Freezing For Fashion

Bloomers weren’t just for modesty; they protected their wearer from icy drafts.

We’re enjoying our first 50-degree day in my corner of California. Nine a.m. found me standing in a windswept expanse of concrete courtyard waiting for an interview subject to arrive.

And freezing my derrière off, as the saying goes.

Despite nubbly tights, boots and a mac, the wind was whipping briskly up my long wool skirt. I had the option of wearing slacks that morning. Certainly I slipped into my favorite fluffy sweats as soon as I got home.

But my frozen fanny and I had a transcendent moment of union with our Regency and Victorian sisters.

How on earth did they keep warm under their long skirts? As a matter of fact, often they did not.

Those stately homes with their high ceilings and wide hallways were notoriously cold. It took many, many hands and tons of coal, coke and wood to heat them. Particularly as the nineteenth century wore on and servants became harder to find (and more expensive to keep), those hands just weren’t there.

The problem of frigid chambers, arctic halls and icy dining rooms were so ubiquitous that many women of the period shared their strategies for keeping warm.

Red flannel pantalettes were popular.  Wash leather (chamois) leggings were used to protect lower legs. Shawls of cashmere were used in winter. Yet ‘Regency Etiquette’1 speaks disapprovingly of Regency women who so slavishly followed the prevailing fashion they refused to cover their bosom and arms which the Empire style usually bared.

Quilted satin pantalettes filled with swansdown were known. (Think of a dress so voluminous you could wear quilts wrapped around your lower legs without it showing!)

Photo credit: Stock vault

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