Victorian Era Undergarments: The Prep (Chemise & Drawers)

Project 7, part 2 – Myths Pre-Busted (Part 1 here)

It’s a little hard to make white patterns on white linen exciting. Maybe next time I’ll have to add some Gundam models to the photo! 😀

Welcome back to the Victorian Era Undergarments project! I decided to break this project up into three sections – the first will be the chemise and drawers as they’re both quite simple, then the petticoat, and then the bustle. This week I was able to get all the prep work done for the chemise and drawers – plus, my corset arrived so I’ve been able to start breaking it in (or “seasoning” it, as it’s called)!

7 yards of linen takes a LOT of ironing…

I’ve had linen clothes before, and I know how wrinkly it can get. But after pre-washing the seven yards of linen I bought from fabrics-store.com, I was definitely a little overwhelmed by just how much ironing I had to do! :O Fortunately, I don’t expect undergarments to be perfectly crisp – I just needed the fabric flattened out enough to ensure the patterns could be cut correctly.

Not aiming for perfection, here, haha…I just want to sew some undergarments!

Technically, the chemise is meant to be worn underneath the corset, to protect the corset from my skin and also to protect my skin from the structure of the corset. Chemises are washable – corsets really aren’t! However, I may end up wearing mine as a corset cover instead (over the corset, to smooth the lines and prevent it from showing under the fabric of my garments), as I prefer wearing Numi undershirts as my base layer. They’re not historically accurate, but I’m less concerned with accuracy and more concerned with preventing sweat from impacting my dresses! Corset covers tend to have lower necklines so that low-necked dresses can be worn with them, but that’s not really my jam anyway so I should be fine whichever way I choose to wear this!

Drawers are what ladies wore before modern underpants, and the crotch seam is left open for the very practical reason that when you’re wearing so many layers of petticoats and skirts you can’t easily reach up to pull down modern-style undies! They also help preserve modesty in a wind (or in case you have a curious greyhound who sticks her snoot everywhere), and provide additional warmth in the winter. I’m a big fan of bloomers under lolita dresses, so I’m right at home wearing Victorian drawers!

Thank goodness for someone else’s corset-sewing expertise!

Corsets are absolutely indispensable to the Victorian dressing regime regardless of decade to provide the right silhouette and – just like modern foundation garments – keep everything where’s supposed to be for the sensibility of the era. The corset I purchased will work for both of my preferred decades – the Natural Form era of the 1870s and the Second Bustle Era of the 1880s.

I feel like in this semi-enlightened year of 2021, we can probably all agree that we don’t need another corset myth-busting blog post? Corsets are like bras – if they’re properly fitted and the right one is picked for the right body (and what that body is going to be doing), they’re extremely comfortable and in no way dangerous to the wearer. In case you’d like to delve deeper into the subject, here are some links to people who’ve already done a great job setting the record straight:

Fainting couches weren’t a thing until the 1960s. (Although “fainting” was a great way for a young lady to grab the attention of a dude when they hadn’t been formally introduced!)

Extant corsets have been found for waists as large as 40 inches. (And there were corsets for things like pregnancy, swimming, exercise, and more!)

Men did not force women to wear corsets. (Also sometimes men wore corsets for the exact same reasons women did.)

Probably very few women in the Victorian era wore corsets with a Starcrafts t-shirt and a Sony camera though. It’s a distinctly modern look!

I can confirm that my custom corset is extremely comfortable, and really the only difference from wearing modern foundation garments from my perspective is that I can’t bend at the waist, but also my back muscles don’t hurt after a long day of sitting at my desk/sewing table. 😀 And now that I’ve got it, I can do proper fittings for the other undergarments! So join me in the next installment of this project, when I get to sewing the chemise and drawers!

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