Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are they Pantaloons, Pantalettes, Drawers, or Bloomers?

The last couple years at TITP I've heard the word pantaloon for the mid-calf pant-things the little girls wear under their dresses. This year, they're using the word pantalette. So are those the same as bloomers? Wait, but what about drawers, or even trousers? How are all these things the same and how are they all different?

I've been dying to put up a post about this (geeky, I know), but just haven't had the time to figure it out for myself. In fact, I really shouldn't be blogging right now, but it's nice to escape reality for a moment and delve into my compartmentalized Internet life.

Anyway, with the help of Elizabeth Clark (seriously, she will reply to your e-mails), her book The Dressmaker's Guide, and some other sources, I think I've kind of got it figured out. (Now if I'm mistaken, you tell me so I can fix it!)

Pantaloons: According to Liz (and I'm sure sources she's researched), "pantaloons are actually men's clothing"! They were "an earlier style of roomy men's trousers, no longer worn in the mid-19th century"! In fact, "it's a very old word -- 'pantaloons' shows up in literature and other primary sources as early as the 1620s! Those pictures of people like Sir Francis Drake, or Henry the 8th, in their bloomy short pants? Those are pantaloons. So are the skin-tight knee-length trousers worn by dandies like Beau Brummel in the very early 1800s -- so even as a man's garment term, the meaning evolves over time. They are not a woman's undergarment, though the terms gets used in modern circles because it sounds old-fashioned." Ha, ha -- maybe because it sounds like saloon! Wow, I've totally been using pantaloons incorrectly.

Pantalettes: We are right in that pantalettes are female clothing, "but they are a much earlier term for underdrawers (1800-1830-ish)" according to Liz. (I'm telling you, she e-mailed me a more detialed definition of pantalettes than even what is in her book!) Also, that "style of drawers is rather different that we'd recognize for the mid-century. Pantalettes are longer (as long as the ankle in some cases), and are two tubes, no crutch [crotch?] at all (they look rather like linen chaps, actually!). They stay up with a drawstring run through the upper, outer hip section of the leg tube, tied around the waist. They were worn by some adult women in the early Jacksonian era (roughly the Regency time-span), and then evolved into mainly a little girl's garment in the 1815 to 1835 range." OK, so that's not what we're talking, either.

Bloomers: "Bloomers are radically different [as] the term refers to a style of 'reform' dress worn by Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, rather than to undergarments. The Bloomer Costume consists of a short (knee to mid-calf) length dress, worn over corded or quilted stays and some petticoats, with long trousers of the same fabric beneath them. The trousers might be gathered to a band at the ankle (Turkish trousers), or might be straight-legged. Sometimes, if the dress is silk, the trousers will be wool. I've not yet seen any reference to a Bloomer costume being done in a cotton print, only silks or wools. A woman would still wear cotton or linen drawers under her trousers."

"In the late 19th century, and early 20th century, 'bloomers' come to mean underdrawers that have a generous leg, gathered to a comfortably fitted band near the knee. However, that terminology change happens a good 50 years after the mid-century, so I don't recommend the term when discussing mid-19th century clothing."

Drawers: Sorry to say it, but, yes, the most boring-sounding term seems to be the most accurate one for our time period. Liz says,"drawers are the term used at mid-century to describe a cotton or linen bifurcated undergarment for men, women, or children. It's by far my favorite term for that portion of undergarments, because it shows up so often in period sources, including in clothing diagrams and wardrobe notes from period magazines and workbooks, as well as in private letters and diaries, and advertisements. The frequency of the term 'drawers' leads me to believe it is the most common term at mid-century, and therefore, the one I feel living history people ought to use, for greater clarity in communication."

Liz also mentions knickers as a related term in The Dressmaker's Guide. This was a shorter, fuller, French garment "of the later 1800's" and "not appropriate for wear in the mid-century."

One last less-common, but related term I ran across was trowsers in The Workwoman's Guide. On page 50 and corresponding with Plate 7, The Workwoman says, "These are worn by men, women, and children of all classes, and almost all ages, under the different names of trowsers and drawers. They are made in a great variety of ways. Those mentioned here are the kinds most generally approved. Drawers for ladies and children are usually made of calico, twill, and cambric muslin. Those ladies who are invalids, or who ride much, frequently wear flannel or wash-leather drawers, with or without white calico leglets. For men, drawers are composed of very strong twill, calico, linen, flannel, and stockinet."

In this case, trousers or trowsers is referring to undergarments, not men's pants. All the drawings on Plate 7 are undergarments, NOT outerwear.

If you want to make drawers, you can find everything you need in The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark. She also has a FREE pattern for split drawers on her site.

Another free, online pattern is Vera's Quick and Dandy Drawers.

Well, this post ended up a lot longer than I'd planned, but I think it answers most of my questions. Huge thanks to Liz!


Amanda said...

Okay, that was a very cool post! I never realized I already knew so much. I have no remembrance of when I learned all that stuff but it was cool to realize I knew it. You rock Emily! Plus, I had always been a bit confused about pantaloons. Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily! :)

Trowsers with a W are a less-common term for undergarments (I've not seen it frequently outside of Workwoman's Guide, actually, so there may also be an "It's British" connection). That whole page is underwear, though.

You can see the shape really clearly--it will give you a good idea as to why the F&V "Quick" drawers don't work.

I'm having fun reading your new posts!!


Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is fabulous! I'm a children's author and I need to tweek my frontier novel before it goes back to my editor. Your post has answered more questions for me than any other site.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Ladies, a bit of modern cultural and linguistic information for you.

in modern British English usage, 'trousers' are what Americans call pants or slacks, while 'pants' is simply short for men's underpants ('pants' is also a slang term used to mean 'no good', 'of poor quality' or simply 'crap' - excuse the language).

Meanwhile, 'knickers' is the accepted term for women's underwear in general.

This comment is perhaps not much help with frontier clothing issues, but may help to avoid confusion when conversing from any friends from 'across the pond'.


Jordan Leaver
Montevideo, Uruguay

jax r said...

I just love this new site! The 1800s era has become quite a fascination for me lately, partly because I'm researching some family history. My ancestors have been here since the 1600s. I'd also recently been reading the Little House series. From that time period, everything had a meaning and I'd like to understand them. Laura Ingalls talked about how "grown up" she felt because of a recent drop in her dressline.
The dresses just seemed to inch down little by little as the girl got older. The final change being dresses just above the toes of her shoes when she was engaged, to skirts touching the floor all the way around after her marriage.. I wonder, what is the social significance? Thank you for this site; I look forward to learning all sorts of interesting, wonderful information

Emily said...

Jax, I've wondered that, too. The neck lines also got more modest as a lady got older. I wonder if it was just tradition or if it was good to show *a little* skin before marriage, then keep *all* the excitement to the couple after marriage, I dunno. I wonder if Liz Clark has thoughts on it. Good question!

Liz C said...

Emily, thanks for forwarding the comment so I could rejoin the conversation! You're lovely!

I think we need to be careful to not impose our modern ideas of "modest" onto mid-century clothing, even with regards to mid-century LDS people!

In the 1820s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and into the 60s, open necklines are quite shallow. They skim about a hand-span below the collarbone, so there's no "cleavage" involved, though the shoulders may be fairly exposed.

(Keep in mind, because of the cut of corsets, stays, and chemises, no undergarments will be hanging out, even if the shoulders are bared... thus, it's still modest, in that nothing untoward is being displayed.)

Too, there's a presumption of "naked shoulders = innocence"; you'll see images of little children at mid-century with their upper garments falling completely away from the torso. Those artists are not trying to be revealing: rather, they're delighting in the innocence of youth, the vulnerability and freshness and beauty of a child.

As a girl grows, she is expected to take on more and more adult roles. The clothes do change somewhat; long sleeves for day wear and higher necklines for day wear become the most common, with skirts getting longer. It's not about modesty... it's about "being adult"---and since fashion dictated that adult women wore longer skirts than girls, that's what happened. It's socially significant, but entirely unrelated to the idea of modesty or social appropriateness as regards revealing clothing.

So, no, nothing whatsoever to do with "covering up" to preserve excitement in marriage or anything. Women's evening clothing retains very open necklines and short sleeves all the way through this era. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, you'll see adult women in wide open necklines for the day (including Emma Smith, who was, by all accounts, quite a paragon of appropriate behavior, so we know she wasn't wearing that to be scandalous or tempting. :) )

It's sometimes hard to separate our modern "modesty" notions from even the attitudes 50 years ago, when LDS girls routinely wore sleeveless party dresses, *without* a little jacket over them. :) Go back 150 years or so, and our modern minds might boggle at the entirely *transparent* (yep, see-through!) sheer dresses that were indeed modest... as in, appropriate in society, and not displaying anything untoward, even though there was only a sheer layer of cloth over the upper chest, shoulders, and arms.

Sorry, book length. :) Short version: open necklines in the day indicate youth and innocence; high necklines are also fine. Styles change as you work through the era and toward adulthood. It's all modest. :)

Geri Walton said...

Nice post with comparison between these items.

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