1840s/ 1850s Underwear – Dressing The Victorian Lady

Dressing The Victorian Woman

The right underwear is very important for historical costuming – even more important than the dress – because underwear provides the structure for the dress. Without the correct underwear, the dress looks cheap and shabby.

Victorian women wore many layers of underwear: chemise, drawers, corset, petticoats – to name just a few. Mid-Victorian underwear was usually very plain – unlike late Victorian or Edwardian lingerie with their lace frills and flounces.

Here I’m showing you how a middle or upper class woman would’ve dressed in the 1840s or 1850s.



Dressing The 1840s Or 1850s Lady

1840s/ 1850s Underwear - Dressing The Victorian Lady

The first layer is a linen or cotton chemise or shift. In the Victorian era, heavy embroidery on underthings were considered indecent, so undergarments were usually quite plain. Here’s a plain 1851 linen chemise with muslin frill, an early-Victorian linen shift, and a pattern for a plain chemise if you’d want to sew your own.

Open drawers are worn under the chemise.

Stockings were knitted cotton or silk, or wool in winter. Here are 1851 white lacy  elasticated cotton stockings. I’m also wearing white knit lace cotton stockings.

Victorian Chemise Corset And Drawers

Now comes the corset. A corset is worn to evenly distribute the weight of the petticoats.  Early-Victorian corsets had a wood or bone busk without opening, while mid-Victorian corsets might have a steel busk with opening.

Dressing The Victorian Lady

A properly fitting corset has a gap at the back.

Victorian Lady With Corset And Day Cap

A lady’s hair is always covered during the day with a lace or cotton day cap. I’m wearing my Carrickmacross lace day cap. The hair is arranged in a fashionable hairstyle.

Victorian Underpinnings

Now put on some cotton petticoats to achieve the fashionable bell-shaped silhoutte. In this picture I’m wearing four cotton petticoats.

Victorian Underwear

A camisole or corset cover is worn over the corset so that the bones of the corset don’t show through or damage the dress, and to protect the corset from dirt.

Victorian Corset Cover And Pockets

Tie a pair of pockets round your waist. They can be reached through a gap in the side seam of the skirt.

Dressing The Victorian Lady-9

At the feet you can wear elastic sided boots: Early 19th c. boots and late-Victorian Prunella walking boots.

And finally you’re ready to put on your dress! 😉


Here you’ll find how a Victorian working woman might have dressed.

10 thoughts on “1840s/ 1850s Underwear – Dressing The Victorian Lady

  1. The article is a very helpful guide in dressing Victorian, and I like the idea of the elastic sided boots.

  2. This is lovely! Thank you so much! I’ve enjoyed looking through your site since I’ve found it. Do you have a tutorial or a pattern or a general how to on how you made your petticoats? I really love the adjustable waistband. Thank you!

  3. Lovely guide, thank you, but I had heard before that the corset was a support garment that served the same function as today’s bras, instead of existing to distribute petticoat weight? Or maybe they served both functions. Anyway, thank you!

  4. I was wondering what the working class wore instead of a corset since you can’t really bend easily in a boned corset. There isn’t a lot of information on that out there! Thanks!

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