Cut! – The Duchess – Underthings

The next few posts from the Cut! costume exhibit will be on one of the displays I liked the most – the costumes from the movie The Duchess.  I’ll admit, I didn’t really LIKE the movie – I found the plot and acting forgettable, but I do remember being impressed with the costumes!  I find it funny that in this trailer, there’s two minutes of video, and the first minute is basically devoted to the costumes.. hahaa.


A bit of a tease.... it takes the underthings on the right to support the look on the left. Of course, I'll have photos of the purple dress soon too!

Here’s a bit of a tease… in order to create the shapes of the gowns (like the pink/purple gown on the left), you need the underthings.  Of course, I’ll show photos of the pink/purple gown in a future post, but consider this a taste for the time being!
The basic items include:

  • Chemise: worn against the body for modesty and to protect the other clothing from body oils, sweat, etc.  These were usually super-fine linen, and typically fairly simple (you wouldn’t want colour or texture of trim to show through the other clothing you were wearing) although I’ve seen some from other periods that started to get pretty elaborate in themselves.  I think that chemise is the French term, where as the English term I think is ‘shift’.  I tend to use them interchangeably.
  • Corset: This is a back-lacing corset with cut-on tabs (rather than ones that are sewn in separately) and semi-adjustable shoulder straps.  For this era, the corset could have cut-on tabs, sewn-in tabs, or no tabs at all (which is the easiest to make, but has it’s downside too).  The tabs are an important part of supporting the skirts that go over top.  The shoulder straps aren’t to hold the corset up (corsets should always be cut so that they don’t need straps for support) but rather to support the necklines/shoulder lines of the dresses over top.  With super-wide necklines, you’d need some support to keep them from slipping off and creating a wardrobe malfunction!  These corsets do NOT have a busk to open them on center front (or elsewhere) which is really impractical for modern use, because they mean that you have to have someone else lace you into your corset – there is almost no way to do it effectively yourself.
  • Paniers: an oval-shaped short ‘hoop skirt’ used to create the overall effect of the skirt.  For this era you shouldn’t use a hoop skirt which gives a full effect at both sides, front, and back, but rather the paniers which only give fullness at the sides.  These are filled with hoop steel.

Full shot of the corset along with the shift below.


Side shot of the corset

I mentioned that untabbed corsets are easier to make – that is because you need to bind every edge of every tab.  Tabs that are sewn in are the next level, since you still need to bind every tab, but only have to worry about outside corners and not inside corners.  This style with the cut-on tabs is the most complicated to bind, and pretty much has to be done entirely by hand to even approach getting the binding smooth.

Tabs on the waist of the corset

Beautiful mitered corners on the corset tab binding!

Side-back of the corset and the top of the paniers

This corset fits the dressform so well!  (There is an even space between the two sides with the lacing.)  I would not normally be tying off my laces at the bottom, but rather at the middle, but perhaps this is more accurate for this time?  I’m not sure.  Note the slanted seam on the back shoulder.

Side view of the underthings


a shot from under the 'skirt'.

I was so sneaky – and held my camera UNDER the paniers, to capture some of the construction details.

  • It looks like they’ve just used wide twill tape to run the hoop steel through
  • The support on the side looks to be stuffed muslin.  I imagine this is to keep the hoops in line (so they don’t twist and skew the shape) but also to allow some flexibility in the rise and fall of the hoops, but not TOO much rise and fall which might ‘collapse’ the hoops when not desired.

Another shot from the under side of the paniers

Another under side view – showing excess fabric gathered onto the hoop steel at the front (or back… not sure…) and the side ties which also keep the hoops from skewing off in a different direction – keeping them oval rather than letting them go into a round shape that the steel would rather release into.

Another shot showing how the paniers are made.

Such a cool display!  I really would have loved to see more of the costumes displayed in a way that I could get a 3/4 look at like this – it was displayed on the end of a line of costumes, which meant I was able to get more views.



One comment on “Cut! – The Duchess – Underthings

  1. Anderson Hartford says:

    It?s exhausting to search out knowledgeable folks on this topic, however you sound like you realize what you?re speaking about! Thanks

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