Clothing of the 1860s was created to fit over certain essential undergarments. Undergarments were not optional. Each undergarment had a specific practical purpose in the lady's wardrobe.

Undergarments were generally made of white 100% cotton (or occasionally linen). This was easiest to launder and keep fresh. Dyes were not always colorfast and laundering methods were harsh, so white was always preferred on washable undergarments. (Yes, even for mourning attire.)

When getting dressed, a lady would always start with a cotton or linen chemise. Over that would be fitted a custom-made corset that created an hourglass shape. Then the lady put on drawers, stockings and a petticoat or two. Most 1860s dresses were made to lay over a hoop skirt, or "cage crinoline." Over the cage would be worn 1-2 starched petticoats to smooth the outline between the "bones."

And finally, once the lady was dressed, she would add a collar and cuffs or undersleeves to her dress (unless they were already tacked on).

The purpose of the chemise, collar and cuffs/undersleeves was to protect the dress from body oils. Laundering was a harsh process in the 1860s and ladies tried to avoid having to clean their dresses often.

The purpose of the corset was to create the proper body shape, to provide support for the back, and evenly distribute the weight of multiple waistbands on the waist. A well fitting corset was, and is, very comfortable and makes wearing 1860s garments much easier.

Click on the links below for more details on each garment.