Antique underwear

Finnish underwear at the turn of the 20th century – part 3: Some extant garments

One day I was selling my hand-made masks at a local fleamarket and started chatting with the woman at the neighbouring table. I mentioned my enthusiasm for historical garments and she just told me she had a huge box of antique underwear garments (also some that are not underwear) in her storage. She had inherited them and was considering donating them to a museum. Next week she invited me to see her collection and generously gave me a permission to post the pictures on my blog for everyone to enjoy. Se also had a gorgeous dress bodice that I will post about later once I get to study it a bit more.

Antique underwear: chemises

Let’s start with the chemises. Most of these came in identical pairs. This first one is probably the simplest. It has a v-neck with small ruffle and two lines of very fine pintucks at the front.

Antique underwear: a v-neck chemise with pintucks.

The next one has a beautiful crocheted yoke with a flower pattern.

Antique underwear: A chemise with a crochet yoke.

This one has a gathered neckline and buttons at the shoulders. The neckline and the armholes have been decorated with lace.

A chemise with a gathered neckline.

The next two ones might be for the summer. They have pretty straight neckline sand shoulder straps. There are also gathers at the sides of the hips:

Two chemises with shoulder straps.

The two on the left have been made out of sturdy linen fabric. They have a red initial embroidered at the centre front Otherwise the style is pretty much the same with the white cotton chemise at the bottom right corner. The on at the upper right corner is the simplest one with just narrow ruffle or lace at the neckline and the armholes.

Antique underwear: Four different chemises.


Petticoats at my new friend’s antique underwear collection were all white cotton. The cotton is mostly pretty sturdy, similar to thicker bedsheets. Some of the ruffles have been pieced together from several pieces of fabric. The same has been done to the yoke at the one petticoat on the right.

All of the petticoats have lace at the bottom edge, some of it is machine-made and the rest is hand-crocheted lace. The front of the petticoats is smooth but the sides and the back have been gathered at the waist. Besides the lace and the gathering, some of the petticoats have pintucks or wider tucks for decoration. The closure varies: some petticoats have ties at the side back (off-center) and some of them have a button and a buttonhole.

Antique underwear: Four antique petticoats.

See the three tucks and a diagonal piecing seam at the ruffle:

A petticoat with a pin tucked ruffle.

This stripy petticoat is the sturdiest one. It is as thick as a tablecloth cotton fabric might be nowadays. This is the only petticoat in the collection without a separate ruffle at the hem, just to tucks and lace:

A sturdy petticoat.


The antique underewear collection didn’t feature any open drawers. All have a closed crotch seam. These three have a pointed yoke and they open from the both sides. Besides buttons some of them have an additional ties. Now I’m not sure anymore, whether the ties could be there also to adjust the waistband. The cuffs have all lace and different amounts of tucks and ruffles.

Antique underwear: Three pairs of drawers.

The pair underneath has been made out of the same sturdy fabric as one of the petticoats above. It also features the same lace at the cuffs.

A sturdy pair of drawers.

Again, the same stripy fabric but no buttons. Perhaps the buttons have gone missing and have been replaced with ties?

Another sturdy pair of drawers.

This detail picture of the opening and the waistband shows that the amount of bulk has been reduced by making the waistband and the facings with more lightweight cotton.

A placket detail.

This last pair shows that the original buttons were covered with fabric but the fabric has frayed showing the button underneath:

A lightweight pair of drawers.

Antique underwear: A corset cover

The single corset cover in the collection features broderie anglaise edging, insert lace and pintucks. The buttons have been made out of some weird material that has caused some of them to curl! The style is very body-hugging with its two vertical bust darts. This is actually a garment I might replicate since it is would work very well with my new corset.

An antique corset cover.

Here is the corset cover from the back:

The corset cover from the back.

Something extra: Aprons

Although not really underwear, aprons were also garments that were often made at home. I particularly like this white batiste apron with a big pocket at the right-hand side.

A kitchen apron with a pocket.

The owner thought that these two probably belonged to maids and I think she was right. Not that they were particularly useful as they are tiny! Note the small pocket!

Maid's aprons.

The last apron is this delicate pink cotton organdie apron with a lace ruffle:

A cotton organdy maid's apron.

My warmest thanks to the owner for letting me study and photograph these antique underwear garments! I hope you enjoyed them, too! Thank you for reading and see you soon. If you want to get a notification every time I post, write your email to the field down below and press “Subscribe!”. See you later!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


  • PamelaR

    I truly enjoyed your underwear post. I have a collection of similar garments from Canada. Included is a fine tiny apron that had been my grandmothers. She wore it, I believe, when she was hosting, and I agree that it was not very sturdy. I wore it for my trousseau tea in 1973, and it was very old and delicate then. I still treasure it.
    The drawers that I have do have an opening.
    It is possible that the curling buttons are made of celluloid, or the shell buttons were sensitive to heat, (boiling) and the laundry, especially whites, were boiled.

    • kk

      I think that celluloid might an answer, too. Although, I can’t be sure. Might be that your drawers are older. I think they started to close the drawers during the 1890s. My Finnish pattern book from 1892 offers patterns for both open and closed drawers but the closed ones are described first.


    When I was young 1980’s I asked an very old lady about the open drawers, and she said “Oh you mean pick-nick pants?” LOL

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