Posted by: Karlee A. Turner | January 21, 2011

Victorian Secrets Revealed: Women’s Foundation Garments

Mary Brewster [1846], Martha Brown [1848], Mary Lawrence [1857] and Eliza Williams [1859] did not make any journal entries for their respective years.

Due to the lack of material from the Sister-Sailors journals, I thought today would be a perfect opportunity to broach a new subject; women’s foundation (under) garments.

QUESTION:  So, HOW did they get that hour-glass figure?

ANSWER:  By wearing the correct foundation garments (or Undergarments); the secrets below the street clothes. There were about six layers below those beautiful 19th century dresses. Of course, the precise cut of those layers changed with the times and fashion trends, but basically, during the mid-late 19th century, the “best dressed” woman would start with ……
Layer 1) is a chemise – similar to today’s full slip, but much fuller; hand-knitted stockings of cotton or wool; hand-knitted garters; and of course, her shoes.  A woman would always try to remember to put on her shoes BEFORE her corset (or stays) because it’s quite difficult to bend over to put on your shoes and tie them once you have your corset on (I know from first-hand experience).
Layer 2) The photo above shows the young woman wearing a second optional layer, the drawers (crotchless for ease of taking care of private needs).
Layer 3) was the corset
Layer 4) the crinoline/cage (1840’s-1860’s) or the bustle (1870’s-1880’s)
Layer 5) petticoat (s)
Layer 6) separate white/ivory collar and cuffs (not part of the dress, that is).
Finally the seventh layer, skirt, bodice and belt (optional) attached around the waist to hold her redicule (purse). And lastly, before she stepped out the door, she would add her hat, coat/cape or shawl, gloves, a redicule and a parasol if the the weather required protection from the sun.
In the above photo, I am wearing a garment of summer linen – the dress pattern is a copy of an authentic 1876 style. The dress and all it’s accessories (except the gloves) were custom made to my measurements and styled for my museum character; a well-to-do (upper middle class) whaling captain’s wife, Mrs. Captain William Wheldon (also a Sister-Sailor like Mary Brewster, Mary Lawrence, Martha Brown and Eliza Williams).


  1. What a great website…I think this is wonderful.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Blog. Please, do come back often. Karlee

  2. Marvelous resource,mahalo so much!

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