Now that we have jumped into the 18th century, lets look at the basic layers of an 18th century ensemble. Underneath each exquisite gown, a lady would be wearing several layers of undergarments and supports. The most basic of these layers were the chemise, the stays, a skirt support, and a petticoat. More layers could also have been added like additional petticoats, pockets which hung from the waist, and fichu or kerchiefs that filled in the necklines of gowns. The best part about Closet Histories finally reaching the 18th century is that I can now find extant examples to show you with relative ease, luckily many examples of 18th century dress (and undress) have survived!
|Fig. 1 Fig. 2|
|Fig. 3 (1765) Fig. 4 (1770-1790)|
Stays had become an essential part of of a woman's wardrobe in the previous (17th) century. Worn to create the stiff conical shape essential to the fashionable silhouette, stays were very different from the corsets that would come generations later in the 19th century. The main purpose of stays was not to reduce the size of a woman's waist, but instead to create the proper shape and support for the gowns worn over them. It was thought that stays helped ensure the spine grew straight and even boys wore them as young children to support healthy growth. Overall, stays are much less harmful than many other types of corsets, the worst of which were the S bend corsets of the late Edwardian age. We will of course be discussing corsetry in greater depth later in our timeline of costume history.
Later, when the fashion for thin wide skirts had waned, a fuller rounded look came into fashion. This style required different skirt supports, bum rolls or bum pads. Yes indeed you heard me correctly, the ladies of the 18th century tied on a false bum to poof out their skirts. Like the bustles that would come a hundred years later, in the late 18th century, skirt fullness shifted to the back. Check out this awesome and well researched bum roll post over on Demode Couture to see different styles of bum roll in action.
Even with these basic layers of underwear, the 18th century woman still had a few more to slip on. Gowns were not simply one piece dresses like today, but were also several layers themselves. The three components to the average 18th century gown were the skirt, the gown, and a stomacher. The stomacher was a triangular piece of fabric that filled in the front opening of the gown, it would be pinned in place onto the front of the stays. Then, once the gown was put on, the gown too would be pinned into the stays over the stomacher. Pins were an essential part of getting dressed in the 18th century. Most ladies were pinned into their gowns, there were no zippers or snaps in the 18th century!
That's all for today, next week we will continue with more from the 18th century!