A dictionary of underwear

At Market Lavington Museum, we have a four railed airer above the kitchen table. This had been used in an Easterton home, before being donated to the museum. Because we need to be able to see the kitchenware on the table, we can only display small items of clothing on the airer. Last year we aired the children’s clothes.

For 2023, it’s the turn of underwear. This is almost entirely ladies’ and children’s as we don’t have any menswear. (Maybe someone could donate us some white cotton Y fronts from the 1950s or 60s!)

From the 1890s and 1900s we have three chemises. Here is one of them.

From the 1930s, we have a pink camisole and matching knickers. (We also have a black set from the 1940s or 50s.)

The black brassière dates from the 1940s or 50s.

The bri-nylon knickers are mid 20th century.

Many of our undies are not so colourful, being mostly made of white cotton. We have a pilch,

a baby boy’s bodice

and a dickie, amongst other more familiar sounding items.

We didn’t find room on the kitchen airer to put the capacious Victorian Free trader and trapdoor knickers, which started off Peggy’s need for a museum. You will find them on a small airer upstairs.

And now for the dictionary of definitions for these old fashioned undergarment terms.

Bodice A tight fitting undergarment, covering the torso

Brassière A lady’s undergarment to support the breasts. Usually shortened to bra nowadays

Camisole A lady’s undergarment with narrow straps. Usually loose fitting and made of thin material. An elegant vest.

Chemise A simple short sleeved or sleeveless shirt worn under a dress

Knickers A lady’s lower torso undergarment, previously known as bloomers and now usually called pants or briefs

Dickie A man’s detachable, false shirt front

Pilch A baby’s undergarment used to hold a piece of towelling in place, in the days before nappies were in use


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