by Linore Rose Burkard
Rumor has it that women's clothing during the Regency lacked sufficient underclothing. But was it true?
petticoats. By the time of the Regency, costume had undergone a downright shocking reversal. The change began in France, the center of fashion, which took its ideas from classical Greek and Roman styles of antiquity (as in the illustration, below). The new styles caused the heavy layers of underclothing to be largely discarded.
|Greek costume that influenced the Empire Style|
It was, if you will, no less than a fashion revolution.
Some French women of the upper class went so far that underclothing was in danger of becoming downright extinct. When this “Empire Style” crossed the channel into England, however, it became
less risqué, thanks to the more modest English.
(This explains why the quintessential Regency style dress has an "Empire" waist. The style began during the reign of Napoleon, who fashioned himself emperor--ruler of an empire.)
straight dress, revealing the human figure beneath was still in vogue, however, so all those petticoats from the previous century had to go. Same for the long corsets, the hoops, and panniers. What remained was a simple chemise, usually accompanied by a short corset (called “stays”) which served to raise and support the bust. It was a precursor to the modern bra.
This is where personal taste came into
play. The long, straight line of the figure was the fashionable ideal which precluded the use of bulky under-garments. Most ladies, nevertheless,
assuredly wore underclothing. The chemise was a mainstay of the wardrobe, and the petticoat never disappeared completely. The Regency is famous in
caricature for the lack of female undergarments, but this propensity of exhibitionism was far less
common than the cartoonists of the day (or some modern novelists) would have you think.
Most women, like Jane Austen herself-- wore utterly sufficient undergarments, and, indeed, dressed quite modestly. The Empire day-dress, if it did not have a high neckline, used sundry manner of textile trickery to conceal the bust (such as
frills, lace, ruches and ruffs, and even light spencers) so that day garments were in particular extremely modest.
|Josephine, as Empress|
(all of which came in an amazing array of sizes and styles, especially as
the Regency wore on), so that they could easily appear more modestly if desired. Even to modern eyes, however, bodices from the day are revealing; but again this was mostly the case for evening wear, and
more formal occasions. The scantily clad lady sitting in the library
reading just wasn't the way it went, no matter how romance novel designers choose to portray it. And ladies without undergarments of any kind were, without question, a rarity.
Even drawers were worn by women as early as 1804, though admittedly not yet popular. (Left: 19th
century American women’s drawers)iv They were taken from men's clothing and considered coarse
and crude. Princess Charlotte was discovered to use them, however, which (despite shocking the
older set), did much to popularize them with the masses, who adored her.
VERDICT: Did Regency women abandon underclothes? No, this is a FICTION.
Linore Rose Burkard is best known for her Inspirational Regency Romance Series, which whisks readers back in time to early 19th century England. Eye-popping detail and heart-warming adventure are par for the course in her books. Fans of romance in the tradition of Austen and Heyer (such as Pride & Prejudice, Cotillion, and even My Fair Lady), enjoy meeting Linore's feisty heroines and dashing heros.