Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Look at 1880's Undergarments

I recently saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time a few weeks ago, and it's sort of become another obsession both as a musical and because of the amazing costumes! Just to clarify, I'm talking about the 25th Anniversary special, not the 2004 movie. While some of the costumes in that were spectacular, the movie as a whole wasn't that great.

My favorite out of all of Christine's dresses is her blue dress more commonly know among costumers as the "Wishing Dress".

I'm going to write up a more full overview of the dress later, but right now I want to focus on what would be underneath an actual 1880's dress.

Now, since this is a stage costume it probably doesn't have historically accurate underpinnings. But when I make this dress I want to make period accurate undergarments. I figure that the closest era for this dress is between 1885-88 based on some research I've done. I don't know a ton about the later Victorian era since in the past I've been mostly interested in the 1860's.

Starting from the bottom and working our way up. First off is the chemise.  A chemise would be worn underneath the corset and tucked into the ladies drawers. Even though they were never seen by the women wearing them, some were very elegant.

Ca. 1887 made of Cotton via The Met
Ca. 1880's made of Linnen via The Met.

Next is everybody's favorite, the corset! In the 1880's ladies waist's got even smaller than before.

Ca. 1885 via The Met,

Ca. 1880 via The Met.

Ca. 1885 via The Met.


Next we have split drawers. These would be worn over the chemise to add a little bit of modesty underneath the dress. I've actually gotten to wear a pair of drawers from the early 1900's, and I have to say they're kinda fun!

Ca. 1885 via The Met.

Ca. 1887 via The Met.

It's not necessary, but over top of the corset women would wear a corset cover.


Ca. 1880 via The Met.

Ca. 1880's via The Met.

The 1880's was also the return of the bustle. For the most part the skirts would be flat up front and all volume would be in the back. There was a lot of different ways a lady could get the right silhouette. There were crinoline styles, petticoats with bustles built into them, petticoats with ruffles in the back for a smaller bustle, and other 'bustle builders' such as bustle pads.

Ca. 1885 via The Met.

Bustle petticoat via Vintage Victorian.

Ca. 1880's via The Met.


Depending on the type of bustle, there was usually another petticoat added over top to give it a nice and lush look instead of being able to see the framework of the cage or bustle.

Ca. 1880's via The Met.

Ca. 1880's via The Met.

Ca. 1880 via The Met.

So that's about it. It was tough work getting dressed back in the day!

1 comment:

  1. I just found your Wishing dress blog entries and wanted to comment! I made my Wishing dress historically accurate, too, with a wire bustle, corset, and petticoats underneath, instead of the theatrical "cheats."

    Now, instead of a chemise and drawers, have you considered wearing combinations? They were common in the 1870s and beyond, and they're very comfortable. And they reduce bulk, which is always good when you're wearing so many layers! You can leave off the corset cover, by the way. It's my understanding that they were only used for warmth, in winter, or when there was a risk of one's corset showing---such as with sheer summer dresses.

    Dating Phantom is difficult because the costumes range all over the place---from the 1860s to the 1890s. According to one of the official brochures, the show takes place in 1881-1882, but none of the costumes reflect that period! Carlotta's "Hannibal" dress, for example, is bell-shaped and has hoops underneath, as if it's from the mid-1860s. Madame Giry's dress is usually styled for the early 1890s.

    The Wishing dress design is actually from the 1870s. Layered overskirts with front aprons and side drapes were VERY popular in the early and mid-1870s. I've seen fashion plates that are extremely similar, including one with a waterfall train!

    Looking forward to tracking your progress. Have fun with it!

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