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
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.
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.
A properly fitting corset has a gap at the back.
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.
Tie a pair of pockets round your waist. They can be reached through a gap in the side seam of the skirt.
And finally you’re ready to put on your dress! 😉
Here you’ll find how a Victorian working woman might have dressed.