What was going on under all those Skirts?

Historical women’s underwear was truly mind boggling. They might not have worn bras or underpants, but they certainly didn’t skimp on hidden fripperies under their skirts. In fact, there was some seriously hardcore hardware worn underneath clothing.

Here is a rundown on what well-dressed ladies wore underneath those long skirts…

• Open Crotch Pantalets – these were basically two individual leg covers which came over the hips at the sides and tied at the waist. They provided no cover to the genitalia whatsoever, being fully open from the thigh to the waist. It was believed that women required proper ventilation in the area. In the mid-180s, some of these pantalets or drawers had optional buttons applied to the crotch.

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• Dimity Pockets – before the days of handbags, this was how women carried their bits and bobs, including keys. There were worn under the skirt, tied at the waist, and were accessed via a slit in the folds of the skirt. In time, pockets were sewn directly into skirts instead.

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• Panniers – these were wide hooped petticoats. The woman tied the support garment at the waist, which gave the shape to dresses during the 1700’s. The style of the time dictated a very wide skirt from the hips – panniers created the effect.

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• Bustles – these were worn in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s. Women wanted an hourglass silhouette and the bustle nicely contrasted with the cinched and corseted waist. The bustle enhanced and showed off the buttocks – so that even the flattest-bottomed woman had a pleasing rear.

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• Cage Crinolines – these were the undergarment big guns. The shape of the early Victorian era dictated tiny waists and voluminous skirts – the bigger the better. Enter the Cage Crinoline. Rings of steel were attached with string and worn tied at the waist. They not only distributed the enormous amount of fabric in women’s skirts, they allowed a woman to walk without getting tangled in said skirting. They had to be removed to catch public transport, and women required assistance to dress.

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