Monday, June 09, 2008

Edwardian "Lingerie" Dress Diary, Part 1: Design Phase

As part of the Ladies' Historical Tea Society Edwardian Picnic preparations, I am in the middle of constructing a circa 1909 white linen ensemble, in a fashion popularly known as the lingerie dress.

About Edwardian Lingerie Dresses

The term "lingerie dress" is not a modern name for the garment, but a common name back then for this type of dress. As Anne Rittenhouse reported in the New York Times on May 26, 1912,

The white wash gown, which we universally call the lingerie frock, is a subject of interest as soon as the warm weather advances on us. There are seasons in which it is dominant; there are other seasons in which it is almost effaced by other kinds of clothes. (1)

These days lingerie dresses are often sold under the label "tea dress", as they were often worn for afternoon functions, especially during warmer weather.

Photo 1: unlined skirt portion from a lingerie dress; a previous owner cut away the bodice. The dress is constructed of two tiers made to look like three. Each tier is composed of three panels, but the upper tier and lower tier panels do not line up. The cut plus the ankle length lead me to think the dress dates after 1908. Trim is limited to wide tucks setting off each tier, complemented by narrower tucks.

Lingerie dresses are normally white, and made in lightweight fabrics like muslin, voile, cotton eyelet, batiste, or linen. Some dresses were lined; many -- perhaps most -- were not. Because the fabrics and laces were usually quite sheer, a camisole and petticoat, or full slip would be worn. I understand that frequently the underslip was in color, such as a cool blue, soft green or pink. The coloring would lend the lingerie dress itself a hint of color. maybe because the colored fabrics faded and wore out, or perhaps because, as the few samples I have seen are utilitarian-looking, few of them seem to be extant. Often they were worn with a belt or a sash. Dresses could be one-piece, or sometimes a two-piece outfit of skirt and waist.

Photo 2: Lingerie-style skirt, flared and quite trained. The skirt features an opaque soft muslin underskirt in several panels attached in the same waistband. The fashion skirt is made of a single panel, darted to fit the waist. It is trimmed at knee level with a double frill of self fabric edged with Valenciennes lace, attached in the middle like a ruche. The skirt is edged at bottom with two narrow tiers of self fabric edged with the same lace. The underskirt is trimmed at bottom with a narrow headed flounce. The flare and train lead me to believe the skirt style, at any rate, dates to at or before 1908, and the 1905 edition of the Butterick Dressmaker sewing manual recommends attaching underskirts in this manner.

While the overall silhouette follows whatever was popular in the year it was made, whether that be a yoke or flouncing or separate front and back apronlike panels, like the lingerie of those times, they are trimmed, often heavily, with various combinations of tucks and lace and embroidery. These dresses were very popular, and you see photos of girls and women wearing them from at least the turn of the century right through into the twenties.

Photo 3: detail of skirt bottom, showing double-tiered frill and underlying headed flounce.

My Dress Design

My dress design is based on a composite of several actual dresses of the period, as seen on vintage clothing sites. The main dress bodice inspiration was made in 1911 or 1912 of white linen, and featured wide bands of broderie Anglaise lace placed pretty much as in the design I ended with, along with two wider tucks as bretelles and tucks in the central bodice. However, it featured a far narrower silhouette, and two fascinating extra panels in front and back that floated free, almost like aprons. The bottoms were fringed with bobble trim. I have picked up the bobble trim for this dress, as it was popular in 1909.

The skirt ideas I used are common to many lingerie dresses: a train and a band of eyelet insertion near the skirt base. My skirt is composed of multiple panels and features a short train.

Photo 4: my design. Front view, with thumbnail side and back views

To bring the skirt and bodice together, I made the central tucks go from collar to skirt bottom. In the drawn design I added vertical tucks to the side skirt panels and at the back from collar to skirt bottom, but decided that was overkill and the final skirt will simply feature the front tucks: they should narrow and lengthen the look of the dress.

For the base patterns, I am using Jennie Chancey's Beatrix shirtwaist pattern and Beatrix walking skirt pattern. I have shortened the shirtwaist to and Edwardian "Empire" height popular during the time, and have narrowed the pattern pieces for a closer fit. I am using the train option on the Beatrix skirt pattern, and have added height to the waistline to meet the short bodice.

Next up: cutting the bodice and placing the lace insertion.

Additional Resources
Extant garments are for sale on many vintage clothing sites. For some fine examples, see:
Photo 5: example of lingerie dress in Shelter and Clothing: a Textbook of the Household Arts, page 343.


(1) Rittenhouse, Anne. What the Well-Dressed Woman is Wearing: Lingerie Frocks Important Part of This Month's Sewing---Simple Gowns with Only Tucks as Trimming Have Come into Wide Favor. New York Times May 26, 1912. Accessed June 9, 2008 (

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