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Undergarments - From Poultry-Baskets To Tights

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Make your petticoats short, that a hoop eight yards wide may decently show how your garters are tied.

Thus, a columnist sort of chap satirically advised Marjorie in 1753. Yes, in two senses of this expression, you couldn't keep the farthingale down. The second decade of the eighteenth century saw a revival of the fashion. The marvel came in again in England under the name of the hoop.

In France, says the professor, it came to be called the panier or paniers. This time the framework was open, and the hoops were of cane, cord, whalebone, or straw fastened together with tapes. Their resemblance to cages or poultry-baskets, acquired by the contrivance, begot the name. Some writers maintain that the fashion was first revived in Germany, that the hoop then navigated the North Sea and captured England, and made its way back to the Continent via France.

In its first model English Marjorie's hoop assumed the contour of a dome. This imposing construction, suggesting Marjorie rising at the waist from the dome of a noble public building, gave way to a more fancy design. Marjorie's hoop began to flatten fore and aft, with the expansion mainly across. The fullness of the skirt gave the required projection at the back.

This was the great robe which Marjorie wears in her death-less portraits from the brush of Watteau—the romantic garment of the second quarter of the century, with short full sleeves, falling behind in a great double pleat to the floor (or, again, gathered at the waist) ; with skirt draped and the back and sides trailing about her. When, with a gesture nicely suited to the costume, she lifts the front of her skirt slightly at the side, just the tip of her exquisite toe is visible beneath a modest expanse of underskirt.

She moves to the soft sound of lutes. This costume is of light-weight material, simply ornamented. Later, heavier fabrics and elaborate decoration appear, and the effect be-comes increasingly frivolous. Marjorie trips into an atmosphere of embroidery, lace, ribbon, and artificial flowers—a scene of fetes galantes, assemblages of coquettes and beaux; where, in the florid rhapsody of the Goncourts, "French comedy steps on to the boards and Italian comedy capers."

As the middle of the century approaches, the mighty spread of Marjorie's hoop is almost entirely from side to side, with a bizarre tendency to attain an extreme breadth at the hips. Her dress is 0ften worn short, and she gives much attention to her shoes and stockings. Her hoops have pocketholes at the hips and bags serving as pockets within.

Imagine Marjorie now confronted by a doorway of modest width. With this development of her attire, it is really simple enough for her to turn halfway round in her path and sidle through the entrance. If this procedure does not suit her, she does not have to do even that. Her hoops being happily flexible, it is possible for her to double them together in front as she goes. Locomotion is shortly made still easier by the ingenious invention of readily manipulated twin side-hoops tied about the waist—panniers (in English) indeed! And a little later she uses a "cage"—a handy hinged metal frame made to be folded upward from the hips. But what if there are spectators about? The Professor, hastening on, doesn't explain about that.

Tight Lacing; or, Fashion Before Ease is the title of an eighteenth century engraving of Marjorie in a tall headdress. She is being laced. She is holding on to one of the posts of a four-poster bed, the laces being pulled by three servants, one pulling another as in a tug-o-war—a man, a woman, and a colored (or Indian) boy. The maid wears a dormeuse cap. Here Marjorie has her stays outside. Indeed, throughout this period, the corset is an article of faith. In careful convents the young are often required to sleep in it, so that the discipline imposed upon their growing bodies by day may not be defeated by laxity at night.

The rise of Marjorie's hoop on one side, the verse writer said, might show how her garters are tied. But beneath her petticoats, would it display any other attire? Very early in the century, George, Duke of Buckingham, spoke of Nell Gwynne's "draw'rs." This mention of such articles of feminine wear, made in His Grace's Miscellaneous Works and published in 1707, has completely mystified the authorities. They can't imagine what the Duke could have been dreaming of. Nobody else seems to have heard of such a garment for about two hundred years.

Hogarth, a valuable student of feminine underwear as well as a great master of his craft, went repeatedly to paint Marjorie, with dress in disarray, somewhat later, roughly from 1729 to 1745. And certainly no women's drawers, of any kind, were known to Hogarth in England as late as close to the middle of the eighteenth century. In her panthers, anything shown by Marjorie above her stocking is Marjorie herself.

Her night garment? Apparently she calls it a shift. Dick Steele in the Tatler remarks of someone, "She carried off the following goods—eight nightshifts."

Boucher and Fragonard thought only of painting Marjorie —the Marjorie who was their contemporary and compatriot. Watteau made innumerable red chalk drawings of her, in a state of rosy dimpled nudity, or arrayed merely in stockings and garters, and, again, slipping on a dainty chemise. And this Marjorie, usually in a fetching nightdress with her plump bosom revealed, appears in endless eighteenth century French engravings, which fill the art shops and are frequently employed as sprightly decorations for hotel bedrooms. As French art mirrors Marjorie's costume at this time most faithfully, it is appropriate now to follow the story of Fashion in France.

As coopers and basket-makers enthusiastically hastened to spread the manufacture of the new article so much in demand, and as paniers steadily increased in magnitude, satire and earnest denunciation came forth in torrents. The man in the street, the literati, the press, and (with especial violence) the clergy, all combined in the attack. An Oratorian, Duguet, published a treatise on the "indecency" of paniers. The unhappy Oratorian was heeded not. The words of the Journal de Verdun in 1724 fell on equally deaf ears.

Numerous cases of conscience on the subject of paniers were debated between Jesuits and Jansenists. One member of the Society of Jesus composed a dialogue between a woman of quality with her Confessor upon paniers. Paniers, like politics, made strange bedfellows. On the side of the Christian forces we find no less a Jesuit than Voltaire, who was moved to verses which in English run :

After dinner, the indolent Glycera
Goes out, just for the sake of going out, having nothing to do.
Her insipidity is deposited in a chariot,
Wherein her tightened body groans under the trammels
Of a heavy panier which protrudes from the two windows.

Paniers, however, increased in magnitude. Informal sizes for morning wear were termed considerations. As it swelled unchecked, the panier became a serious problem both within doors and without. At a concert in the palace of the Queen, a mademoiselle wearing enormous paniers placed herself near Her Majesty, too near for the Queen's convenience. To prevent the recurrence of such discourtesy, it was ordered that henceforth the princesses should not draw their chairs to within an appreciable distance of the Queen. Nor were they to be seated on the same line with her. Ladies walking on the street frequently occupied a space, from left to right, of as much as six feet, paniers having reached a circumference of eighteen feet, according to conservative calculation.

The fashion reached the realm of international commerce. The trade of France with Holland was materially augmented. Before the close of the first quarter of the century the government of the Netherlands extended a loan of 600,000 florins to a company established in East Friesland for the whale fishing, whose trade "increased daily by reason of the demand for whalebone used in the construction of hoops for women."

The panier vogue was at its height when the word silhouette came into popular use. This occurrence, quite unconnected with clothes and only by chance with portraits, was shortly after the middle of the century when the extravagance of the French aristocracy was heading the government toward bankruptcy.

The minister of Finance who introduced measures of rigid economy represents one of the curious vicissitudes of fame. His name was Etienne de Silhouette. His ideas were very unpopular with the frivolous Parisians, who in jest were apt to apply his name to anything parsimonious. Portraits with the outline filled in with solid black were then the mode in Paris. Because of their economy of detail, it was considered clever to name them silhouettes. Just when the term passed into the vocabulary of fashion design and costume silhouettes began to be studied as an aid to achieving taste in dress, no one knows.

So overwhelmingly fashionable was the panier that at the height of its vogue it even brought into the theatre the most preposterous of anachronisms. It is said that an actress, who was to make her debut as a princess betrothed to a king of Sparta, appeared on the stage in a panier five yards and a half in circumference, under a skirt of silver gauze!

The theatre has frequently exercised a pronounced effect on the course of feminine Fashion. And though the panier invaded the theatre for a while, perhaps midway in the last quarter of the century, two favorite actresses of the Comedic Francaise gave up wearing "the awkward machine called a panier" on the stage. Shortly afterward a small volume explained why the theatre abandoned the panier.

Certain ladies of high rank followed the example of the two celebrated actresses. The day of the panier was on the wane. The beguiling influence of the stage, it would seem, was mightier than the might of preachers, poets, pamphleteers, philosophers, and the protests of a large proportion of the plain people. The "cage" continued to be worn for Court functions only. The skirt was extended merely by a piece of whalebone run around through the hem, and we begin to hear of the bustle. French, tournure.

At first this term seems to denote simply the projecting portion of Marjorie's dress at the rear rather than any special contrivance employed to produce it. As early as 1788 there is literary mention of "nymphs" ("in silks who rustle") with locks "in rich luxuriance reaching to the bustle." The actual bustle began as merely a species of pillow, tied around the waist. Eventually the stuffed pad or cushion became a small wire framework, worn beneath the skirt. In one form or another, the device, like the criardes, has been referred to as a "dress-improver." The origin of the word bustle is unknown even to the most learned. The bustle itself vanished by 1794. That is, for a time.



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