A Season for Everything Under the Sun!

As the seasons begin to change and the weather starts to get warmer, new buds push up in the earth, animals shed their fur coats, and humans also begin to shed heavy closing for cooler options. Victorians spot cleaned their heavy winter suits and packed them away in cedar shavings (their idea of dry cleaning) until the next fall. Ladies also sought ways to switch to cooler options. One way was to ditch their heavy winter petticoats.

The word “petticoat” is derived from the Middle English term “petycote,” which means “small coat.” Indeed, many cold weather underpinnings were quilted to add warmth and give a dress a stylish bell shape. These quilted petticoats, used widely throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, were often made to be seen, and ultimately gave rise to the polonaise style, which featured a long coat, opened in the middle so the underskirt could be revealed. Consequently, many were elaborately embroidered or embellished, and sometimes were even more ornate than the dress they were “under.”  Any who have slept under a quilt know how warm they are, so it was not surprising to note that the quilted items were replaced by simple, usually white and ruffled,  petticoats made of cotton or silk. These lightweight underpinnings were not only cooler, but made it easier for women to navigate narrow streets and fit into smaller carriages. They continued in popularity until the more narrow styles of the Edwardian era and the modern styles of the 1920s came into vogue.

Another unique petticoat was the bustled style made to be worn under bustled dresses. The idea was to get as much as possible volume in the back so the petticoats were a great help. If they alone did not suffice, a bustle pad could be added on top of the petticoat. Although the fabric was relatively lighter, that’s still a lot of material to be carrying around in the heat and humidity of the summer!

Nowadays, heavy petticoats and even slips of any kind are relatively uncommon. Young women seeking ultimate comfort are willing to bare (literally!) it all, and see-through or diaphanous dresses (usually extremely short) seem to be the popular style. Could this be blamed on global warming?