Regency Pantalets : Taking The Risque

With the first HSM deadline approaching, now is a good time to give you some background input about my “Foundations” project.

Since the term finals are currently knocking at my door, I decided to start the year with something small and manageable. So I am hand-sewing my first-ever pair of Regency-era pantalets. While the pattern and construction are rather straightforward, the history of this particular garment is not. I first realized that much when I asked around the Jane Austen Regency Facebook group for some fabric advice on the project.

Among other wonderful ladies, Nora replied to my question. Those of you who are more experienced in Regency costume and reenactment will probably know her as a senior leader within the Oregon Regency Society. She offered me very valuable advice, pointing out that ladies’ pantalets, or drawers, only started to surface in the later Regency. This would mean a more widespread appearance of them between the mid-1810s and the 1820s.
Nora, if you are reading this, thank you again for the information *waves into the general direction of Oregon*.  :)

Generally,  the sources are not very accurate about dating their first appearance. But most agree on a later date.  But it is also claimed that Princess Charlotte was one of the first notable women to happily wear (and sometimes even accidentally flounce) a pair pantalets, well before 1820. The source of that rumor is the 1811 painting below. However, the lace trim peeking out under her skirt could be anything, from a petticoat, to a pantalet leg, or maybe even a chemise. Just have a look. I will leave the rest to your imagination. ;)

A painting of Princess Charlotte, supposedly wearing a pair of drawers (c.1811; Source: http://www.pemberley.com)

You might wonder why wearing a pant-shaped garment underneath your other underpinnings was considered shocking before the later Regency years. After all, they keep your legs warm and might even add a little coverage for modesty’s sake. But, in fact, the opposite was true for women of the day. Drawers were considered a most immodest, or “risque”, thing to wear for ladies, simply because men wore something similar underneath their trousers. So, for a long while yet, pantalets had a somewhat masculine whiff to them.

But, the closer you get towards the Victorian era, the more accepted did drawers become. While making my pair, I browsed through the Met Museum’s collection for some inspiration. These two sets of pantalets are the earliest exhibits I could find:

A pair of Regency pantalets (c.1810-20).

 

Pantalets (c.1830).

The first pair was dated to the Regency era and the second one is leaning more towards the Romantic age. But, except for the button closure and the slightly shorter legs in the later pair, the style does not differ all too much.

To be honest, I felt a bit bad about my Civil War-era drawers pattern having a waistband to hold the legs together. While the first Regency pantalets were apparently only two leg pieces, held together by a simple, narrow band of fabric, the first pair above already features a proper waistband.

Another issue I had with the pattern, was the finished leg length. As it recreates drawers from a time well past the 1820s, they were shorter than what you can see above, coming down to about mid-calf. But, as it turns out, my legs are short enough for them to still have the appropriate length. Sometimes being only 5’2″ really pays off…

Oh, and speaking of short drawers, I also ran into this cute pair of Victorian under-drawers while searching through the collections. I am still cooing over their frilly cuteness and just had to share them with you.

Cute Victorian drawers from the Metropolitan Museum’s collection.

To learn more about Regency drawers, I recommend this post from Jane Austen’s World. It gives a more detailed overview on the history and use of pantalets in the Regency era, including some very interesting pictures. As far as my own pair is concerned: It is just receiving the finishing touches. I am hoping to have the photos up for you by next week, just in time for the challenge finale.

Until soon, Nessa

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