A Brief History of Underclothes
It would be unrealistic to deny that, throughout history, as well as having a practical purpose, feminine undergarments have had an erotic effect. Once, even the glimpse of a stockinged ankle titillated. Modern fashion which is more practical and comfortable has removed feminine mystique.
In the past, female underclothing was the focus of sensual curiosity. In the prudish Victorian era, mention of trousers or drawers was considered unseemly. It reminded people that men and women have legs.
In the medieval period women wore smocks or, as the Normans called them, chemises. They were pulled over the head and were either plain or embroidered.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, The Miller’s Wife, there are the following lines.
“…brooded all before
And eke behind on her colere about
Of cole-blak silke, within and eke without.”
Women also appropriated the term petticoat, little coat, from the word coat used by men in the Middle Ages
The evolution of underclothes is interesting. After the early Saxon period, tunics concealed men’s breeches, which were subsequently called drawers. Centuries later, men wore knee-length breeches then close-fitting ankle length pantaloons. Next, they wore trousers and, more recently, shorts and jeans beneath which minimal undergarments are worn.
By the Victorian era women wore a linen chemise and petticoat sometimes attached to a bodice. In early 19th century England, drawers were considered scandalous until Princess Charlotte, heiress to the throne, wore them. By the 1830’s they were commonplace. Also, the French custom of wearing pantaloons when riding side-saddle had become popular. After the Regency era, small waists were admired. Tight-lacing was necessary to be fashionable. To achieve it, corset makers used steel, whalebone and buckram, which compressed women’s figures so much that they couldn’t move naturally and suffered from stomach aches and other pain.
Crinolines were superseded by bustles, until, in the late 20th century underwear evolved into the scanty garments worn today, although bras are used to emphasis the bust to enhance the figure.
Famous names have been used to describe female underwear. From American Mrs Bloomer came the term bloomers. Some of many other terms are undies, cami-bocks, cami-knicks, knick-knacks, frillies, bras, slips and thongs, all of which have erotic connotations.
The main purpose of underclothes has been warmth. Men’s shapes have remained similar throughout the centuries, but women’s have been altered by artificial means. These included, bustles, corsets, crinolines, farthingales, hoops and stays, all of which gave rise to speculation about what females wore beneath their outer garments. One can imagine a curious bridegroom eagerly anticipating a revelation.
Today, people bathe frequently Their clothes are dry-cleaned or washed. This means few underclothes are necessary to keep outerwear clean. It was not so, for example, during Queen Elizabeth I’s rein when splendid clothes made in costly fabrics needed protection from unwashed bodies.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the Macaronis stressed the importance of personal cleanliness. In the first part of 19th century John Wesley preached ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’. Beau Brummel, the famous Regency dandy, agreed, also advocated cleanliness. In Queen Victoria’s rein, men and women changed their underwear frequently. To move on in time, between the 1st and 2nd World Wars fewer underclothes were worn. Which brings me to the present day. Mini-skirts, shorts, sleeveless tops with shoe-string straps, bikinis and extremes of fashion leave little to the imagination.
In the past, deliberate revelations of underwear, such as the edge of a chemise or the hem of a petticoat, suggested a female disrobing were erotic. At other times, the bodice looked like a corset. This implied a woman had dressed immodestly. For at least six centuries, women wore corsets to emphasise the bust and slim the waist. Laced too tightly they compromised health.
Men’s shirts may also be regarded as underwear. They divided the working classes from upper classes. In Henry VIII’s rein, shirts were revealed by slashing the jerkin; in the 18th century the top of the waistcoat was unbuttoned to reveal part of the shirt. Spotless white shirts, frilled or plain divided the social classes.
Linen, the oldest material used for underwear, cotton, regarded as its inferior, wool and flannelette have been used for undergarments. Only well-to do people could afford silk until the last part of the Victorian era. More recently artificial fabrics, such as nylon are popular and can be washed and dried as often as we bathe. We no longer stink as our ancestors did.
Far Beyond Rubies By Rosemary Morris
Set in 1706 during Queen Anne Stuart’s reign, Far Beyond Rubies begins when William, Baron Kemp, Juliana’s half-brother claims she and her young sister, Henrietta, are bastards. Spirited Juliana is determined to prove the allegation is false, and that she is the rightful heiress to Riverside, a great estate.
On his way to deliver a letter to William, Gervaise Seymour sees Juliana for the first time on the grounds of her family estate. The sight of her draws him back to India. When “her form changed to one he knew intimately – but not in this lifetime,” Gervaise knows he would do everything in his power to protect her.
Although Juliana and Gervaise are attracted to each other, they have not been formally introduced and assume they will never meet again. However, when Juliana flees from home, and is on her way to London, she encounters quixotic Gervaise at an inn. Circumstances force Juliana to accept his kind help. After Juliana’s life becomes irrevocably tangled with his, she discovers all is not as it seems. Yet, she cannot believe ill of him for, despite his exotic background, he behaves with scrupulous propriety while trying to help her find evidence to prove she and her sister are legitimate.
Extract from Far Beyond Rubies.
Chesney reeled back, scarce able to believe Richelda had offered to be his mistress in exchange for Field House. Bile rose at the back of his throat. How could he have been deceived by so sweet a face, and behaviour he had believed to be that of a modest but spirited maid? He slammed his fist on the table with such force the crystal wineglasses bounced to the oak floorboards and shattered. He strode toward Richelda, inadvertently crushing glass underfoot while simultaneously vowing to teach the jade a harsh lesson she would never forget.
Torn between anger at her preferring dishonour to marrying him and disappointment over her being unchaste, he grasped her hand and then guided her to the door. “Come.”
* * *
Richelda shuddered. How could she have forgotten the teaching of a lifetime? Why did she succumb to such an ill-thought, impetuous offer? Why had she been fool enough to demonstrate her determination to keep her vow while, in her heart, she trusted him to reject her offer.
As a result of growing up in the country, with only the daily companionship of her mother and Elsie, she was ignorant of men. In the absence of male relatives and only Dudley for a male friend, she had learned little about the opposite sex.
She must withdraw her offer. “No…I—”
“Shall I carry you upstairs in the sight of my servants?” Chesney sneered.
In despair, she shook her head, her cheeks blazing as hot as hell’s fire.
Chesney hustled her upstairs to a bedchamber. Her hand lay limp in his. Richelda shuddered. Humiliated, she could not face him. She stared at the pale green and gold bed curtains. An iron key squeaked in the lock. Startled, she looked at Chesney, who sat on a chair with his back to a window.
“Disrobe,” he commanded.
“What?” She crossed her hands over the top button of her forest green riding jacket.
“How else do you think you can become my mistress?”
She bent her head, unable to think of anything pertinent to say.
“Shall I act the part of your tirewoman?” he rasped.
“N-no—” Richelda stuttered, shocked beyond measure at his suggestion.
“Make haste, I am impatient to possess you.”
She hesitated, hating this new man before her, but knowing she had caused him to change.
“If you do not obey me, I shall strip you.” Chesney spoke low, his voice filled with menace.
Frightened by his tone, her cheeks still burning, she wanted to refuse. Overwhelmed by shame, her hands clumsy, she undid the buttons and took off her jacket but retained enough spirit to snap, “Why are you watching me?”
“To make sure you are not a pig in a poke. Now, take off your skirt.”
She hesitated. “I will disrobe behind the screen.”
“By God, you will not!” His voice rang out sharp as a gunshot. With a smooth movement, Chesney rose and unfastened the ties with deft hands.
At his unfamiliar touch, she squealed with fear equalling a small animal’s when caught in a trap. Her riding habit’s full skirt pooled round her feet. She shuddered and caught her lower lip between her teeth to hold back her tears.
“Take off your petticoats.”
Her mind urged her to disobey. Humiliation robbed her of will power. She complied. The blood rushed from her face, leaving her skin cold. Oh, the shame of revealing her lower limbs. If only he would stop staring at them.
* * *
Chesney’s body commanded him to strip off her clothes, throw her on the bed, and thrust deep within her. But he was not a rapist.
“Remove your stays.” He retained enough self-control to speak in a frigid tone, which belied his excitement at the prospect of seeing her naked.
Richelda covered her face with her hands and sobbed. “No! I cannot be your mistress. I did not think you would treat me thus.”
For a dreadful moment, she obviously thought he was deaf to her plea. She stopped crying. “I have never lain with a man. No other man has kissed me. And…and…I did not anticipate your cruelty.”
He could not despoil her innocence. Besides, he recognised the truth. He believed she was not wanton. Yet his anger with his intended bride insisted on some satisfaction. He scowled. “My dear, you are not worth the price you demanded.” He lied. She was worth any price except for her honour, which he would not ruin. “A mistress knows how to pleasure a man. What can you, an unschooled girl, offer me?” he demanded, still furious with her.
* * *
Standing before him almost completely disrobed, aware of her vulnerability, Richelda trembled. “I do not know what I can offer you.” She whispered.
At his most haughty, he stood straighter. “Allow me to enlighten you, child. Women like Mrs Purvey are both willing and capable of serving a man’s needs.”
Her cheeks flamed. “I made a dreadful mistake,” she whispered.
His face relaxed. The expression in his eyes softened. “You are uncommonly pale. Are you going to faint?”
“Yes—no.” She fumbled with her stays.
He bent forward and gripped her shoulders. “Ah, stays, a feminine citadel which guard a lady’s virtue.”
She picked up her skirt and draped the folds round her like a cloak. What a brute he was for wanting to ravish her. Of course, she did not know exactly what ravishment entailed. Her only information came from whispered conversations she had overheard, as well as gossip, which did not dwell on precise detail. However, violation must be far worse than the marriage bed so many ladies complained about.
If only her father had not extracted the oath from her, she would not be in this predicament. She picked up all her garments and retired behind the screen. With great difficulty, she managed to dress unaided, but had no brush or comb to arrange her disordered hair.
She stepped out from behind the screen. After a swift glance at her, Chesney fetched a ribbon from the dressing table drawer. With the tenderness he would accord a beloved child, he tied back her silky hair.
“Now, tell me what your masquerade as a nymph of delight meant.”
“Naught of interest to you,” she whispered.
“You are mistaken. Your reasons interest me. We will remain here until you explain why you behaved so lewdly.”
* * *
Chesney observed Richelda. Most women would have burst into tears after such an ordeal. Richelda did not. His respect for her increased. With tiger-like intensity, he watched her pacing up the room. “Am I too repulsive for you to agree to wed me?”
“I prefer remaining a maiden to entering into a loveless union.”
“How inappropriate in the present circumstances,” he sneered.
Chesney turned his back to her and stared out of the window. Did he understand the nature of true love? But why should the question concern him? No sensible gentleman believed in love.
Richelda broke the silence. “I do not want a mere marriage of convenience.”
His heart pounded at her emphasis of the word ‘mere.’ Her determination not to marry for convenience, together with her youthful anticipation of coupling love with marriage, touched his heart. Tempted to pretend he loved her in order to persuade her to tie the knot, his honour intervened. Only once, when he was young, had he believed himself to be in love. How could he know if he loved Richelda? Besides, he never intended to risk his heart again.
“You forget, arranged marriages are the way of our world.” He paused to change the subject of their conversation. “Tell me how old you were when you made your oath to regain Field House.”
“Nine,” she replied, looking surprised by his change of tack.
“Too young to be expected to honour your pledge.”
“Do you think I will go to hell if I break my promise?”
So, fear had prompted her—not fear of him, but fear of eternal damnation. What a fool he had been to give her cause to be afraid of him. “No, Richelda, I do not believe the devil will claim you,” he said with deliberate gentleness. “You did all in your power to regain Field House and cannot be blamed for your failure. Yet, I do not understand why you risked your immortal soul by offering to become my mistress. Clergymen warn their congregations about the deadly sin of lust.”
“I’faith, my lord, it is not for someone with your nature to condemn those who fall prey to lust.”
“Touché. Yet ‘tis not seemly for you to offer to become a gentleman’s mistress.”
“I-I had not planned to do so. When I made the offer on a mad whim, I did not think you would accept my proposition. I hoped if you would realise how serious I am about regaining Field House, you would change your mind about exchanging your property for Bellemont. But, when you-you ordered me to disrobe, you looked at me so furiously, I was too terrified to refuse.”
He raised her hand to his lips, the touch of her, inflaming his craving to experience bodily delights. “For my part, I apologise for treating you with such unkindness. I beg your forgiveness. With your permission, we will make a fresh start. It is you who would honour me by accepting my proposal, not I who would honour you by taking you for my wife.”
Richelda opened her mouth to protest. He touched her moist, parted lips with his finger. “Shush. I confess I believed I had more to offer you than you had to offer me. In my folly, I wanted a meek, obedient wife. You now see me humbled. I admit to knowing such a creature would not suit me for some time.”
“Am I forgiven for my wantonness?”
“There is nothing for me to forgive, but much for you to pardon. I hope you are not frightened of me.”
She bent her head. Silence stretched between them.
“If you agree to marry me, I promise to woo you with all the gentleness and patience at my command.” He reached out to take her in his arms and kiss her.
Richelda stepped back. Her eyes searched his while he waited for her answer.
“My lord, where are you?” a lackey called, his footsteps resounding in the corridor outside the bedchamber. “I am sent to inform you a guest demands to see you on an urgent matter.”
Richelda’s reputation would be ruined if they were discovered in the bedchamber. The voice faded away. Chesney unlocked the door.
* * *
Far Beyond Rubies is available from: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords as an e-book and a paper back.
* * *
About Rosemary Morris
Rosemary Morris was born in Sidcup Kent. Her parents moved to Bromley, Kent, and then to Sutton, Surrey, where she attended St Hilda’s Primary School in Carshalton, and then Wallington Grammar School for girls.
At seventeen, Rosemary went to London and worked in a travel agency. There she met her future husband, who was reading law at Middle Temple. He encouraged her to continue her education at Westminster College and persuaded her to study, British Constitution, Economics and Economic History. In retrospect, Rosemary admits that although she passed the exams with proverbial ‘flying colours’ the subjects bored her. Afterwards she never made use of the subjects and put them out of her mind. Rosemary says she should have studied English Literature, History and Philosophy, which have always fascinated her.
After her father-in-law died, Rosemary and her husband, moved to Kenya where he was born, and where she lived for twenty years. After an attempted coup d’état, Rosemary left Africa with four of their five children – by that time, their eldest son was living in England. For four years they lived in an ashram where she, and her sons and daughter, who attended school, studied philosophy, religion, Sanscrit literature and much more.
Throughout her life, Rosemary had always written fiction. Back in England, she completed a College of the Arts Course in Creative Writing and wrote historical fiction. She also joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association, The Historical Novel Society and Watford Writers.
So many people have dreams that never materialise, but Rosemary is grateful because she has realised her ambition to become a multi-published author of Romantic Historical Fiction.
To view her book covers, read the first three chapters of her novels and watch the book trailers please visit her website.
9/22/2017 04:23:04 am
Very interesting article, thanks Rosemary. I very much enjoyed the book.
9/22/2017 03:58:50 pm
The history of costuming (including underwear) is so interesting. Best of luck with your book!
9/22/2017 08:50:08 pm
What an interesting piece about under garments through the centuries! Best of luck with sales and promotion of your novel, "Far Beyond Rubies."
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