Before he 19th century, most women just wore nothing beneath their chemises. The no knickers thing was not as scandalous as you might think, dresses were long and worn with many layers of petticoats and underskirts that varied with fashions but also provided modesty.
By the time the huge, mid-19th century crinolines showed up on the fashion scene, something had to be done about what they were wearing (or not) underneath. These crinolines were racy. They were meant not to cover up the leg, but to show it off. They swung like bells when a woman walked, and could reveal shocking amounts of woollen-stocking. There were even reports of crinolines flipping inside out in stiff winds.
In the pre-Victorian era women began to wear open-crotch drawers. While they might seem like the sexiest lingerie a woman can wear, based on today’s standards, back then the style was actually seen as old fashioned. They were usually open from the thigh up. This was for a variety of reasons.
Think about the challenges a lady faced entering a stagecoach while retaining her modesty
It was also considered healthy and hygenic; a lady’s bits needed proper ventilation.
Trying to pee was a challenge.
The lady is in a public space – a theater or tavern – but there is no public toilet. So, to relieve herself she must stand up, taking care not to soil her skirt and petticoats.
One of the problems of that time was trying to bunch up all the yardage ineven the humblest dress of centuries past to try and get a comfortable position over the chamber pot. It left no hands to pull down underwear.
The solution to this was the open-crotch drawers and the bourdaloue, which was slipped under the skirts while standing, used and then was carried away – genius!
These crotchless undies are just a small part of our display of Underwear Through the Ages. Come along and see the rest.