Drawers, Knickers, or Pants: Why Do We Call Them That?

There truly is a National Day for absolutely everything and even a National Underwear Day! That’s right! Undergarments have their own appreciation day and, to be precise, it was August 5.  At first glance, National Underwear Day may seem rather silly but actually we probably don’t give enough thought to the importance of underwear. Before August ends, we want to remedy that by taking a look at underwear from a historical perspective.  Have you ever wondered why there are so many names for our various undergarments? It turns out that all the names we have for underwear today are rooted in the past.

Cooling in Basement

Woman in a shift and petticoat.

Underwear as we know it today didn’t really get its start until the 1800s.  Prior to that, people like the Washingtons and the Lewises actually didn’t wear much at all under their numerous layers of clothing.  Women wore nothing under their shifts (which were loose-fitting, waistless dresses that acted as the first layer of a woman’s wardrobe and were sometimes the outer layer in hot weather or workday situations).  Men’s shirts were initially similar to shifts in that they were all-purpose – base layer, outer layer, sleep shirts, etc.  But, men were actually the ones who began the trend toward true undergarments.

In Washington’s day, men wore breeches on the outside, but they also wore a similar lighter weight garment underneath, which came to be known as “drawers.” Why drawers, you ask? The prevailing theory is that the name comes from the fact that early versions of this undergarment were actually two separate legs that had to be “drawn” up and tied in place, hence why we still refer to underwear as “pairs” even though they are single garments now – “a pair of drawers”, “a pair of underwear.”

St Panteleimon

Icon of saint Panteleimon (Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai) dating from the 13th century. Credit: Wikipedia

Eventually, women adopted men’s undergarments for themselves, with some modifications.  This is the point where the ubiquitous term “pants” has its beginnings.  “Pantaloons”, “pants”, and “panties” all come from the same remarkable origin, a Catholic saint, martyred in the 1st century A.D. named Saint Pantaleon. Now, Saint Pantaleon had nothing to do with pants himself but centuries after his death, he became a focus of religious zealotry in Venice, Italy, where many men wore a peculiar type of breeches that were rather poofy.  Because the men who were also a part of the cult of Saint Pantaleon wore these same poofy breeches, they came to be known as “pantalones.”  Additionally, because of their rather flamboyant behavior and dress, pantalones became the stereotypical way to depict Venetian characters in comedic plays, which travelled across Europe.  Eventually the most distinctive characteristic of these comedic characters, the poofy breeches, became iconic and took on the name “pantaloons.”

Interestingly, pantaloons became a popular fashion accessory among women in France, as an undergarment that was intentionally meant to be seen under slightly shorter dresses.  When the fashion reached England, it was primarily among men, and eventually the word “pantaloons” was shortened to “pants” and applied to any outerwear bottoms generally.  Among women, they remained undergarments, which got continually shorter and smaller as the centuries passed, and are now referred to with the diminutive “panties.”

The Italian Comedians by Antoine Watteau

“The Italian Comedians” (c1720) by Antoine Watteau shows several characters in costumes with pantaloons typical of commedia dell’arte theater popular in European from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Credit: National Gallery of Art

Alice Manfield, Guide Alice, Mt Buffalo c1900

Portrait of Alice Manfield (Guide Alice) (1878-1960), mountain guide, naturalist, chalet owner, photographer, and early feminist figure based at Mt Buffalo, Victoria, Australia. Photographer: Unknown. Credit: State Library of Victoria.

And now the term “knickers.” Although this name for both male and female underwear got its start in the United States, its current usage is much more common in Great Britain.  In 1809, Washington Irving wrote A History of New York under the pen name Dietrich Knickerbocker.  Knickerbocker was depicted in newspaper illustrations wearing loose-fitting, almost baggy, breeches tied or buckled at the knee.  This style of knee breeches had become highly fashionable among young men in America, and the press surrounding the book and Knickerbocker himself added to the trend.  Eventually, the style became known as “knickerbockers” but the breeches weren’t an undergarment.  Men wore them to play sports (one of the first professional baseball teams was called the New York Knickerbockers, and knickerbockers were standard baseball uniforms well into the 20th century) and for casual wear.

Knickers or Drawers

Kncikers or Drawers, 1880s, Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Once again, though, women saw a handy piece of clothing, and altered it for their own purposes.  At this point in women’s fashion, hoops and cages were being used to hold skirts out and add volume.  Things were a bit drafty under those cages, and knickerbockers seemed like the perfect solution.  In order to capitalize on this trend, manufacturers had to differentiate the bottoms that men were wearing for manly pursuits from the bottoms that ladies were wearing under their hoop skirts, and so “knickers” were born.  Much like pantaloons, knickers kept getting shorter and smaller until they were basically the same thing as panties.

And there you have our brief history of underwear for National Underwear Day!

Meghan Budinger, Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

Dressing the Past: Costuming Challenges at Ferry Farm & Kenmore

Twelfth Night 2016 19

The cast of Twelfth Night at Kenmore in their period clothing. In our educational programming, we must dress staff and actors of different body types who portray a variety of social classes and time periods.

We have been working tirelessly to improve the accuracy of the costumes that actors and staff wear when performing for or interacting with the public at Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm. This is no easy task, but it improves the visitor experience and helps them better understand the Washington and the Lewis families in the context of the 18th century.

This blog post addresses some of the challenges and successes we’ll continue to experience as we expand our costuming after the reconstructed Washington house and the new historic landscape at Ferry Farm opens to the public.

Some of the challenges we face are no different than what other sites face. The modern expense of this specialized clothing, the difficulty of fitting multiple wearers, questions of time period to portray and achieving the small true-to-life details of historic clothing are all important to the success of dressing the interpretive staff. But we’ve come a long way and are on the path to sustained success.  We’ve been working on all of the pitfalls mentioned above and have made great headway. Below is an examination of some of the difficulties we’ve faced and the ways we have met them straight on.

Expense of this Historic Clothing

Cloak

Cloaks are necessary to keep actors and staff warm but they are among the more expensive pieces of clothing needed to properly dress as someone from the 18th century.

The cost of well-made, accurate period clothing is one of the greatest hurdles we’ve or, for that matter, any historic site or museum experiences. Eighteenth century clothing is a highly specialized type of clothing that is often imitated with mixed success. For example, a good quality off-the-rack great coat costs about $325, while a custom-made high-end 18th century men’s great coat costs about $1,000. There were pieces in our costume stock that did not fit our criteria and had to be removed – meaning they had to be replaced with new (and more expensive) articles of clothing. Correcting past clothing choices is its own challenge, but it is far from insurmountable. We make very careful decisions about what was a priority and where we should spend resources first and we have begun acquiring garments that we deem priorities.

One-Size-Fits-No One

Because of the number of people we costume, we sometimes have to use the same costumes on different people (not at the same time, of course!). This is a challenge because both men’s and women’s 18th century clothing was fitted to the individual. A tailor would custom-make waistcoats, coats, and breeches to fit the wearer; even when the ensemble was fashioned out of a hand-me-down suit.  Mantua makers (dress makers) would custom-make women’s gowns and petticoats to fit snugly. We must make our clothing fit a variety of wearers.  We are now quite proficient in the art of pinning and mysteries of knot tying. It’s not perfect, but it goes a long way toward creating a more accurate fit.

Another important part of fit for women is the undergarments. Stays, bum rolls, and hoops create the ideal 18th century shape. Stays were 18th century support garments, much the way corsets were in the 19th century. We recently made acquiring stays a priority and purchased some in a variety of sizes.  This has improved the actor’s appearance in addition to helping her achieve the proper 18th century posture.  Bum rolls accentuate the behind (no, really!) and hoops accentuate the hips.  These help create a period appropriate look that we are now pleased to share with visitors.

The True-to-Life Details

Costume details

Small details like the fan, necklace, brooch, and hair style create a fully realized character with a stronger connection to the past.

Just as it is today, the small details make the 18th century outfit. Attention to men’s and women’s shoe buckles and hats, men’s knee buckles, and women’s jewelry and stays polishes the look that makes history come alive. Our men’s and women’s hats are correct to the period and we have a nice but limited collection of accouterments.  Because 18th-century-style shoes are expensive and we can’t exactly buy a pair of shoes in every size, we have been using buckles on plain black shoes to disguise their modernity. As we move forward, we are working on better solutions to best achieve the small details needed to make a costume fully 18th century.

1750s vs. 1770s

Another challenge we face as the Washington house and Ferry Farm’s new historic landscape gradually come on-line is that we’ll have to costume staff for both the 1750s – the period we interpret at Ferry Farm – and the 1770s – the period we interpret at Kenmore.  This is important for a number of reasons. First, we want to demonstrate clearly that the events that took place at the two sites took place in two different time periods. This sounds obvious, but visitors will better internalize the time difference between the sites with the aid of clothing. Secondly, it would be flat-out wrong to dress the staff portraying our historic figures at both places in clothing from the same period. As a museum, we have a responsibility to make the visitor experience as accurate as possible.

Despite the challenges, our devotion to accuracy in the period clothing worn by our staff will improve the visitors’ experience and help them better understand the Washington and Lewis Families.

Kelly Brennan Arehart
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Paste Gems: It’s the Real Thing (Almost!)

The majority of what crosses my desk everyday as I catalog artifacts are items that would be difficult, if not impossible, to ascribe to any one person who lived on the land we call Ferry Farm. Architectural debris (brick, mortar, plaster, nails), food remains (oyster shell, animal and fish bones, eggshells (!)), broken household objects (glass bottles, wineglasses, dinner plates, storage crocks), and modern garbage (plastic – so much of it!), when found on site, are all interesting artifacts in and of themselves and can answer specific research questions. At the same time, they all attest to the mundane, collective aspects of everyday life on a farm that has been occupied off and on for over 250 years.  Every once in a while, however, an artifact is caught in the field sifting screen or the lab wash bucket that puts a smile on your face and causes you to excitedly announce to the rest of the crew, “Look what I found – a gem!” Then, you think “I wonder who it belonged to?”

sf1947

An oval, faceted red paste gem that probably came from a piece of jewelry. (SF 1947)

Gemstones and jewelry are definitely exciting finds on any archaeological site, but at Ferry Farm we are more likely to find bits of jewelry and clothing fasteners decorated with imitation or “paste” gems.  Paste gems are molten leaded glass pressed into gem-like molds and then polished to look like the real thing.  With the better quality pastes, the facets could even be cut and polished.  They were available in any color imaginable by adding metallic oxides during their manufacture. Their color could also be enhanced or changed by attaching colored foils to the undersides of the gem.   Paste gems were usually set in closed, versus open-backed, settings to protect the foil backing from tarnishing.

sf1948

This colorless paste gem is cut in a style similar to the “brilliant cut,” a popular diamond cut during the 18th century, and would have been set in a closed setting for either a piece of jewelry, a button, or a buckle. (SF 1948)

The use of paste gems was popular from the 17th through the early 19th centuries because they were so versatile and economical. Pastes were available in a wide selection of colors that imitated any precious or semi-precious gemstone.  Because they were created in molds, they also came in a multitude of sizes and shapes, such as circles, triangles, squares, octagons and hexagons.  The jeweler could then cut the gems to fit together in closely-set arrangements not always possible with real stones.  Improvements in the quality of the glass during the 18th century heralded gems with added brilliance and allowed greater flexibility in cutting and using the paste stones in detailed settings. Despite being imitations, pastes were highly desired in and of themselves by both the middle class and the wealthy.

sfs-212-215-230

Three similar rectangular faceted gems in blue and green. (SFs 212, 215, 230)

Just like real stones, paste gems were set in all kinds of jewelry and items of personal adornment worn by both men and women.  Necklaces, brooches, rings, bracelets, and earrings were all decorated with paste gems.  Clothing fasteners, such as buckles, buttons, sleeve buttons, were also set with pastes.  Buckles used to fasten a wide variety of clothing articles, such as hats, shoes, girdles, stocks, and gloves, were very fashionable items to be set with paste gems.  One advantage of using pastes over real stones is that it was certainly easier to replace a lost buckle set with pastes than one set with real diamonds!

mans-shoe-buckles-c-1777-1785

Pair of man’s steel and gilt wire shoe buckles, England, circa 1777-1785. Public domain. Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Costume Council Fund / Wikipedia

Paste gems found at Ferry Farm have come in a range of colors – green, red, pink, aqua, blue, black, and colorless – as well as shapes.  Figure (SF#1947) is an oval, faceted red paste gem that probably came from a piece of jewelry.  Figure (SF# 212, 215, 230) shows three similar rectangular faceted gems in blue and green.  The colorless paste gem in Figure (SF#1948), cut in a style similar to the “brilliant cut,” a popular diamond cut during the 18th century, would have been set in a closed setting for either a piece of jewelry, a button, or a buckle.

sf234

Sleeve button with its colorless glass inset. (SF 234)

Sometimes the paste gem is still found within its setting, such as the sleeve button with its colorless glass inset seen above (SF#234) but, more often than not, finding a paste gem in its original, complete setting is a rare occurrence. Figure (SF#1971) is a fragment of a copper alloy shoe buckle with two empty settings for paste gems.

sf1971

Fragment of a copper alloy shoe buckle with two empty settings for paste gems. (SF 1971)

Who did these gems and their settings belong to?  Distinctive style changes in gem shapes and jewelry settings help establish when certain pieces were in fashion.  Knowing changes in clothing fashions through time and recognizing when certain types of clothing fasteners, such as shoe buckles and sleeve buttons, were popular also help us focus our research.   We can assume that whoever was sporting these gems was trying to be stylish and fashionable in their time by adding a little “bling” and glitter to their wardrobe.  For as long as people have been traditionally adorning themselves with real gemstones in jewelry, there has always been that goal to create comparable imitations to swap out the real thing.  These special artifacts found at Ferry Farm are a reflection of these stylistic changes.

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Assistant Archaeology Lab Supervisor

Further Reading

Pointon, Marcia. Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones & Jewelry.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

White, Carolyn. American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2005.

Petticoats and Pink Lightning

This week, we delve into our collections to investigate some fascinating fashions from across the centuries. London Fashion Week took place late last month while today marks the final day of Paris Fashion Week.  Just as they do in the 21st century, those two cities represented cultures that helped determine the height of fashion in the 18th century. To us today, fashions of the past may consist of strange terms, foreign garments, or archaic customs. In this post, Lives & Legacies contributors come together to salvage some fashions from the pages of history in an appreciation of both them and of the people who wore them.

Petticoats

To most of us today, the term “petticoat” refers to a ladies’ undergarment – a fabric support for a skirt, intended to give the skirt more fullness or volume.  Petticoats have essentially disappeared from our modern wardrobes but, for 400 years, petticoats were a staple of female dress and weren’t always hidden under skirts.

The earliest references to petticoats show up in the Middle Ages.  Only they weren’t worn by women.  And they weren’t skirts.  A “petty coat” referred to a short (“petty”) robe (“coat”) that was padded and worn under a knight’s armor or chain mail.  Eventually, the term “skirt” was used to describe the tails of men’s petty coats (“the skirts of his petty coat hung so long they touched the ground”), and was also used to describe typical women’s attire, just as we use it today.  By the 16th century, somehow women’s skirts and men’s petty coats became synonymous, and as time went by and men ceased wearing petty coats, the word “petticoat” referred entirely to a woman’s skirt.  Petticoats could be worn as stand-alone skirts, or under open-front robes, creating a two-part dress. By the mid-19th century, petticoats were no longer seen and became an undergarment worn under an all-encompassing dress, mostly to add structure to the voluminous skirts that had become popular by then.[1]

In the 1700s, women often wore quilted petticoats under those open-front robes or as stand-alone skirts.  In either case, the quilted petticoat was intended to showcase intricate handiwork in the quilted pattern.  Geometric patterns, birds, flowers and even pastoral scenes were all common themes for quilted petticoats, which had an added bonus of providing extra warmth.

One quilted petticoat dating to approximately 1760 survives in our collection.  Made of peach satin silk with wool batting between the two layers, it is quilted in a chevron pattern above an undulating band, below which is an assortment of flowers and leaves.  Although it appears that this particular petticoat was made over several times in its life, there are indications that it was originally intended be worn over a dome-shaped hoop skirt, which probably means that it was worn under an open-front robe for a more formal dress.[2]  The wearer would have been at the height of 18th century fashion!

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

Busk Boards

Corsets have been a fashion mainstay in women’s clothing throughout history.  Like petticoats, they have changed their shape, material and purpose but, unlike petticoats, they have always been a very personal and private garment.  From the 15th to the 18th century, corsets contained a small sliver of stiff material called a busk or busk board.  The busk was made of wood, ivory, or bone and measured between 12 to 16 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide.  They were inserted into a special narrow pocket in the front of the corset to keep the garment straight and upright.

Given the intimate location of the busk they were often given as tokens from lovers and contained elaborate carvings.   Hearts, cupids, and initials were favorite and common motifs inscribed on the busk.  The board in our collection is made out of wood in a long rectangle shape with round end.  On the surface are etched a pinwheel, a fleur-de-lis, six flowers petal enclosed in a circle, and a square with a diamond carved design all surrounded by a cross-hatched edging.  At the end is inscribed “B.L. 1785” with a sprig of leaves.

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

Shoes

Perhaps, unlike pretty petticoats and busk boards, when we today think of footwear in the colonial era, we often think of pedestrian black leather. This might have been sufficient for the puritans of New England, who were typically adverse to bright colors and flashy clothes. Here in Virginia, however, where London fashions were king, the style conscience demanded something more. Much like today, there were shoes meant for work and shoes meant to impress. Linen shoes, like the ones in our collection, would have certainly impressed.

In our collection we have three versions of 18th century ladies’ shoes: black shoes from the late 1770s which have a pointed vamp and an Italian heel; a silk and linen pair from the 1760s; and, finally, an embroidered linen pair with a white rand and leather-covered English heel. All were the height of fashion in the 1700s and perfect for showing off at a fine evening of dance, a Sunday at church, or even at home while company was visiting. Like all shoes in the 1700s, a trained shoemaker made them by hand.  Although there were journeyman and master shoemakers in the colonies, the finest worked in London and shipped their merchandise across the Atlantic. While certain elements of these shoes are ubiquitous such as the thin leather soles, wooden heels, straps for fine buckles, and a linen base, eighteenth century shoes were like the shoes of today varying in style, color, material, and purpose.

Personally, my favorite aspect of these shoes is how contemporary they truly are. While they seem like a foreign footwear from a bygone era, anyone who has splurged on the perfect pair of boots, fashionable flats, or even stylish sneakers can relate to the original owners of these beautiful artifacts.

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Lipstick

Pink Lightning”!  Meteorogically speaking, it is a distinctive type of lightning that is exceptionally loud and generates a unique purple-pink color.  But in the world of fashion, “Pink Lightning” was the color name created by Revlon for a line of beauty products in 1944. Face powder, nail polish, and lipstick were available in this shade for women who wanted to sport a distinctive, high voltage color on their lips and nails.

While most of this post has focused on 18th century fashion, both Historic Kenmore and George Washington’s Ferry Farm have long histories beyond the 1700s. We often unearth objects that span 300 years during archaeological excavations.  Indeed, during the summer of 2014, an intact tube of 20th century lipstick was excavated.  The product label – “Revlon – Pink Lightning”- was still legible on the base of the wartime-inspired bullet-shaped casing, and remnants of the crème lipstick still surprisingly survived inside the tube.  Someone, sometime, pulled out her lipstick tube, dabbed ‘Pink Lightning” on her lips, and promptly dropped it on the ground to be lost for nearly 70 years.

Lipstick is the ultimate fashion accessory.  As the very last beauty product applied before heading out the door, it is usually the finishing touch to an outfit. The world of fashion is not only about clothing, but just as much about the hair and makeup created to complement and highlight fashionable outfits. Wearing “Pink Lightning” lipstick would certainly suggest a fashion image that was “electrifying!”

Judy Jobrack, Archaeologist
Assistant Lab Supervisor

 

[1] https://whitepavilion.com/articles/petticoats Petticoats, White Pavillion Clothiers, 2014.

[2] Baumgarten, Linda. Eighteenth Century Clothing at Williamsburg. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1986.