In my dress/gown discussion last week, the question was raised at the periphery about underwear. What, exactly did ladies and gentlemen of the eighteenth century wear in terms of underwear?
The kind we think of today? Zilch.
Ok, let's back up a touch. They did wear undergarments. Women and men both wore long, white, generally linen shifts or shirts, which served as their basic undergarment. Women and men also both wore stockings, which we can consider underwear, too. Women wore stays and an underpetticoat or two--though many underpetticoats weren't really different from outer petticoats and may have been interchangeable among the lower classes. They also added paniers, hooped petticoats, or bum pads, depending on the decade and the occasion.
Some men wore underdrawers, plain breeches-like garments cut to fit under their breeches. These seem to have been optional and little evidence has been found for them outside of the upper class (mostly because not many such utilitarian garments survived, so most evidence we have is tailors' orders--from people who had the money to employ tailors). This is the closest thing we have to modern-day underwear for men or women.
Pantaloons didn't come into fashion until the nineteenth century, so there wasn't really an underdrawer equivalent for women (that I've found any evidence of). Drawers for women appeared in the Regency era, and didn't become popular until later, and on into the Victorian era. Even then, as this post from Jane Austen's World illustrates, they were often essentially crotchless. (There are some fascinating speculations about gender and sensuality based on the "graduation" from wearing full drawers to these open drawers as women reached adulthood during the Victorian era--unfortunately, the article I read is in a password-protected subscription-based website. If you have access to JStor, give it a search.)
So...ummm...how do you deal with all the things that underwear helps us deal with? Well, men would wrap their knee-length shirts under as a buffer between their, ahem, bits and their breeches (and the reason those shirts were so long becomes abundantly clear). For the montly inconvenience, women fashioned belts not too unlike those our moms and grandmothers wore back in the day (and that I'm so glad we've moved past). The one thing I can't quite figure out--drafts. Petticoats are drafty. At cold-weather events, I usually wear an old, worn pair of silk-blend breeches under my petticoats--and am so much warmer for it. I wonder whether women might have come to the same conclusion and copped their husbands' or brothers' worn-out breeches or underdrawers.
So, that's what's up with underwear.