The Nineteenth Century

By the nineteenth century, petticoats had several functions. They were used as underlinen to provide warmth and protect outer clothing from an unclean body, to give a structure to the skirt depending on the fashionable silhouette of the time, and to disguise the shape of the legs to give a modest appearance to a woman. It formed part of an extensive range of underwear as worn by the Victorian woman, which was comprised of a chemise, drawers, corset, and several petticoats. Petticoats were generally in two forms until the end of the nineteenth century: a petticoat with a bodice attached or a separate waisted garment which was corded, that is, it had tucks with cords threaded through and drawn in to the waist to provide initial support for the crinoline skirt.

Made out of cotton, linen, cambric, and flannel for winter, several petticoats would be worn at once in the 1840s to provide a bell-shaped structure for the skirt and were stiffened with horsehair at the hem. With the invention of the cage crinoline, petticoats became less structural, and usually only one was worn under the crinoline cage for warmth and modesty as the cage had a habit of flying up when a wearer sat down too rapidly. Another petticoat was customarily worn over the crinoline to soften the steel rings of its outline and tended to have an ornately decorative hem, usually of broderie anglaise or crochet as it was likely to be exposed when the wearer was walking. The shape of the petticoat was very much determined by the fashionable shape of outerwear and thus changed over the century from the narrower shapes of the 1860s to the gored cuts of the 1870s and the overly frilled and flounced froufrou of the Edwardian Era. The slimmer cut of 1920s fashions and bias cut of the 1930s necessitated a different kind of underwear—usually French knickers and bias-cut slips derived from the petticoat and attached bodice of the nineteenth century.

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