Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

The Edwardian Lingerie Dress


T&CC 1989.26.1, lingerie dress, c. 1910

by Elissa Lopez

For my first project with the Textile and Costume Collection, I was tasked with researching a group of “lingerie dresses” we have in storage, with the end goal of cataloging and photographing them on proper sized dress forms with period appropriate undergarments. These dresses are gorgeous with their intricate designs, lace, and embroidery that really give them a vintage glam while their yellowed color shows how long they’ve been around. When it came time to actually start my research, I began by just looking at each one and noting the questions I had about them.

As I tried to find information about these dresses, I ran into a problem. The lingerie dresses were called various names, so although we were calling them “lingerie dresses,” I had to figure out which names were used to refer to the dresses back then. I switched how I was searching for information and I started looking for the descriptions of the dresses instead of blind searching the name.

Curator Jade Papa gave me some books that cover the late 1800s to the early 1900s, which is the time span we believed the dresses to date from. It was actually the Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, which was the textbook for my Costume History class (taught by Jade) that gave me my first bit of information about lingerie dresses. It also confirmed the rough date range that we thought that they were worn in. The book described the decoration and overall look of the dresses:

T&CC 1989.26.1

“Decorations included tucking, pleating, lace insertions, bands of applied fabric, lace, and embroidery. The popular white, frilly cotton or linen dresses with this decoration were referred to as lingerie dresses, probably because the fabric and decoration so much resembled women’s undergarments or lingerie of the period.” (Tortora 425,427)

The description was accompanied by a photo of a teenager wearing a lingerie dress (see photo at left). This information confirmed the term lingerie dress and provided an example of what one looked like. It also included a written definition for me to cross reference, as well as a new lead into what age groups were wearing them.

Learning the term “Edwardian” (a time period dating from 1901 – 1910) was a game changer in being able to find information about these dresses. I went from finding small Easter eggs and tidbits of information to actual descriptions of lingerie dresses. Due to the fact that the time period lingerie dresses were prominent was short and occurred in between two large periods of time for fashion – the Victorian era and World War I – many of the books I found covered the 1800s or the 1920s but glossed over the Edwardian period.

Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women, 1840 to 1919 by Kristina Harris was especially helpful as Harris is a historian of that period and has collected many pieces. Her book describes the clothing worn by women in each decade and shows pictures of the accompanying clothing she has from each. During the 1890-1910s, she had descriptions of lingerie dresses which gave me more good information about the dresses as well as what they looked like when worn. All of her pieces were modeled on actual people, which is very useful for when I have to put our dresses on dress forms to be photographed.

Now, after all my research, I’m starting to work hands-on with our dresses and am taking measurements to help me figure out the silhouette of each one to help in dating. I’m also considering who might have worn it. Eventually, I’ll be customizing some of our dress forms and making any necessary undergarments for the lingerie dresses to be photographed in the way that they would have been worn in their time. This will allow us to have an in-depth understanding of the dresses that we hold here at the Textile and Costume Collection and provide more information about them for students and faculty at Jefferson and beyond.

Works Cited:

Harris, Kristina. Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women, 1840 to 1919. Schiffer Pub. Limited, 2002.

Tortora, Phyllis G., and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume. 5th ed., New York, Fairchild Books, 2010.

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