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I have a not-so-secret addiction to historical romances. There’s just something about the exotic settings and the absolutely gorgeous clothes that swept me away and made me fall instantly in love. One thing that I have noticed however with historical novels is that writers don’t always have an understanding of all of the clothing that has to be removed in the love scenes.


First off, those big beautiful dresses. How do they work? They didn’t have zippers so how do ladies get in and out of those things? The answer: they are pinned in. That beautiful beaded inset in the center of the bodice is called a ‘stomacher’. They can be elaborately embroidered and beaded or left plain and are usually attached with pins to the rest of the bodice. This goes the same for closed-front gowns as well, which fasten in the center of the bodice and don’t have a stomacher. It goes without saying that taking off this kind of dress means removing the pins and while it does sound sexy to write something like “his hands moved over her her, plucking the pins from her gown and letting them fall to the floor as they moved towards the bed” it is also a recipe for someone getting a pin through their foot the next morning. Not remotely sexy.

Next comes the petticoats. Your lady will be wearing at least two of them, tied at the waist under her dress. Now one thing to note is that most skirts were referred to as ‘petticoats’ at this time, whether they were intended to be visible under an open-front gown or worn as an undergarment. They were made of a variety of fabrics from linen to wool to silk and were sometimes quilted for warmth if the wearer lived in a place that had cold winters. Whether visible or not their general purpose was to provide shape and poof to the dresses, something that was achieved with gathers and pleats where the skirt was sewn into the waistband.

Under her numerous petticoats women at this time usually wore either a set of panniers or what is known as a bum-roll to poof out her skirts even further. Panniers, named for the wicker baskets that were hung on either side of a pack animal, originated in Spain in the early Eighteenth Century and spread to most of the rest of the Europe by the 1720’s. They could be made of a variety of materials including wood, metal, and reeds and by the late 1700’s could be seen extending the width of a gown to several feet. A bum-roll was essentially a pillow tied about the waist meant to add volume to the bottom and hips, and were more common among the less affluent of society as a way to achieve a fashionable shape similar to panniers without the inconvenience of strapping what amounts to a pair of baskets to your hips.


After at least four layers of clothing we get to the corset, what was then referred to as ‘stays’. These were reinforced with buckram or whalebone and laced up the back. Contrary to popular belief tight-lacing was not possible with this style of corset until the 1800’s because the metal grommets used to do that hadn’t been invented yet. The holes that housed corset lacings in the Georgian period were hand-sewn and so unless one was wearing a really fancy bodice for an event at Court the stays worn would actually have been reasonably comfortable. A similar style, referred to as ‘jumps’, was also common for at-home occasions and for women who were pregnant or nursing. This was a way to achieve a somewhat fashionable shape and support the bust without the restriction of the boning and unlike most stays at the time, these actually fastened at the front with buttons or laced ribbons so the women wearing them could dress themselves as they pleased without the need for an attendant. This was cause for a lot of controversy at the time because while some physicians applauded the use of jumps as a healthier alternative to the restrictiveness of traditional stays, their easy removability might also hint at a lack of morals in any woman who chose to wear them out in public.

After the stays comes the chemise. These were a staple in fashion pretty much from the Roman Empire up until the 1900’s. Through the centuries most women only had one or two dresses to wear so the chemise was worn to protect the fabric out of the outer clothing and prevent it from getting damaged and smelly from prolonged contact with the human body. They were commonly made of linen, cotton or silk and could be decorated with embroidery or lace.

Now drawers and bloomers wouldn’t be introduced until the 1800’s so after a lady has been divested of her chemise she will be left in nothing but her stockings. Stockings were a universal garment that everybody wore and were available in a variety of colors and fabrics. Elastic technology that allowed the stockings to stay up on their own did not exist until the mid 1700’s and at the time the production technique was so expensive that only the upper class could afford them. Everyone else used buckled garters or ribbon to keep them up, usually tying them just above or just below the knee depending on the wearer’s comfort preferences.

So now that you have your lady down to her stockings you have a couple of choices: you can slide off her shoes, flick open that buckle, slowly untie those ribbons….. Or you can leave them on and have the fun continue.

Happy writing!

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