In Lightning on the Levee, it was 1908 when Molly B O’Connor was abducted while out for an afternoon walk with her friends. When she arrives in our current time, she’s dressed in the same beautiful Edwardian Afternoon Dress she was wearing then. You can see a photo of the dress, a gift from her father, HERE.
I talked about the other clothing choices that were important to her, and to her friends in 1908 here: “1908 Ladies’ Clothing Fashions – Part 1”. But that’s not all – I promised you more! So here in “1908 Ladies’ Clothing Fashions – Part 2”, we’ll talk about what an Edwardian or La Belle Epoque woman went through just to get ready for her day.
Getting Dressed to Face the Day in Edwardian Times
This is the garment that a lady of 1908 is wearing when she arises in the morning. The equivalent of our nightclothes, it’s usually made of cotton. Sometimes it’s made of finer fabrics such as silk, but always has the same exquisite hand detailing that her other clothing has.
In Edwardian times, lingerie such as the night chemise and the peignoir was called “déshabillé” (“undress”), and was worn only inside the house or around immediate family.
Molly B’s night chemise probably isn’t silk, but cotton, as she is not yet married. It’s likely that she has one or two beautifully detailed silk night chemises in her trousseau.
Peignoir / Morning Gown / Combing Jacket
An Edwardian lady slips her peignoir over her night chemise to provide a bit of warmth or modesty as she begins to move around the house after she rises in the morning. This garment is used like our bathrobe, but is delicate and beautiful and partially covers the nightgown or chemise.
“Peignoir” comes from the French “peigner”, which means “to comb the hair”.
The morning gown is the floor length version, and “combing jacket” is the name for the hip length version. I think we should help this lacy pink silk Edwardian combing jacket escape from the boudoir – I’d love to wear it with skinny jeans to some event!
Edwardian ladies wore a mind-boggling amount of underclothes. Every lady, Molly B included, had a selection of knickers, day chemises, camisoles, petticoats, and stockings, but usually had only two corsets – one for summer and another for winter.
Knickers (pantaloons) were the panties of the Edwardian era. In fact, our word “panties” is derived from the word “pantaloons”. Knicker styles have generally conformed to the silhouette line of an era, and in 1908, the silhouette had slimmed and shortened considerably from the Victorian period.
These slimmer, closer fitting knickers – called the “Directoire style” – have a drawstring waist. They are above knee length, with the last few inches being lacy frills.
Unlike these two beautiful knicker examples, the crotch was frequently split, a holdover from earlier years, so women didn’t have to get undressed when nature called.
Next comes the day chemise, which is basically a slip. Its purpose is to protect the corset (which comes next) from body oils and perspiration, and to give a little protection for the woman from the bones in the corset.
The lacy chemise also looks pretty peeking out from under the top of her corset.
The popular corset in 1908 was the “Health Corset”, which forced the woman’s body into an S shape, and was thought to be healthy. (I’m sure many Edwardian women would debate that claim.)
It was longer than previous corsets, coming down almost to the thigh, giving women a slimmer line than was popular in the Victorian period. The top of the corset ended just below the bust. It also had low-hanging clips to hold stockings up.
Here is an actual Edwardian antique corset from 1908, made of unlined cotton mesh for the summer. It has 20 steel bones! Can you imagine how comfortable that was NOT?
This corset has a busque almost a foot long. The busque is the stiff center front piece of the corset which is supposed to keep the corset (and the woman who wears it) straight and upright. It has something similar to hooks on one side and eyes on the other, which make it much easier to take on and off. Lacing up a corset may look romantic, but it was a time-consuming chore.
Check out the four ornate stocking suspenders.
The ribbon trim on this corset isn’t pink!
Made by Warners!
And this image is just for fun:
Corset Cover (Camisole)
Next comes the corset cover, or camisole. Many times the dresses or blouses were of delicate fabric or lace, so women wore beautifully detailed camisoles to keep their corsets from showing through.
Every Edwardian lady wore stockings every day. She would have two types – cotton for day, and pretty embroidered silk stockings for the evening.
Stockings are usually knitted, and have a seam up the middle of the back. They reach to just above the knee, and are held in place with the stocking suspenders that are attached to the corset. It was only considered taboo for the lady’s ankle to show if her skin were exposed, so every lady wore stockings every day, as her ankle area would be exposed when she walked, danced, or climbed stairs, especially when she was wearing dress slippers.
White or black cotton stockings were generally used for day, although colors and patterns were very common. A lady liked for her stockings to be pretty, and to match her dress. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle.
Evening and special occasion stockings were generally fine silk, beautifully embroidered on the front of the ankle area.
Finally came the petticoats. Every woman had to wear at least one, and maybe two or three. (It was believed that a mass of underwear was hygienic.) The petticoats were made of beautiful taffetas and organdies, so they would rustle as the lady walked.
The petticoats were fringed with lace, so they would form an enchanting foam around the ankles while walking.
Now that she has all that done, Molly B can finally put on her outer clothes.
Let’s talk about the outer clothes next time – I’m tired from putting on all that underwear!
Which of these pieces of Edwardian lingerie would you like to wear today? Tell me about it in the comments below!