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Chatelaine's Antiques and Appraisals MagazineCollectibles > Fashion > Feature: Victorian Underwear


Handmade or machine-made lace

The market for lace collecting

Getting started in lace Collecting

Care and storage of lace

Cleaning Linen

Handmade or machine-made lace

The market for lace collecting

Getting started in lace Collecting

Care and storage of lace

Cleaning Linen

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Coco Chanel

Victorian Underwear


 Underwear and lingerie can be attractive garments in their own right, and also give an insight into the moral climate of the times in which they were made.

 Underwear for women has a long history The corset, for example, goes back as far as the Middle Ages.

 Styles of under-garments changed according to the dictates of fashion. Breasts were accentuated or flattened to conform to the rigorous demands of custom and style, and backsides came in for the same cavalier treatment.

 Of course, the kind of underwear worn also depended a lot on class. The very poor could rarely afford clothes, let alone such luxuries as lingerie. If they had underwear at all, it was likely to be made of hard-wearing materials that were long on durability and very short on comfort.

 Long flannel petticoats must have been stifling in hot weather, for example, and pure misery in a downpour when they would soak up the rain and mud.


 The moral climate tended to influence fashion greatly. This, in turn, also changed the style of underwear to fit in with the vogue of the times. In the 18th century, for instance, knickers were worn very long, so that lace or frilled trim peeped below the skirt.

 The Regency period, perhaps taking its cue from the monarch, was quite free and easy, arid the fashionable Grecian form' reflected this.

 Busts were accentuated and necklines low. The first uplift brassiere was incorporated into the corsets of the time. One, called 'the divorce', had a wedge below the cleavage that separated, as well as lifted, the breasts.

 By the time Victoria was on the throne, a general climate of prudery at least among the middle and upper classes - led to a succession of fashions that disguised or suppressed the female form.

 Vicious corsets flattened busts and pinched in waists, while crinolines it or bustles disguised the backside almost beyond recognition. Necklines zoomed up, sometimes as far as the throat.

 Underneath all this, women wore corsets rand camisoles, thin, decorative under-bodices. Later in the century came bloomers, knee length knickers that were separate from the camisole. Their introduction coincided with a growing trend for women to take up bicycling and other active pursuits, such as tennis.

 Later still, camisole and knickers were combined in an all-in-one garment known as camiknickers, which finally came into their own in the 1920s and 1930s.

 A wealth of fine fabrics and a great amount of care and craftsmanship went into creating good quality lingerie.

Guide to Lace and Linens
by Elizabeth Kurella



 There are lots of shops, nowadays, that specialize in Victorian and Edwardian clothes. Some even have bits and pieces from earlier times.

 Many of these shops will have collections of lingerie to look through. Auction houses also put on special sales of antique clothes, including underwear. Antique markets and fairs, too, can prove to be a rich source.

 Before buying any piece of underwear, check it thoroughly. Make sure that fastenings are authentic; plastic buttons or press studs do not belong on an old camisole. Check that all the buttons are present and that they match.

 Eye holes may well be torn or damaged, especially on corsets where they have been under considerable strain. Look out for this, it will reduce the price.

 Check that whalebone has not poked through the fabric of corsets, and make sure that the trimmings are in good condition; lace and ribbons should be intact and not discoloured in any way.

 Look out, too, for modern repairs or alterations. These reduce the value of an item dramatically and can be quite hard to detect. A machine-sewn seam can alert you to serious interference. Finally, make sure that matching sets of underwear really do match by checking the fine detail extremely carefully.


 It is important that you store old textiles properly as they are easily damaged by everyday things like dust and grease.

 Insects, dampness and over-dry conditions can all be hazardous. Light also rots and bleaches old fabrics, so store your underwear in the dark for most of the time.

 Display items only briefly, if you must, and never, ever place them in strong sunlight.

 Over-handling can seriously damage fragile silks and lace. Store your collection flat, if possible, and definitely avoid creasing or folding it. It's best to line drawers with foil and acid-free tissue paper.

 Take some expert advice before you start making repairs to seams or trimmings. You can seriously reduce the value of an antique piece by tampering with it.

Guide to Lace and Linens
by Elizabeth Kurella






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