The Color of Undergarments

Undies, everyone has to wear them.
Corsetière
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The Color of Undergarments

Postby Corsetière » Thu Oct 10, 2013 12:53 pm

I've seen antique Victorian corsets in nearly every color violet, red, yellow, even a shocking turquoise silk once. But as I prepare to make the chemise and drawers for my new gown, I started to wonder about the color of undergarments other than corsets. Have you seen any extant examples of chemises, bustles, or drawers which were not simply white? Would it be weird to make a black chemise? Also did color of undergarments have any significance? Were some colors considered unladylike?
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Heather » Thu Oct 10, 2013 1:08 pm

There isn't a lot of information about underwear, unfortunately. And while I do see a lot of colored corsets, petticoats, and bustles and hoops, you almost never see colored chemise/drawers/combos. I think the main reason is that underwear was washed in a very vigorous way; boiled, bleached, scraped, wrung out, and hung to dry in the sun. Colors just wouldn't look pretty for very long with that kind of treatment I have read that colors do become more popular in the Edwardian period, with black and pink being favorites. I am sure that black underwear would not be a problem, and might even have been preferred for mourning attire.

Oh, something else I just thought of... Red was often associated with health benefits, red wool in particular. Which is most likely the reason behind the red long johns. So you do occasionally find red woolen items in various people's wardrobes.
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Corsetière » Thu Oct 10, 2013 1:46 pm

That makes sense. Interesting about the red!
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Bookwyrm » Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:31 pm

I know I've seen pictures of colored taffeta petticoats. And I've read several accounts of red flannel petticoats. Actual chemise/drawers/corset covers, though - I don't think I've seen anything other than white, but I'm by no means an expert.

A brief survey of Eaton's Spring and Summer Catalogue 1907 (from the National Arvchive, I think?):

Note that one style will be counted only once by its material, but may be counted several times in different colors.

Women's Petticoats (p25-6) are made in:
-- black sateen (2)
-- good quality lustrous black sateen (2)
-- fine black English mercerized sateen (3)
-- Gingham (2) - colors: striped or checked in sky, pink, navy, black (presumably with white)
-- good quality moreen (1) - colors: black, navy
-- fine quality English moreen (2) - colors: black, navy, cardinal, green
-- standard quality taffeta silk (4) - colors: black (4), cardinal (2), green (2), navy (2), sky (1), helio (1)
These petticoats have 1 to 4 ruffled tiers at the hem, but no lace. I think this is a layer we often forget in modern costuming.

Women's hosiery (p91-2), made in:
-- white cotton and lisle (4)
-- plain cotton (10) - colors: black (6), tan (2), cream (1), sky (1), pink (1)
-- ribbed cashmere (5) - no color listed (but "colorfast" implies a dye) except for black (1)
-- opera length (3) - all black, materials cashmere, lisle, silk
-- black or tan lisle (8) - colors: black (7), tan (1)
-- black silk (2)
-- plain cashmere hose (12) - colors: black (10), gray (1), tan (1), cardinal (1), cream (1)
-- lace/allover lace lisle (8) - colors: black (7), tan (1), none mentioned (1)
-- tan cashmere, plain (1)
-- black cashmere, embroidered (7) - embroidery colors: red, white, blue, sky, "all the newest colors"
-- embroidered silk (5) - colors: black (4), white (1), red (1), sky (1), gray (1), rose (1), heliotrope (1), various colored embroidery
-- black lace silk (3)
-- silk, with clocks (1) - colors: black, white, red, tan, sky, rose, champagne, majenta [sic], navy, cerise

Underskirts (p109-10)
-- cotton, muslin flounce (8)
-- fine cotton (1)
-- fine nainsook (6)
We would call these petticoats - white, lots of frills and lace.

Corset covers (p109-11)
-- fine nainsook (8)
-- all over embroidery (1)
-- cotton (5)
-- fine cotton (2)
-- extra fine lawn (1)

Drawers (p112)
-- cotton (5)
-- fine cotton (7)
-- extra fine (1)
-- nainsook (1)
-- fine nainsook (1)
-- flanelette (1) - colors: striped blue, pink with white
-- black sateen (1)

Chemises (p113)
-- cotton (3)
-- nainsook (2)
-- fine nainsook (1)

Unless otherwise noted, no colors are mentioned for any of the underskirts, corset covers, drawers, or chemises; from the illustrations, they're all white.

Ladies knitted underwear (p120-1)
-- vest, cotton (12) - color: white (6), no mention (6)
-- corset cover, cotton (2)
-- fancy vest, fine mercerized cotton (1)
-- fancy vest, fine silk (1) - color: white
-- drawers, cotton (2) - color: white (2), black (1)
-- drawers, lisle (2) - color: white
-- combinations, lisle (1) - color: white, black

... at this juncture I ran out of patience with the knit underwear, since it wasn't divided by garment type. It's mostly white, mostly cotton. There's one silk blend with cotton, some wool in white or natural, some cotton in ecru.


In summary, starting at the front of the catalog:
- Petticoats: black (14), colors (7)
- Hose: black (50), tan (7), white (4), colors (4)
- Underskirts: white (15)
- Corset covers: white (17)
- Drawers: white (15), black (1), colors (1)
- Chemise: white (6)
- Knitted underwear, various styles: overwhelmingly white, some black, ecru, or natural wool

What I gathered from this, possibly even more interesting than the colors, is that we modern costumers often leave out knitted underwear and a sateen or taffeta 'petticoat.'

Anyway, enjoy! You can find the original PDF at archive.org for free (along with lots of other goodies like hairstyling, drafting, and tailoring books)
Last edited by Bookwyrm on Sun Oct 13, 2013 12:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Heather » Sat Oct 12, 2013 7:40 pm

Very nice information, and I did see one set of drawers listed at blue stripes and pink, and some black in there as well.

On a side note... I have noticed the petticoats seem be only colors, while underskirts are only white. This distinction turns up in many of the catalogs I've looked through. I have to think there was in fact, different classifications for colored vs white petticoats. I wonder when that changed?
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Bookwyrm » Sun Oct 13, 2013 12:11 pm

From the pictures in the catalog, the "underskirts" were very frilly and white, lots of lace and insertion - what we'd call petticoats today. The "petticoats" were positioned in a completely different part of the catalog - up near the skirts and blouses and day suits and stuff - whereas the frilly white undies were all much further towards the back, and grouped all together. The "petticoats" were black or colors, not one listed was solid white; and made from sateen, moreen (wool/cotton), or taffeta. The "underskirts" are all fine cotton - nainsook, muslin, or lawn, and were uniformly white or cream.

The way I read it is that the "underskirt" went under everything, and then was covered by a "petticoat" followed by the outer fashion "skirt" - I don't know what else would explain the placement in the catalog so far apart.
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Heather » Sun Oct 13, 2013 3:22 pm

I read an article from Harpers Bazar 1872 that clearly stated that white petticoats/underskirts are a no-no for wear outside of the house. Petticoats for walking should always be colored. White petticoats were reserved for at home, and evening wear only. The earliest reference I have to colored petticoats out of doors is 1864. (I have looked repeatedly for both these references, and I can't find them, sorry) I have heard the idea of a top petticoat in a color and then white under those, but that doesn't make sense to me. Every catalog I have seen from the 1880's to the 1900's has the colors separate from the white. It is very fun and interesting.
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Corsetière » Sun Oct 13, 2013 3:56 pm

Very good information, thanks Heather and Bookwyrm. :)

I just happened to remember I have a copy of the Underwear: Fashion in Detail book from the V&A and I just came across a screaming RED! flannel petticoat. As Heather mentioned, the book states " Scarlet flannel was very popular, as it was believed that it was particularly efficient at warding off chills, rheumatism, and influenza". Interesting!

Below the scarlet flannel one is a really intringuing blue quilted satin one, too. The book is very well worth buying because the detailed photos and drawings of drawers, petticoats, corsets, and corset covers are so useful and informative.

So my question is, were the petticoats some times seen in public? I know it was immodest to show one's ankles but I imagine the petticoats would not have been so varied in color if they weren't generally seen? Did people try to coordinate color of petticoats with their gown?
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Heather » Sun Oct 13, 2013 9:13 pm

I don't think petticoats were meant to be seen, but the 1872 article I referenced was a woman who complained that she saw a very well dressed woman everyday getting on the train, but then saw she had white petticoats she stepped up, and the "well dressed" opinion was shattered. In cities, I imagine that petticoats would be seen when stepping on and off trains/trollys, carriages, or other transportation, as well as going up and downs steps.

Colored petticoats often came in stripes, plaids, and bright colors, so I don't think they matched the dresses. In the 1890s-1900's, a good petticoat was often more expensive than the dress. Kind of like a hat. You most likely bought only 1 o 2 for the season, and then wore then all the time, regardless of colors matching.

Page from a 1890's clothing catalog.
Image
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Bookwyrm » Mon Oct 14, 2013 8:17 am

It makes sense, though - white petticoats on the street would be dirty very quickly, whereas a color (or black) wouldn't show the grime as fast.
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Re: The Color of Undergarments

Postby Corsetière » Mon Oct 14, 2013 1:50 pm

Heather wrote:I don't think petticoats were meant to be seen, but the 1872 article I referenced was a woman who complained that she saw a very well dressed woman everyday getting on the train, but then saw she had white petticoats she stepped up, and the "well dressed" opinion was shattered.


That's very funny! :)

Thanks for the photo! What a huge range of color!
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