linen chemise, a corset, a petticoat or two depending on the season, and long skirts. During the colder months, quilted petticoats and skirts made of heavier material were worn to keep the lower part of the body warm. Knickers came into existence at the end of the 18th century. Lighter fabrics of lawn and sheer silk replaced the heavier materials and made it easier for women to cover their lower region to keep warm. Knickers were two leg pieces laced together at the waist and baggy to accommodate the split at the crotch. By the 1820’s, most women were wearing this style of underwear, also known as pantalettes or pantaloons. Women’s pantaloons were nude in color and reached to just below the knee or all the way to the ankle. The bottom of each leg was trimmed in lace.
|Open crotch drawers caption|
Queen Victoria often set the stage for what was fashionable. She favored knickers and ensured they became a staple to every woman’s wardrobe, unless a woman was poor and couldn’t afford the extra cost. By 1876, the two separate legs were merged together and the crotch closed. Material used for knickers now included flannel.
Around 1877, knickers shifted to a new look referred to as the combinations garment. The combination was one piece consisting of a camisole top attached to drawers. Popular materials for the combinations were linen, silk, merino, calico, cambric or nainsook in flesh pink tones or cream colors. Later, knickers underwent another change and became wide around the knee. The 1900’s brought more changes such as the skirt knicker and the Directoire knicker which fit closer to the body.
Changes to outer garments brought about changes to undergarments. Just as shirts and skirts were being fashioned from lighter materials, so were undergarments. In the 1920’s, the name knickers was changed to panties, and again to panty briefs in the 1930’s as knickers were shortened from the knee to just below the crotch. Chemises eventually gave way to the bra, and each decade saw a new change to undergarments, such as the pointed bra, the panty leg roll, nylon tricot briefs and the nylon lace bouffant net petticoat of the 1960’s.
|Lace bouffant net petticoat|
Today women have a variety of knickers to choose from; the bikini, the brief, and the thong. Cotton and lace are some of the materials we enjoy, but whatever your preference, thank the fashion industry for the simple, form-fitting, light weight knickers that cover a small portion of the body instead of the entire leg down to the ankle. I think I’d never come out of the air conditioning on a summer day if the 1820’s knickers were still the rage of today.