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Ladies' underwear - a 100 years ago, TODAY

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The Fashion Art of Suggestion

Fashion repeats itself every now and then.  Read more on this page on the undergarments ladies wore exactly a 100 years ago and be thankful that we live in different times.

From “And all was revealed” – Ladies’ underwear 1907 by Doreen Caldwell

 Click on A to reveal description   Click on B to reveal description   Click on C to reveal description   Click on D to reveal description   Click on E to reveal description   Click on F to reveal description   Click on G to reveal description

                  A.             B.           C.         D.        E.        F.        G.          

A.    In Edwardian times women clothed themselves in an aura of veiled and beautiful mystery. Whilst carefully, even prudishly, concealing their naked bodies beneath layers of underwear, they developed the art of seduction by suggestion to great heights and it was these very underclothes that formed the basis of their art.

Although it was permissible, desirable, even `quite fascinating' to reveal the seduction of frills beneath one's dress skirts, . . one of the most disastrous aspects of the raised skirt is when the silk underskirt is caught higher than the transparency and reveals.... well ... anything there is to be seen.'  Back to visuals

B.    Only a mature woman could wear the fashions of the day to advantage.

The camisole or, as it was now called, the corset-cover, was made of thin silk en princesse with practically no sleeves. Because traditional seams were lumpy they were replaced by sewing onto each edge the most minute line of open work insertion. The top of the petticoat was made plain and tight fitting so as not to disturb the smoothness of the hips.

A typical and very expensive garment was this petticoat in rose­coloured silk. It had a long upper skirt whose deep scalloped edges went over an accordion pleated flounce. Back to visuals

C.    One or two white muslin petticoats with flounces of broderie anglaise and baby ribbon edgings were worn beneath these `beautiful persuasions' of satin or taffeta. In wintry weather the soft comforting warmth of an extra lace trimmed petticoat would be sought. Back to visuals

D.    Drawers became known as knickers, which were wider than ever.

'Wide-leg knickers of Mull muslin or silk with flounce and three rows of insertion, threaded with baby ribbon, worn under lace or silk petticoat for those who like a froth of frillies beneath their dress skirts.' Fashion journal.  Many ladies still wore their knickers beneath their corset:  a custom that survived from early Victorian days when the corset was worn on top of all other underwear and immediately below the outer garment. Back to visuals

E.    What mattered in a lady's figure was the upright poise of the shoulders, a long sloping bust with a straight front line - no hint must be given that the bosom is composed of two breasts - and the graceful curve of the dress over the hips.  All corsets were laced at the back and it was this lacing that did the damage.  In actuality the abdomen had ceased to exist, all the fullness being thrown upward into the chest and stomach. The waist was excessively narrow and there was a violent bend in the body at the back. About this time there was a considerable outcry against the corset on health grounds: and so formidable was the array of hostile medical opinion that some countries began to legislate against corsets forbidding them altogether for the use of growing girls.' James Laver, Taste and Fashion.  Back to visuals

F.    The days of combinations were now past, or so the fashion journals wrote. Everyone wore chemises, Empire pattern, sloped at the waist and tied with coloured bows at the shoulders.Women rationalised a desire for luxurious underclothes by advocating delicate hygiene. 'The truly fastidious woman had to ensure that she wore linings within her corset and knickers that could he changed daily, for this dainty underwear with its burden of baby ribbon and lace was more difficult to wash than the `durable longcloth' worn by the lower classes. Embroidered silk stockings were delicately tinted to blend with the rest of the chosen ensemble. Doctors condemned the use of garters as being liable to produce varicose veins. Back to visuals

G.    Through the deliciously silky frills and swirling froths of lingerie and the tight-laced strictures of the corset, women contrived a silhouette whose ideal was epitomised by The Gibson Girl, a creation of the American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson.  Yet , though both corset and lingerie created the fashionable sway-back figure, perhaps the true seductive implication of their lacy luxury is contained in words addressed to a bride:

“Iingerie is by far the most important part of the trousseau.'

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