It's definitely not the sexiest underwear you'll ever see, but the combination chemise and drawers were an everyday staple for the late Victorian and Edwardian woman. The layers of underwear worn during this period was staggering (not to mention hot, especially in climates like Australia) and consisted of the chemise and drawers, over which was placed the corset, then the corset cover. Stockings and then a further layer consisting of a petticoat was added before the actual dress. So its not surprising that the combination chemise and drawers came about in the 1870s to alleviate some of this bulk.
The Ugly Duckling aka. the Op Shop NightieWhen I was shopping with my cousin we decided to have a look in an op-shop in Coogee (thrift store for anyone in the USA) and among the racks I found this hideous monstrosity.
|Classic granny nightie|
However I did see some potential in it and for only $10 it had everything I needed to make a set of combination Victorian/Edwardian underwear.
The InspirationBefore I went about transforming the nightie into something a little less hideous I wanted to do my research and try to make it as historically accurate as I could, which I knew I could do, even though I was making it from a pre-existing and commercially available modern garment.
Most underwear during history was made from linen, which is made from the flax tree, as it was quite light and cool to wear and long lasting. Unfortunately linen is not as readily available now, and most are a cotton blend. This nightie is 100% cotton, however that's not a problem because by the end of the nineteenth century cotton became a common material used in undergarments. So in terms of fabric, this is a historically accurate base to use.
In terms of the look and shape of the garment I looked at extant garments and fashion catalogues and plates from the time. First there is this extant garment (1890-1900) from the MET in New York made of linen, silk and lace:
Then I found this from a Macy's catalogue from 1911 advertising combination chemise and corset cover (chemise):
There are also these early Edwardian photographs:
The biggest inspiration for the project came from this extant example owned by Carolyn over at Lady Carolyn's blog which can be found here.
There is also this very similar set:
And this vintage set that was listed on etsy:
Finally there was this Edwardian sketch that I found somewhere, in which you can clearly see sets of combination underwear on the two ladies who are standing.
The TransformationThe first thing I did was to cut off the sleeves of the nightie and lower the neckline. The next thing I had to do was to get rid of some of the volume on the chemise section of the nightie. I did this by bringing in the seams at the sides and creating darts on the front and back with the material.
The next step was to create the legs. First, I cut off the frilly bit of material at the bottom of the nightie. I then cut the skirt in half and then hemmed the material. I made the split in the front of the nightie longer than in the back as I wanted to add some buttons to the front like the LadyCarolyn garment above. After doing that I ended up with this:
This 'reformed version' that had long wide legs was the version that was more common in the Edwardian period and in the extant Edwardian examples that I have based mine on, whilst Victorian examples were more tapered around the knees.
Finally to finish off the combination, I added some decorative trim from the discarded sleeves to the arm holes. I then used bias tape around the waist to create a channel to put ribbon in so the garment can be pulled in and taper around the waist.
The Swan aka. the Finished Garment!After adding the final touches of ribbon, here is the finished combination chemise/drawers.
So if you need some historical undergarments, keep an eye out in your local op-shop for a granny nightie!