Strange and Unpredictable Fashion–A Look at the Mystery of Undergarments

Amazing fashions through the centuries



Presenting a  very brief look at… well, briefs.



Corsets and Crinolines.

Love them or hate them, they made things hang as fashion dictated…

Christian Dior proclaimed that, “Without foundations there can be no fashions,” and he was a man who should know. He revolutionized the modern female style of dress and created a dynasty in the process.

But what did you reach for when you got up in the morning if you were a woman in 11th century London or in 15th century Paris? If you don’t know, don’t feel bad. Most people haven’t got a clue. My own informal survey shows that of twenty people polled, twelve thought a kirtle was a nouvelle cuisine cooking utensil. Eight people thought a farthingale was an obscure English songbird.


Maybe that’s why so many bloopers make their way into books. I have seen far too many zippers are being unzipped centuries before they came into being. Hint: the first American patent for a zip fastener was not taken out until 1914.
Over the centuries undergarments were especially intricate. But a word of warning. Most historical undergarments were terribly tight, especially if a woman happened to occupy the English throne at the time. Go figure! (Think Queen Victoria and all those abominably rib-crushing corsets.)

The invisible underpinnings were designed to force the body into lines more outrageous than any bustier or shape-wear bodysuit you’ll ever see you today.

Except maybe on on Madonna or Lady Gaga. During a sweaty concert.

Second note of warning. Most undergarments were clumsy and complex. In many eras a female, especially a female of wealth or high birth, couldn’t possibly dress herself alone. There were laces to be tightened, tapes to be secured and whalebone panels to be tugged flat. Getting dressed was serious business. It required knowledgeable assistance to complete what was a visible sign of class, rank and influence. Think multiple levels of skilled servants. (Remember Anna in Downton Abbey?)

If you happened to be Marie Antoinette, the whole business of dress became a stylized social ritual and you invited select intimates to share gossip, enjoy refreshments, plot politics and listen to entertainment while the arduous business of donning high fashion garb was completed.

Les soins de beauté.

For fashionable undergarments, the key was always the waist. When the waistline rise or fell or when bodices were tightened or embellished, the undergarments beneath had to change too.

If you were a woman who happened to live when William of Normandy was depopulating southern England and razing most of York, you probably dressed very simply beneath your loose flowing outer garment. That garment was called a kirtle or bliaud. You donned over-the-knee length leggings of wool or linen fastened by laces and a long, smock-like shift or tunic. The shift, usually made of linen, sported long sleeves and fell to the ankles.

And there was nothing underneath that shift. No underwear for the Norman-era woman.

Put it this way. It meant you had room to run fast if you were attacked by a marauding Norman knight or a Saxon rebel bent on a messy revenge.

Men also dressed fairly comfortably in a loose, knee-length tunic and a white shirt with full sleeves. Under that came the braies, a Saxon term for loose male drawers, usually of white linen or uncolored wool. (Cotton was not readily available as an import in England until the middle of the 15th century.) In addition to their braies, men wore stockings of wool or loose trousers crossed with garters. Not elaborate but it did the job of coverage.

In the next installment we’ll range north to Scotland and tackle the intricacies of the kilt and all that gorgeous thick wool plaid.

Stay tuned for men in kilts!

And while we are on the subject of historical accuracy, I want to recommend a riveting historical fiction series.  (Full disclosure — the author is a good friend and my favorite web expert.)

But my comment remains impartial.  If you love CSI episodes and twisty, meaty historical drama, you will love Lost Innocents, by Denise Doming.

The story?

A leper’s daughter is found in the well of a dying hamlet and the only suspect has fled into Feckenham Forest. But the sun is setting and Sir Alain, Warwickshire’s sheriff, is hunting his new Crowner. That sends Sir Faucon de Ramis and his prickly clerk on a dangerous adventure.  Before long, Faucon finds himself riding into the dark at the sheriff’s side as they hunt for yet another lost innocent.

Denise tells me that she loves writing this historical mystery series because “I have the chance to explore the people who lived in the 12th Century.  No matter their class, they show me their prejudices, their ambitions and their loves.  But what I most love about these books is that I truly don’t know “whodunit” until my sleuth, Sir Faucon, figures out the mystery for himself.  Oh, I think I know but I’m never really certain until that last moment.”

Pick up a copy of Lost Innocents here

Athe-tigers-lady-052516nd one last minute reminder.  My classic Victorian adventure, TIGER’S LADY, will be available for free on Amazon for a very limited time, beginning July 3.  Swing over and grab your copy now.

Reviews are always welcome!  This is an old historical in the sweeping style, racing from the dark, gaslit streets of London to the misty fields of a mountain tea plantation in Sri Lanka, with a hero who is definitely brooding and very dangerous. You might hate him…until you understand what has made him give up on any form of trust.

Happy reading.

Wishing you a wonderful 4th with your family and friends.






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