Thursday, 27 September 2012

What a man wore under his breeches

Couple with an Escaped Bird by Louis-Léopold Boilly, late 18th century 
 Now and then people ask about men's underwear in the 18th century. For a very long time I thought that they just had shirts. Though it seemed rather uncomfortable to not wear anything under the breeches, a long shirt would probably serve as a protective layer between skin and clothes. There are, however, a number of paintings and engravings of men with their clothes in disarray where you can clearly see that under the breeches you can see white knee-length underwear. Here on a painting by Boilly, where the straps are undone and the stockings folded. Quite shocking.

Linen underpants, 18th century, No. 22995, Armémuseum
Lucky us, we have more than just paintings. At Armémuseum in Stockholm a pair of "lårfoder" (thigh lining) have been preserved. They were a part of the standard uniform in Sweden in the 17th century and where made in coarse linen. I have seen them up close, and they didn't seem to have been very comfortable. But with unifrom breeches in heavvy wool, I guess linen underwear, even if coarse, was to be preferred.

Livrustkammaren in Stockholm has no less than two pairs of men's underwear in the same style as the one at Armémuseum. These, however, are made of fine linen and have belonged to King Karl XIV Johan before he became king of Sweden and was Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's generals. They are dated to 1763-1818 and are probably French. They are quite similar to each other, so I just add the description of pair 21667:

Whiten linen underpants, 1763-1818, No. 21167, Livrustkammaren
Knee-length pants of white linen. Low-cut at the waist front and higher back. The waistband is wide in the front and tapers down toward the back, 70-60 mm wide. They are made with an inner and outside seam and a crotch seam. All seams are covered by a narrow white linen tape, 3 mm wide over the crotch seam and inner seams and 18-10 mm wide on the outer seams. The front has a large V-shaped slit, 147 mm long that fastens at the top with two white fabric-covered buttons. The button holes are 20 mm wide. Slit finished with a 4 mm wide band. The legs are finished with a 15 mm wide. The outside of the legs has 147 mm high slits which are tied together with white linen tape, 15 mm wide and between 430-490 mm ​​long. The back of a v-shaped slit, 130 mm long. The width of the waist is regulated by a 70 mm wide band entered through four eyelets, two on each side. The strips are crossed on the inside. The top edge of the waistband at the back is marked "IB" in red cross stitch. (Jean Baptise) On the inside of the waistband there is a "B" with white stitches.

Whiten linen underpants, 1763-1818, No. 21166, Livrustkammaren

So, evidently time to make gentlemen linen pants to wear underneath. As for ladies, even though there are no extant example, the Danish princess Sophia Magdalena had some 40 pairs of black knitted silk knickers in her trosseau when she came to Sweden to marry Gustaf III in 1766. Not for modesty's sake, but to fight the chill of the cold Royal castle.

L'epouse indiscrète, early 1780's


Sassy Countess said...

This is cool, because I thought that they only used the shirt, also!

Aurora said...

I'm not surprised to see that the practice of wearing underpants is older than what's generally believed...

I highly doubt that Catherine of Medici was the first one ever to wear a pair of knickers, but she was the one who introduced the garment to the French court in the 1500's (according to her biographer Leonie Frieda). To preserve the modesty while mounting and dismounting a horse, apparently. By the way, the persistant fashion of wearing painfully high heels is also her "fault", according to a recent article in Aftonbladet. It seems she needed a more imposing stance to turn the king's attention away from madame Poitiers...

Isis said...

sassy Countess: I'm glad you liked it!

Aurora: Me neither, but it's always nice with proof. :)

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