Read an earlier discussion of this: What did European and American women use for menstruation in the 19th century and before?
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
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Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.


Part 3: Some facts about European underwear, 1700 - 1900, and its relationship to what women used for menstruation
(Part 1, Part 2)

The sun was setting on open-crotch underpants when this pair appeared, probably in the 1890s. Manufacturers offered both kinds as late as 1922 in America (see a section from the American Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog) and even later in Germany. I suspect crotches closed because of shorter and looser, more clinging dresses, allowing women to reach under and pull their drawers down ("draw" means "pull") when on the toilet and to better conceal their vulvas if their dresses hiked up, as from the wind, or from a more active life than in former decades.


German Beinkleid - "leg clothes" - for a woman living at the end of the 19th century.
The arrow (which I added) points to the open crotch. (See
schematic drawings of American crotchless underpants from about 1890.) The German word for men's pants, "Hose," was considered indecent when applied to women's underpants - thus Beinkleid. From "Zur Geschichte der Unterwäsche 1700-1960."

Comments about this article from an e-mailer, January 2013:

I wanted to do some research into what pads etc might have been used by
Western women in the Victorian age [see an American pad from mid-19th century at the Valentine Museum], and I've come across an interesting
error in your discussions of the old long-legged underwear with an open
crotch. From

"I suspect crotches closed because of shorter and looser, more clinging
dresses, allowing women to reach under and pull their drawers down
("draw" means "pull") when on the toilet and to better conceal their
vulvas if their dresses hiked up, as from the wind, or from a more
active life than in former decades."

I made two 17th century dresses about ten or so years ago, and am
currently wearing late Victorian/Edwardian outfits upon occasion, and a
late Victorian-style corset pretty regularly (it was daily for half a
year) due to the positive effect the corset had on my back, which I
strained badly some time ago. And I can tell you with absolute certainty
that the reason for not introducing underwear with a permanent crotch,
such as we see  today, before the nineteen-teens or Twenties, was
because of the corsets.

You see, one doesn't wear underwear with the 17th century outfits at all
(or if one does, it's of a style such that one can pull the crotch to
one side, rather than down, to pee/defecate, like a G-string or
something with fairly high-cut or large leg holes), because the corset
does not allow underwear to be lowered or raised.

The 17th century corset was worn over a long chemise, and even the 19th
century and early 20th century corsets were worn over a chemise (albeit
not one floor-length), making it impossible to wear underwear over it.
And modern underwear (and especially the period-correct pantaloons) sits
high enough that, unless one is wearing a very low-cut modern pair, or a
modern corset (which ends much higher on the hips), the top of the
underwear is covered by the corset. Certainly that's the case with late
Victorian corsets and the pantaloons which fasten very high around the
waist. I imagine the later, Titanic-era corsets, which came very low on
the hips indeed, would be even worse. See, the thing is, with the corset
firmly fastened, one *can* manage to pull one's underwear down (although
I must admit, if one's abdomen is a bit loose and flabby after having
had children, and is tucked nicely up in behind the corset, pulling the
underwear down pulls it down too unless one remembers to breathe in,
which then makes the corset uncomfortable) it is next to impossible to
tuck the underwear back *up* under the corset again. It's tricky with
modern elasticized underwear; with the right late-Victorian period
stuff, it's absolutely out of the question, either raising or lowering
it, because the tie or button is somewhere under the middle of the
corset, and completely inaccessible.

Hiking the skirts up, even with the full hoops of a 5'-wide 17th century
dress, is bulky but not difficult, at all, and even easier in fashions
that don't have a bustle or hoops; one simply flips the skirt up at the
back. One can easily reach the underwear, and pull the two legs of it
apart to attend to one's business. With modern underwear, one must pull
it to the side, but even with modern, fairly stretchy underwear, unless
it's something with ridiculously wide leg holes like a G-string, while
it is doable, one doesn't really have the clearance one has in the
period stuff.

Quite simply, underwear (when it was worn at all) was crotchless until
the early Twentieth Century because without it, one would have had to
undress all the way down to the chemise below the corset to use the loo!
And getting it all back on again is such a fuss, even if one isn't in a
hurry. The corsets (once one gets used to it) can easily be donned
without aid, but--well, I would put it up there with getting out of a
snowsuit in a hurry to pee as a kid for comparable fuss and bother.

Around WWi fashions changed and corsets largely went out of style, or
were so elasticized that donning and doffing underwear wasn't such an
issue. But even today, with modern, shorter "bustier"-style corsets with
very little cinching they say to put the underwear on over top,
especially if stocking suspenders are being used, or else to simply pull
the underwear aside if needed.

You may be right about the "concealing their vulvas" part, though; I
can't remember where I read this (possibly on The Costumer's Manifesto
site; I'll share the link if I come across it again) but apparently the
thing about a proper lady keeping her knees together when sitting didn't
come about until knee-length (and shorter) dresses came along at the
beginning of the Twentieth Century; prior to then, with hoops at least,
one crossed one's ankles and spread one's knees, because to keep one's
knees together makes the front of the skirt jut out in an odd way,
instead of lying smooth from one pannier (side hoop) to the other. But
of course if one's skirt is anywhere above the upper calf in length then
as soon as one sits anyone else sitting nearby can see straight up it,
which is when the thing about keeping ones knees tight together first
came about.

I did come across an interesting article
( from the late
Victorian period, which insists that a good corset is a must if one is
to live an active lifestyle (or be doing a lot of cleaning) because of
the additional back support. I'm pretty sure that daily use of a corset
without any exercises to maintain strength in the core muscles would be
detrimental, but I can also say that a corset is a great aid in heavy
lifting (functioning like a back belt) and does not interfere too much
in the movements required even for Tae bo (although I must admit I'd
only followed along with the DVDs for a few weeks before trying it with
the corset on; it does make it hard to take deep breaths, however!), and
the article thinks that women at that point (1911) were being much more
active than in any previous period of history, so I'm not sure that
women were suddenly so much more active in the period immediately
following as to require such an extreme change in underwear design in so
short a period. Honestly, I one hundred percent believe it's entirely
down to the difficulties of using the loo *with* underwear, unless it
*is* crotchless.

Remove the corset, and you remove the need for underwear to have a means
of getting around peeing without removing it. :-)


So, what did European women use for menstruation?

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