Well, it’s Labor Day – time to put away those summer whites. Here are four fabulous cotton undergarments that were stored away a century ago and never retrieved for use.
These two petticoats belonged to my husband’s grandmother, who was born in 1893. She gave them to me in 1976, a few years before she died. Both of them had severe damage, even then, but I loved the tucks and lace and didn’t want to see them get tossed out by someone who didn’t appreciate them.
The one on the right in the picture above is 34 inches in length. It has a waistband that measures 23 inches, and a hem of 106 inches! It has 20 quarter-inch tucks at the bottom, and a row of lace. It was made in four panels, and I was surprised to find out that they are not all exactly the same. The front panel goes from 5 1/2 inches at the top, to 37 inches at the bottom. The rear panel is also 37 inches at the hem, but the petticoat tied in the back, so the rear panel had an opening. At the waist, from the opening to the back side seam is 3 1/2 inches. The two side panels go from 6 1/2 inches at the top down to only 16 inches at the bottom.
The other petticoat has 12 rows of 1/8 inch tucks, a ruffle, and a smaller row of lace at the bottom. It has much less fabric – maybe this one is later, from a time when fashions were becoming more form-fitting. The waistband measures 26 inches and the hem is only 66 inches around. The length is 33 inches.
Both petticoats have huge tears and some rodent damage. They really can’t be repaired. Maybe one day I will think of something wonderful to make using the rows of tucks.
This bodice belonged to my great-grandmother, who was born in 1888. I am sure she crocheted the yoke herself. My family always called it a corset cover, but I can’t find any reference to such a garment or a picture of anything similar. The drawstring casing at the bottom would lead me to date it to the early 1900s, when the “pigeon breast” look was popular.
The drawers were purchased for me by my mother, probably at an estate sale or antique store. (I may be the textile addict but she is the enabler.) One of my fabulous costume reference books, Dress and Undress by Elizabeth Ewing, says that the design of drawers like these was the same from the 1860s to about 1915. These are machine sewn of a very light cotton fabric, so I would guess they are from the latter part of that period.
The waistband measures 34 inches but there’s no elastic, just a casing and a twill tape for a drawstring. Elastic was first used in drawers about 1909, but again according to the book, both kinds of drawers co-existed until World War I.
One thing that puzzles me is that the tucks are on one side of the material in the legs – I mean “limbs,” of course, pardon me – and the ribbons are on the other side. Maybe they were meant to be reversible! They have beautiful French seams so they would be comfortable either way.
My trusty 1915 Textiles book by (the aptly-named) Woolman and McGowan mentions machines to do tucks and hemstitching, but I don’t know when the machines were actually invented. I know there was machine-made lace sometime in the 1800s, but I can’t narrow it down more than that. The lace on these pieces is very consistent, which would make me think it’s machine-made.
Well, once again, a simple “look at these cool old things” post has lead me to look up stuff for hours and to notice all kinds of details about textiles I’ve owned for decades. Since textiles are notoriously fragile, and I live on the mildew/flood/hurricane/wildfire-prone Gulf Coast, I breathe a little easier with each one I document. I may lose the textile someday but at least some of the information will live on.
Those are amazing! I love that you are documenting all these – me and my ancient studies colleagues are often dismayed at how much of the every day is lost, and how much we could have learned from it – it makes me happy to see our more recent every day life being preserved with such care 🙂
Thanks! When I was growing up, the way they taught history was all about the outcomes of battles and laws, and it seemed so repetitive to me. When I started learning more about social history, I was fascinated, and it helped me understand the Big Ideas in History better. I am still amazed at how much I can learn from researching something as simple as a stocking or a dye plant.
This is your “enabler” here. Loved the photos and the histories. I didn’t even remember the corset cover! Just think, if someone takes pictures of the bottom part of undergarments today, they will comment that they were made of ribbon – no fabric at all! 🙂
Don’t tell me you don’t remember it! Now you have me questioning MY memory! 🙂
You know, it wasn’t very long ago that I donated a peach color full length slip (nylon, rayon?) to Good Will. I hadn’t worn it in a zillion years but I hated to just toss it. It’s certainly far removed from what grandma wore.
In the late 50s we had beautiful camisoles, lots of lace, etc. and we wore them under semi-see-through nylon blouses that had very full sheer nylon sleeves. I felt so feminine in mine. My aunt wouldn’t let me pass the blouse to my cousin, her daughter, because she thought it was so disgraceful. It never occurred to me that the boys might find those blouses a little hypnotic, shall we say?
And then there were the “bullet” bras. I think they were around the time of Lana Turner, etc. The cups were stitched in a circular pattern and “it’s what’s up front that counts” certainly caught the eye.
None of these made fabric history, but they do show how undergarments have changed.
That’s the whole fun of fashion history – all those little things are notable!