Georgian/Rococo Review-18th Century (Part 2)

Rococo/Georgian Undergarments for Women

As has been the case for many centuries, the first thing a woman would put on when getting dressed would be her chemise. The 18th century chemise featured a wide, low neckline edged in lace and sleeves that ended just below the elbow. Little of the chemise would show when the lady was completely dressed-perhaps only the lacey edges of her neckline and sleeves.

She would next put on her petticoat, which she may refer to as a 'coat' or a 'dicky'. Petticoats of this century are narrower than previous century. They exist for mainly utilitarian needs-warmth, protection from the pannier/panier contraptions of the day, and modesty. A woman could possibly have day and evening versions of this garment. Her evening petticoat would be more elaborately decorated than the one worn for everyday.

She would next put on her corset/stays. 18th century corsets were worn from pre-pubescent childhood and onward as a form of 'waist training'. A fashionable woman had a very small waist. Beginning to wear the corset when one's body was still developing helped to control the size of the waist. Corsets of this century were engineered to accentuate a round full bust, and create the tiniest waist possible. Busts may also be padded in order to enhance this effect. The shoulder straps were attached to the back of the corset and tied in front. These could be loosened or tightened in order to provide added lift to the bustline. 18th century corsets also are generally tabbed at the waist, providing a smooth, flattering transition between the waist and hip area.

She may or may not wear drawers underneath her petticoat. Some sources suggest that French women could have chosen to wear them, other sources say English women certainly did not. The jury is out on this matter.

This corset is covered in 'dress' material. It would have a matching skirt and sleeves. Some corsets sometimes served double duty as the bodice as well. In this case, an additional corset was NOT worn.

The armscye would feature a series of closely set eyelets (holes finished off like a buttonhole through which laces passed) which allowed sleeves to be laced on and off. Notice the armscye placement in this corset which results in a very narrow back. Pulling the arms slightly backwards (as this corset would inevitably do) helped to thrust the bustline forward, thus accentuating it.

Most dresses of the 18th century feature a stomacher of some sort. This one is unusual because it falls under the laces rather than concealing them. The stomacher (and decoration of it) helped to create the illusion of a smaller waist by drawing attention to the two converging lines that make up the edges of the triangle.

Notice how stiff this garment is. It virtually supports itself. Bones are literally placed side by side-ensuring maximum control of the flesh underneath and a smooth appearance for the bodice outside.

Corsets are laced tighter in this century than they ever have been before. Tight lacing, which begins its practice in this century, becomes a much discussed fashion trend in regards to women's health and longevity during the next century.

(It must be noted that Victorian age women find a way to lace their corsets even tighter than the Georgians due to the invention of metal eyelets. These prevented the tearing of the fabric that often resulted from the strain put upon them by the laces).

This image shows us some of the realities of properly adorning an 18th century lady.

First, she would be unable to dress herself, for she could not reach the ties of her corset.

Second, quite a bit of strength was required in order to acheive a fashionably sized waistline.

Third, from the look on her face, it was quite unlikely that this was a comfortable manner of dressing one's self.

Hoops return with a vengeance in the 18th century. The names 'farthingale' and 'verdugale' have disappeared from use, but initially the contraption features the same technology. The hoop skirt sees quite an evolution over the century.

Beginning in 1710-hooped petticoats resembled the Spanish Farthingale or verdugale. They featured hoops of increasing size made of whalebone and sewn into a petticoat of sturdy fabric creating a cone shape.

During the 1720s- the silhouette grows and becomes more rounded. Hooped skirts have a dome-like appearance such as the hoop skirt illustrated here at the right.

During the 1730s, the preferred silhouette flattens in the front and back and remains wide from side to side. This is acheived by a series of tapes inside the hoop skirt. When the tapes were tied, they pulled the front and back together. The shape is reminiscent of the ellipse silhouette of the Spanish guadinfante.

As this illustration demonstrates, these things were quite cumbersome and awkward. They made every day activities a bit difficult. In order to pass through a doorway, the wearer would have to either slide through sideways or attempt to flatten them (as the woman at the left is attempting to do). As you can probably imagine, the latter method could hardly be acheived gracefully. It is a good thing that she is wearing a petticoat!

The wide silhouette reaches its maximum width in the 1740s and remains in favor for much of the century-until about 1775 (after this point they linger only in Court Dress for the rest of the century).

New solutions were continually sought to facilitate life for the wearer. This version is from about 1750 and is made of wood. It was easier to walk in than the previous 'squashed hoop' version (due to the lack of tapes around the legs), but there was still the problem of passing through doorways, since fashion is able to change much faster than architechture.

The solution to the doorway problem leads to the invention of the panier/pannier (called 'false hips' during the 18th Century). A panier was a hooped bustle-like contraption. Two were worn-one on each hip. They featured hoops set into fabric and collapsed under the arm when lifted upwards. The word 'panier' is french for 'basket.' Victorians gave the false hip the name panier, because it looks like the wearer has a basket sitting on each hip.

Today, it is common to refer to this silhouette as "panier" regardless of what version of support contraption is is worn.

These are habit-shirts. A habit-shirt was a cotton or linen blouse modeled off of a man's shirt. It was worn over the corset with a lady's riding costume-called a habit or redingote. During the second half of the century there was a fad for dresses based on riding attire called redingote dresses/gowns. These later fashions reflect the influence of 'country' attire on daily dress and would not truly function in the same manner as a habit. However, the habit-shirt would still be worn with the trendier version of this costume.

These blouses foreshadow the shirtwaist blouse which will find wide spread popularity in the next century.


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