What was under the Victorian woman’s skirt?
STOCKINGS, split pantaloons, up to 10 petticoats and wire hoops made popular in the 18th century are the foundations of contemporary fashion.
It was the women of more than 200 years ago who were responsible for trialling shape wear, seamless lingerie, corsets and even the peplum – basics on the modern woman’s wardrobe for centuries.
Historian Dorothy Walsh has had her foot in the Victorian woman’s wardrobe long enough to know what women wear now was pioneered by their ancestors. Dorothy, a prominent figure in the Queensland Colonial Association, isn’t afraid of tying herself into the fashions of the 18th Century.
“Quite a number of years ago I did a show for a school and I was dressed in my 1860s clothes and, when I walked down the aisle way, all these boys lay down to see what was under my skirt and so the idea, Under the Victorian Woman’s Skirt, was born,” she said.
“People are fascinated by the layers of clothing that were under a Victorian woman’s skirt and that people wore at the time.
“I love to wear it and what interest me personally is the educational side.
Dorothy said, like those in the 21st century, women were obsessed with keeping up with fashions, however dangerous.
“It really was following fashion. From royalty right down, they were trying to encourage women not to wear the corsets, people died because they had gone too close to an open flame,” she said. “Corsets were worn for a really long time but people tried to make their waists much smaller and would pull them so tight they could puncture a lung with a rib. Their organs were pushed into really odd shapes, it wasn’t good.
“Corsets and dresses were made with whale bone, you had to sit up straight and you couldn’t bend over. This held you in the right position.”
18th century fashions were made with material imported from the UK and India. Colours faded quickly so were washed rarely. They were silk, cotton, linen and wool.
Modern women had plenty to thank their ancestors for when they took peplums, frills and lingerie from their wardrobe.
“A bustle at the back was constructed with timber and had an automatic fold so when you sat down in a carriage or on a horse it collapsed and 1860s blouses had a peplum at the back,” she said.
Stockings were held up with elastic or a suspender at the thigh, made of silk, wool or cotton and worn under leather shoes.
“Victorian women had pantaloons that were split, the first split undies or crotchless knickers. They went down to the knees.
“Up until this time they wore a lot of petticoats, from the 1820s and 1830s there were up to 10 petticoats under a skirt so you didn’t wear underwear.”
A crinoline was worn to hold the petticoats out at their widest and it had six bands of watch spring steel in it. Then there was the long cotton chemise garment that went over the head and sometimes it had sleeves.
A corset could be laced at the back, side, or hook and eye at the front and a petticoat went over the top to hide the layers.
Hair was worn in a particular way, in the 1860s it was a part down the centre, worn over the ears and with a bun at back. A hat, gloves, purse and umbrella finished the look.
A sample of Victorian women’s clothing can be found at Ipswich Historical Society, 1041 Redbank Plains Rd, Blackstone.
Fashion in Ipswich early years was heavy and ornate. Maria Catherine Leith-Hay is pictured wearing a large, ruffled skirt and short-waisted jacket sometime in the 1860s. She was the daughter of Ipswich's police magistrate.