Writing historical romance of a definitely steamier nature generally requires my characters to get their kit off. Which means I had to find out – just what underwear did they have to remove? The answer, particularly for the Renaissance period, appears to be ‘not a lot’. Which sounds pretty sexy, at least until you consider the layers of clothes they were likely to be wearing. Erotic scenes in a historical romance invariably involves much unlacing of corsets and codpieces and wrestling with gowns, doublets, linen shirts, frock coats and farthingales, depending on the period you’re writing in. As my historical romances currently cover the Regency and Renaissance eras, they were the undergarments – or lack of – I needed to focus on. ‘No knickers’ seems to be the common theme!
Women wore short corsets on top, a more comfortable and less constricting version of the boned corsets of earlier Georgian and later Victorian times. The Regency saw a return to looser, almost Grecian style dresses for women, before Victorian styles started hemming them in again, and so clothing was a lot less elaborate than the outrageous earlier Georgian styles. Not all women even bothered with the short corset but wore a boned chemise. A chemise was a loose, often cotton or linen garment a bit like a nightgown, worn over stockings and under the short corset if applicable. Over all this went the gown. The only real ‘underwear’ as we would use the word being worn then were stockings. Sounds almost kinky…
It didn’t last long however as women’s versions of drawers were soon invented in 1806 – though it took a few decades for them to become popular. These were loose undertrousers, feminine versions of the tighter, shorter drawers worn by men.
Underwear as we would recognise it was pretty non-existent. Men went naked under their breeches and hose, except perhaps for some woollen stockings, and often a codpiece was used to cover the essentials.
For women, it was again a chemise – these were around for a good few centuries in one form or another (see picture below) – often under a kyrtle, or undergown, and then the overgown itself. Again, the only real underwear that might have been worn were stockings.
Although the whole ‘no knickers’ theme lends itself to some spicy love scenes, I don’t envy my heroes the heavy outer layers of dress they had to get through to get to their prize…