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Ever wondered why a pair of panties is called a pair? They are called a pair because in the 19th Century the forerunners of the modern panties – pantalettes – were two separate legs joined at the waist, and open in the middle. They were also long-legged and usually made of linen or rough cotton. Could these be the “pantless crutchies?”
Yes, they had an open crotch. There were several reasons for this, mostly to do with the current fashions and personal hygiene.
Women were concerned about chafing – the material was loose and rough – they didn’t want the flaps to chafe their ladyparts. The medical profession was also concerned about moisture retention. Why is it that one of these conditions is named after one of our commonest songbirds?
For these reasons most women didn’t wear them. !!!!
Briefly, women’s dresses have always gone through cycles of fashion. But in general throughout the 19th century and early 20th century dresses were long and cumbersome and had complex underclothing requirements. Quite often they were three layered – chemise, petticoats and gown, and not forgetting corsetry, frames and bustles. Some of these gowns were so big you could park a Volvo inside. This arrangement presented certain challenges. To cut to the chase – women had great difficulty bending at the waist. When you can’t bend at the waist you can’t pull them down or pull them up! See where this going?
Going to the loo was very problematic – hence the open crotch for hygiene reasons. That blushing girl curtseying on the lawn? Probably having a pee! There were contraptions – wooden trestle frames with a potty on top. How women maneuvered themselves on these is unclear. Maybe that’s one reason the well-off women had chambermaids. Its no wonder Queen Vic didn’t wear a mini-skirt! Though she liked silky drawers. This is not explored in Wuthering Heights, Bridgerton or Brideshead is it?
So it seems most women didn’t bother with these undergarments and going au-naturel or commando was the norm, by choice, and it persisted until well into the 20th Century! Now that’s a revelation!
And now it gets really delicate… perhaps I shouldn’t go there.. Oh well! There has been speculation about how women … umm, cleaned themselves. Maybe they didn’t bother. Maybe the three layers acted as an odour barrier? Hence the expression – “she lifted her skirts.” Enough said.
There has also been speculation about the Can-Can girls in late 19th century Paris. Did their high kicks reveal more than their knickers? If so, no wonder it was scandalous! How vulver!
Styles evolved through the 1840’s and ’50s. There were pantaloons or long drawers, split-leg knickers drawers and trowsers. You heard right – “trowsers” – the forerunner of the modern ladies trousers.
In the Victorian era came Bloomers. No Grace, not the ones you get from Tesco’s for your bacon sandwiches! These came from the female emancipation movement, and were not underwear – they were outer-wear! The so-called Turkish Trouser fashion had arrived. Men hated the trouser movement- it was an affront to their masculinity! Funny, we hate it too.
And now for something completely different – feminine monthly hygiene. The equivalent of the sanitary towel and Tena Lady back then consisted of a leather waist band and strap involving buckles or buttons supporting a great thick wad of absorbent material, and women had to waddle about with this cushion tucked between their legs. Its relevant because the earliest forerunners of proper panties evolved from attempts to find an alternative.
The first modern panties didn’t exist until the 1930’s! Up until then au-naturel was still the preference. That’s right, most women went knickerless. The first panties appeared in a Sears catalogue in 1933 I believe. As dresses simplified, and got shorter, so did the long drawers and it became practical for women to be able to sit down to pee. So the open crotch got filled in.
That’s where we are today – there are many styles – 24 or so, but I reckon this is an underestimate as there are numerous variations for use in the bedroom. And the open crotch panties still persist for other reasons than hygiene. There is still a market for these old-time garments, so if you want to tickle your fancy with a pair of pantalettes they should be easy to find.
commandaficionado, Stephanie P xx
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