Historical Sew Monthly

HSM ’18 – Inspiration: Challenge #2 Under

It’s almost February, so it’s high time to get some inspiration for the next challenge of The Historical Sew Monthly. The theme for challenge #2 is

Under: Make something that goes under the other layers.

For your historical wardrobe, undergarments are essential as they build the base and foundation of your outfit. They protect your clothes from sweat, shape and support your body and over garments to achieve the right silhouette. Here are some examples of garments that would fit this challenge.

The first layer usually consists of a chemise or shift. It protects the outer layers of your clothing from body soils, but also your body from the pressure of your corset or stays.

Linen and cotton chemise, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A Woman in a Shift, “Die Badmeydt spricht”, ca. 1585, The British Museum.


The shirt is the male equivalent to the chemise. You can find three wonderful examples of the 18th century in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum here.

Machine-knitted Silk Underpants and Vest, 1880-1900, Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the early 19th century women also began to wear drawers. Combinations of both chemise and drawers can also be worn in the later part of the century. For the 1930s Tap Pants would have been worn.

Cotton Drawers, 1860s, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Viscose Satin and Cotton Lace Tap Pants, 1930s, Underpinnings Museum.

Over the chemise goes the corset, or stays (for periods till the early 19th century). They give your upper body the right shape to achieve the fancy silhouette for a particular period: conical 18th century, Victorian hour glass or 1910s slim columnar shape are just a few examples.

Silk Corset, ca. 1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Floral Silk Wedding Corset, ca. 1910s, Underpinnings Museum.

As essential as the shape of the upper body, is the shape of the lower body, that means the skirt. This is often achieved by skirt supports. According to your chosen period, that means farthingales, paniers, pocket hoops, crinolines, bustles…

Bustle made out of cotton, ca. 1883, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For some periods like the late 18th century, you don’t need hoops, but only require some sort of bum pad.

The Bum Shop, 1785, Lewis Walpole Library.

To avoid one’s skirt support or other undergarments showing through your overskirt, slips and petticoats were worn in between the two layers. A good tutorial for an 18th century petticoat can be found on Katherine’s page Koshka the Cat.

Silk Slip, 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A nice and small project can also be a bust improver, which was used to achieve the pigeon breast around 1900. Similar pads can also be useful in other eras.

When corsets became shorter and began to end under the bust, bust bodices and later brassieres were worn to provide bust support.

Bust Bodice, ca. 1910, Victoria and Albert Museum.
Brassiere, 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To give the upper body a smooth layer under your overgarments and avoid corset lines showing through, corset covers have been worn.

Stockings (for a great sewing pattern check out The Dreamstress) and garters or suspender belts to keep them up, also go under your outer garments.

French silk stockings, 1865, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Silk Ribbonwork Bridal Garters, ca. 1930s, Underpinnings Museum.

So this challenge offers many possibilities to go for. For the beginning historical sewist, it’s the perfect opportunity to start with your wardrobe inside-out.



2 thoughts on “HSM ’18 – Inspiration: Challenge #2 Under

  1. Great inspiration, and for so many eras! I have an ongoing project that I hope to finish for this challenge, but your post gave me some new ideas as well.

    Those MFA pocket hoops really make me curious; they’re so different from other hoops of the era. An unusual fabric for the period (cotton twill), tiny stitches, and the top has a drawstring channel instead of being pleated to the waistband. I wonder if they might possibly have been made in Victorian era, for wearing under an 18th century gown that lacked its skirt supports…

    Liked by 1 person

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