Separate pockets, padded bum rolls
August 22, 2017 1:55 PM   Subscribe

In the 18th century, especially if you were a woman, clothes could be so complicated that you wouldn’t be able to get into them easily without someone else’s assistance. Ideas about privacy and intimacy were different then too – it was normal to be touched by a servant if they were helping you wash or dress. You can now watch a short video that shows how a well-off woman was dressed by her maid servant at that time.
posted by ChuraChura (69 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is so many layers.
posted by congen at 2:06 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


I'm not even halfway through the video and I'm already tired.
So.
Much.
Clothes.
posted by phunniemee at 2:06 PM on August 22 [12 favorites]


Shaved legs? I cry shenanigans! I also didn't get enough of a sense of classist disdain.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 2:07 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


It might have been in Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace" where I read about women wearing seven layers of petticoats in the winter if they were poor and up to eleven layers if they were rich. Imagine trying to function while dragging all that fabric around all day.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:18 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I had never clocked that those dresses came in so many separate parts: the chest plate is a revelation.
posted by AFII at 2:23 PM on August 22 [23 favorites]


I also didn't get enough of a sense of classist disdain.

Just pretend there's a paywall before you can watch the video.
posted by Fizz at 2:23 PM on August 22 [13 favorites]


that pillow is supposed to go around her neck on the aero-plane. not her BUTT
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:25 PM on August 22 [12 favorites]


I also have padded bum rolls.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:26 PM on August 22 [30 favorites]


That is so interesting - never knew that about the pockets or about the dress being fastened at the sides of a chest-plate!

Next up, I want to know how this all changes if you're pregnant.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on August 22 [14 favorites]


That's a whole lot of layers, but at least one of them included pockets.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:30 PM on August 22 [7 favorites]


You can tell she's a modern woman because at the end you can totally see her thinking "this is a pile of bullshit- but look. POCKETS"
posted by raccoon409 at 2:39 PM on August 22 [61 favorites]


Pockets!!
posted by poxandplague at 2:39 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


All those pokey straight pins! The invention of safety pins must have been a relief.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:49 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


I was reading recently about how saris are worn. It's a long fiddly process and often done with someone's help... but it's lightning compared to this.
posted by zompist at 3:01 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


A lot of layers, yes, but no knickers -- these ladies went commando. That's a big surprise to me.
posted by Bron at 3:02 PM on August 22


What's with the wooden dowel between the breasts at about 2:13?
posted by sadtomato at 3:17 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


That's for queen dowelagers.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:19 PM on August 22 [20 favorites]


The technical term for the separate chest plate is stomacher.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:28 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


What's with the wooden dowel between the breasts at about 2:13?

I was wondering about that too and I think it's a busk.
posted by camyram at 3:40 PM on August 22 [9 favorites]


7½ minutes. That's the time it takes me to get from "must get vertical" to showered, shaved & out the front door, albeit without the help or hindrance of anyone else.
posted by ambrosen at 3:44 PM on August 22


7½ minutes. That's the time it takes me to get from "must get vertical" to showered, shaved & out the front door, albeit without the help or hindrance of anyone else.

Stop shaving. Go for the gusto!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:48 PM on August 22


Imagine trying to function while dragging all that fabric around all day.

Years ago I saw an exhibit at the Met's Costume Institute featuring some Marie Antoinette-style dresses that said a woman's ability to move gracefully in these gowns was as much a marker of her social status as the clothing itself. It was revelatory and weirdly validating to read that. That the expectation acknowledged this physical performance of femininity had to be learned, and that the time and energy required to learn it were available only to a particular class, freed me from a lot of stupid shame about being the only girl in history who didn't instinctively know how to walk in high heels (dramatic re-enactment).
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 3:49 PM on August 22 [46 favorites]


I wonder how long this video would have been if you went through the entire toilette, hair dressing, and putting on the mistress's clothes. The poor lady's maid. She was probably up at 4, just to make sure the gown and apron were properly ironed, shoes shined, stockings clean and darned, and to put the tongs on and off the fire/heat in time for them to cool down so as to curl the mistress's hair without burning it. Or making sure the wig was properly powdered and cleaned. And then bath day! Imagine having to be the one to draw Madame's bawth, carrying pails of hot water up the back stairs, etc.

Ugh, so glad we're done with that stuff.
posted by droplet at 3:59 PM on August 22 [12 favorites]


Okaay, no knickers. Then, what would women do during their time of the month?

Sure all those layers are fine in winter but summer? I suppose that's why books always mentioned women fainting?
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 4:01 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


All those pokey straight pins! The invention of safety pins must have been a relief.

Safety pins were invented in ancient Rome. The straight pins are easier to hide if you don't want to incorporate them into the style of the dress.

Remember seeing a similar video done by if I remember correctly re-enactor at Colonial Williamsburg. Although all the pieces had the same function, they were less elaborate and she did a lot more by herself.

I'm horn 18th century garb in a few shows, and it's a lot more comfortable than it looks. Admittedly, thegowns I've worn have always cheated with hooks and eyes on the stomach gir instead of pins.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:17 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


The Prior Attire YouTube channel has lots more "watch women get dressed in old fashioned clothes" videos, along with some Q&A type videos. Some things I learned:

-You can actually get dressed fairly quickly, and by yourself, if you have practice and everything ready to go. Shoes with lots of buttons seem to be the real time suck.

-Summer clothes had much lighter layers, and much lighter fabrics. Basically, you're good up until about 80 degrees or so; above that, everyone is pretty much hot, no matter what they're wearing.

-Going to the bathroom was actually pretty straight forward, at least if you have a chamber pot, thanks to the lack of knickers.

-As others above noted, you can move around in these things; it just takes practice.

As for dresses having lots of separate parts: the original, 1990s Felicity American Girl Doll was great in terms of accuracy for this. Her Christmas dress had interchangeable stomachers (attached with snaps, not pins), as well as a separate under skirt/gown. But, her birthday dress had a legit pinner apron, complete with pins. And all the dresses had slits in them for access to the pocket (sold separately, naturally. Because $$American Girl Doll$$).

I'm most displeased that the most recent relaunch of the doll has the underskirt built into the outfit, rather than being a separate piece, and it looks like they've gotten rid of the pocket/pocket slits. But, they do now have a bum roll for sale, which makes me happy.
posted by damayanti at 4:19 PM on August 22 [17 favorites]


Also, can you imagine the trouble of going to the bathroom if you also had to deal with drawers? You'd have to take them completely on and off. When drawers for women did come along, they had a big opening down the middle for that reason.

Sanitary cloths were usually attached to a belt.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:21 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


The sacque dress was popular with pregnant ladies. You can keep lacing it looser for a good long while and you're camouflaged pretty well.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:25 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]



The sacque dress was popular with pregnant ladies. You can keep lacing it looser for a good long while and you're camouflaged pretty well.
posted by The Underpants Monster


OK so i was doing some bored-at-work googling and came on that same sacque dress article that said it was popular for maternity wear but like, how? I could understand if the cape-like thing was worn in the front, but it was in the back. Otherwise the front looks just as flat as any other dress to me.
posted by bleep at 4:36 PM on August 22


Also I think I would have made a good ladies maid back in the day. I feel like that's a job I could have handled. If I could become a ladies maid today I would. I would like to be a ladies maid and also, have my own ladies maid.
posted by bleep at 4:38 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


Was there a scene of Faye Dunaway dressing in the 70s version of The Three Musketeers?

Or was it Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons?

I have a vague recollection. A dagger neatly serving as the busk must have been Faye Dunaway. But maybe they both had scenes such as these?
posted by janey47 at 4:43 PM on August 22


Sure all those layers are fine in winter but summer? I suppose that's why books always mentioned women fainting?

Apparently the roads melt if it gets above 86F in England. The entirety of the UK is more north than the continental US. I imagine the layers are as much a tactical tool against the chilly Atlantic breeze as they are a signal of privilege.
posted by pwnguin at 4:49 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


So I gather if you were closer to the Mediterranean, the fabrics would be lighter by necessity, but I've gotta say, it'd still be too much! I wore linen shifts and sandals the entire time I was in Barcelona last month, and I thought I was going to melt, even in the shade!
posted by droplet at 4:55 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Imagine trying to function while dragging all that fabric around all day.

I was told by a history professor (I never verified* but it was in an actual graduate school classroom) that fire was a leading cause of death of women back in those days--they would be sweeping the hearth in an age before there was much of a hearth and couldn't get their clothes off quickly.

Fun detail.

*because jesus christ
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:55 PM on August 22 [19 favorites]


I want to know how this all changes if you're pregnant.

I did RenFaire while very, very pregnant. Different style - a lot fewer layers, and I was middle class - but a lot of the basics are the same.

Very little of the clothing style changes. The stays/corset are mostly above where pregnancy really grows. (Obviously, a wealthy woman would have a new one made, or multiples, for pregnancy. But the shape wouldn't change; they'd just be bigger around.) The pockets and petticoats and roll add so much bulk, and change the shape so much, that pregnancy doesn't show up until very late, if that.

Okaay, no knickers. Then, what would women do during their time of the month?

Bleed, and let it stain the inner petticoat. However, there's evidence that the flow was, on the average, a lot lighter than today - less red meat and heavy protein in the diet.

Sure all those layers are fine in winter but summer? I suppose that's why books always mentioned women fainting?

In England, even in summer, all those layers weren't too bad. If it was warm - spin around, and the skirts create enough breeze to cool you off. Note that there are rennaissance accounts of people going out on a "fine June morning" and cracking the ice off the local pond; the layers were developed in a setting where they were reasonably comfortable year-round. Lighter fabrics in summer; heavier in winter.

Women fainted because the stays restrict their lungs. This was fine for normal walking and talking, but any heavy exertion or sudden shock meant getting lightheaded, and if she doesn't know how to breathe correctly (which they basically didn't), fainting from that. Servants had less restrictive clothing, didn't try to force their torsos into the "V" shape.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:02 PM on August 22 [16 favorites]


OK so i was doing some bored-at-work googling and came on that same sacque dress article that said it was popular for maternity wear but like, how? I could understand if the cape-like thing was worn in the front, but it was in the back. Otherwise the front looks just as flat as any other dress to me.

I've actually worn one of these jobbers! Under the panel that hangs loose at the back is a set of laces that let you expand the torso of the dress. Everything except for the front is kind of hidden under there. They kept wearing their stays during pregnancy, just lacing them more loosely. So, your body would have the same basic flat-front shape, just bigger. The extra girth would sort of disappear into the sides and back under the sleeves and back panels.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:07 PM on August 22 [7 favorites]


Nice dress! It has pockets!
posted by basalganglia at 5:08 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


I love eighteenth-century clothing. A good set of tabbed stays is some of the most comfortable corsetry there is. Certainly (to me) more comfortable than Victorian.

(though the protagonist of The Sylph, by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, doesn't seem too comfortable in hers, in a quote from 1778:)
My dear Louisa, you will laugh when I tell you, that poor Winifred, who was reduced to be my gentlewoman’s gentlewoman, broke two laces in endeavouring to draw my new French stays close. You know I am naturally small at bottom but now you might literally span me. You never saw such a doll. Then, they [the stays] are so intolerably wide across the breast, that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and my sides so pinched! – But it is the ‘ton’; and pride feels no pain.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:10 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


I've been in stage productions set in the 18th century, and I'm extra-impressed with the research done by our mostly-volunteer costume department after watching this! It's simultaneously making me grumpy that I was never allowed to wear pockets, though, even though the skirts had the appropriate slits, because the costume department didn't want us carrying stuff around in them.

If you really need to (i.e. if you're sharing a hot, sweaty dressing room with 30 other people), it's definitely possible to get in and out of this stuff a lot faster than in the video.
posted by capricorn at 5:31 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Where could she possibly be going without her wig?

I daresay standards have gone absolutely downhill since this "revolution" in the Americas!


Or was it Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons?

Yes, both her and John Malkovich
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:40 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Ok, so no knickers were so you could pee without going through that whole process, but did you have to train yourself to poo before getting dressed in the morning?
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:42 PM on August 22


so no knickers were so you could pee without going through that whole process

In Pat Barker's The Ghost Road, about WW1, she describes one of the characters of keeping with 'the old practice' of spreading her legs and peeing in the street in London. Pooping, not sure, but given the pee thing and the fire thing we are probably better off.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:47 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Also, so much for the glamorous, romantic days of yore, in case any of us had any illusions left about anything ever anywhere.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:47 PM on August 22 [8 favorites]


The first season of Outlander also has a scene where Claire gets dressed for the first time in 18th century garb with the help of Castle Leoch's housekeeper.
posted by orange swan at 6:14 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


droplet:
> The poor lady's maid.

i haven't the time to research & confirm but, if it's any comfort, i'd wager that being a personal servant to an upper class lady was probably one of the more desirable occupations available to low class women at the time.

my assumption of 1700s england is the vast majority of the population is farm labour of some kind and getting
three square meals, probably not that much heavy lifting, no ceaseless toil over the dirt, etc wasn't the worst tradeoff if that's up your alley.

on a related note, this video was pretty interesting!
posted by pmv at 6:24 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


The entirety of the UK is more north than the continental US. I imagine the layers are as much a tactical tool against the chilly Atlantic breeze as they are a signal of privilege.

Also, the Little Ice Age would have still been in effect when these outfits were popular.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:35 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


I misread the title as "Separate rockets, padded bum rolls," then read the text beneath referring to 18th century women's clothing and oh the imagery that painted itself across my head...

Rocket-assisted petticoats do not exist but should.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:38 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]


Previously regarding bathroom realities.
posted by Lexica at 7:16 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


Yeah, lady’s maid was a relatively* sweet gig if you got a decent employer. If your mistress did any traveling, you got to go with her - I mean, you didn't do any sightseeing when you got there, but considering most working-class people rarely traveled far from where they were born it was a chance to see something else out the window. And you usually got your mistress's old clothes. A lot of them were too fancy for you to wear, but you could sell them, which is nice, too.

*I mean, there’s the obvious downside having to be responsible for someone else's sweaty body and dirty underwear and stuff, but you'd be doing the same thing if you got married and had kids.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:30 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]


Five hours (and who can do it less in)/ By haughty Celia spent in dressing... Swift has some relevant comments about clothes but mostly about the peein' and poopin' angle.

Britons wore more clothes in the eighteenth century than most mefites do now because it was colder and there wasn't central heat. For example, Drury Lane and Covent Garden only acted Roman-dress plays like Julius Caesar and All For Love at the end of the October to May season because the audience could dress warm but the actors would freeze in a toga any other time.

But a lot hasn't changed: it's still prestigious to use other people's labor and to spend enormous amounts of time cultivating our appearance. It's just that instead of chatting to the labor in the form of body servants we now hide the labor from ourselves by putting it in faraway factories (we own far, far more clothes than even elite 18c Britons), and we spend the time in the gym and yoga studio rather than sitting in front of a toilette table.
posted by sy at 7:39 PM on August 22 [11 favorites]


Yeah, lady’s maid was a relatively* sweet gig if you got a decent employer

The quality of the job would also have hinged on the gentleman of the house not sexually assaulting the servants. With good employers, it would have been one of the better jobs around, but there weren't exactly robust protections if things were otherwise.

Safety pins were invented in ancient Rome. The straight pins are easier to hide if you don't want to incorporate them into the style of the dress.

Interesting! I had assumed they were a modern invention, but even a moment of googling turns up examples from across the centuries.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:16 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


In the 18th century, especially if you were a woman, clothes could be so complicated that you wouldn’t be able to get into them easily without someone else’s assistance.

What of the servant woman? Does she need someone's assistance to get dressed. I'm guessing not.
posted by eye of newt at 8:24 PM on August 22


"What of the servant woman? Does she need someone's assistance to get dressed. I'm guessing not."

You can do a fair amount of it yourself, but they dressed each other. In "Little House on the Prairie" the girls are always helping each other do up buttons and so on. In a house with multiple servants, the servant girls would help each other with the finishing bits. It's actually quite a common feature of fiction about women written by contemporaneous female authors ... girls of the same class helping each other get dressed with the fiddly bits that you can't do yourself when you're merely of a good family, but not rich.

"Sure all those layers are fine in winter but summer?"

At Colonial Williamsburg they said that something like 30% of the settlers died just from the climate (not even like climate-related diseases, just "being too hot"). I'm not good with heat or heavy layers of clothing, so I've always assumed I would have been in the 30%. I probably would have dropped dead before I finished disembarking the boat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 PM on August 22 [14 favorites]


I have two relevant bits of personal experience; one, that straight pins never poked me, because I could run them outside the heavy layer of my jumps. They can be set up to stab anyone who gets gropy, though. That's nice.

Second, the inmost layer -- the shift or chemise -- was almost certainly linen and linen wicks really well. If you're hot you open your underarms a little (no corset there) and fluff your fichu and kick your skirts and the wicking cools you down*. If you're cold, you kind of tuck in like a winter robin.

*Wicking only works in dry heat, though -- in the tropics and/or Williamsburg some people changed their clothes a lot, and then denied it at home, and a lot of people got sick and died, and a few made elegant sheers fashionable.
posted by clew at 9:29 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]


The entirety of the UK is more north than the continental US.

This is not true at all.
posted by D.C. at 9:51 PM on August 22


Hey, D.C, I don't know if you're trying to make a point about the linguistic difference between the contiguous US and the continental US, but for those playing along at home, the northernmost point in the lower 48 United States is Northwest Angle Inlet in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota 49°23′N and the southernmost point in the UK is Pednathise Head, Western Rocks, Isles of Scilly at 49°51′N.
posted by mercredi at 10:56 PM on August 22 [18 favorites]


Late-18th-c dress that is better in the heat, can be put on by the wearer, and Brought Down the Monarchy (was one of the several ways that Marie Antoinette accidentally infuriated the populace, anyway).
posted by clew at 11:23 PM on August 22


This is not true at all.
Is too.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:28 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


The U.K. is further north but also gets the effects of the Gulf Stream, so we get relatively mild winters and summers both. Here is what average temperatures in England were like in the 18th century; here's some more weather details by year.
posted by Catseye at 6:47 AM on August 23


This looks exhausting. Hell, maintaining a professional appearance today is exhausting.

Bring on the shiny futuristic jumpsuits and bald heads. Can't get here soon enough.
posted by FakeFreyja at 6:50 AM on August 23 [4 favorites]


What of the servant woman? Does she need someone's assistance to get dressed. I'm guessing not.

Henry Fielding has a description of a great house in the morning, which runs through how the pissboy dresses the stablehand, who is then presentable enough to dress the footman, who can dress the valet, who can finally clothe the gentleman.
posted by mark k at 7:39 AM on August 23 [2 favorites]


If I could become a ladies maid today I would. I would like to be a ladies maid and also, have my own ladies maid.

Maybe get to know Julian Fellowes? He could probably hook you up.
posted by Jpfed at 9:18 AM on August 23


This is not true at all.

It is, but only just.

The southernmost point of the "continental" UK is Lizard Point at 49° 57' 30" N.

The northenmost part of the contiguous US is Angle, Minnesota, at 49º 23' N.

In round numbers, that's just under 40 miles further north.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 AM on August 23


The U.K. is further north but also gets the effects of the Gulf Stream, so we get relatively mild winters and summers both.

I'll never forgot slogging to the airport in New York through all the April snow and slush, bundled up to the gills, and getting off the plane in London where every green area was a riot of daffodils that would put Wordsworth to shame. It was like that scene in the movie of The Wizard of Oz where everything goes to Technicolor.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:11 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]


I'll never forgot slogging to the airport in New York through all the April snow and slush, bundled up to the gills, and getting off the plane in London

This did not happen to me in February this year. It was balmy and sunny in New York (and Boston), and very slightly less sunny the following morning in London.
posted by ambrosen at 12:14 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I feel like a lot of you would enjoy Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners. Especially the first couple of chapters about clothing and toilets. Periods are also covered. The audiobook is excellent.
posted by poxandplague at 7:35 PM on August 23 [4 favorites]


I'd add a recommendation for Ruth Goodman's How To Be A Victorian. It's a bit more recent than the time period for this costume, but she does touch on what it's like to wear stays, or eleven billion petticoats. Also periods, toileting, bathing, keeping from smelling like a barnyard and, IIRC, make-yer-own prophylactic. (I mean, in addition to the usual cooking/cleaning/what to do with oneself all day.)
posted by kalimac at 7:50 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I was oddly taken with the graceful little dive-duck-through the woman did to protect her hairstyle while those zillion layers were going over her.

Meanwhile, something I've been pondering since watching: In fashion eras like this, when women were going commando under tons of petticoats, how do you think any fleshier ones dealt with chub-rub?
posted by TwoStride at 8:11 PM on August 23


Meanwhile, something I've been pondering since watching: In fashion eras like this, when women were going commando under tons of petticoats, how do you think any fleshier ones dealt with chub-rub?
posted by TwoStride 6 ¾ hours ago [+] [!]


Lard or other fat/ grease?
Also at least in Victorian times you could wear drawers/ Turkish trousers. They were just crotchless.
posted by poxandplague at 3:06 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


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