Petticoats worn by women during the regency era had evolved from the elaborately decorated underskirts of the eighteenth century. Known as jupes, these early petticoats were worn under open-fronted skirts and were often made from materials as richly decorated and sumptuous as the outer skirt. They were also donned for warmth. For that purpose, the garment would be made of plainer more insulating cloth, such as linen, cambric, flannel, wool, or quilted cotton. Whalebone helped to stiffen the undergarment, and shape the outer skirt.
By the end of the 18th-century, dresses began to be inspired by classical statuary and the natural female form. Skirts were now columnar in shape and waistlines were raised to just under the bosom. With the change in dress silhouette, fabrics had become gossamer thin and heavy layers of underclothes were no longer worn. As a result, petticoats became plainer. They were generally made of linen, which made them less bulky than before. The undergarment was sewn as one piece, like a slip, and consisted of a bodice and an attached skirt. It was sleeveless and had a neckline cut slightly lower than that of the dress.
The Bodiced Petticoat Protected Clothing
The bodiced petticoat, as it became known, was a simpler version of the regency gown. It had less fullness of fabric and its fitted bodice closed in the back with hooks and eyelets. A lady would wear a short regency-style corset over the bodice petticoat, and insert a bone busk between her breasts. This combination of bodice, corset and busk provided enough support for a woman’s bosom to give it the shelf silhouette that fashion dictated. Petticoats also offered some modesty under transparent muslin, and protected the outer dress from unwashed skin, for the ritual of daily bathing was not yet in vogue. The petticoat also protected the hem of the gown from soiling.
Petticoats Gave Shape to Skirts
By the late 1820,s the columnar gowns began to take a more conical shape at the bottom, with petticoats providing the stiffening. Hems made with five tucks and up to 15 rows of cording reinforced with horsehair helped skirts to stand out at the hem. During the 1830′s the waistline had descended to its natural level, but one-piece petticoats continued to be worn until the mid-19th century, when the skirt and bodice of the petticoat separated. The simple shift petticoat went out of vogue, and once again hoops made of whalebone helped to shape skirts in a wide circumference around the body.
Read on -Informative Books on Regency Fashion
Sources: Burkhard, Linore Rose. “Modesty and the Regency Miss.” Jane Austen Centre Magazine. Web. 15 April. 2010.
“The Regency Bodiced Petticoat.” Costume Diva. Web. 15 April.2010.