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  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1880-1900 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Machine-knitted silk, pearl, machine-sewn

  • Credit Line:

    Given by B. W. Owram

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125b, case 3

Object Type
Vests and pants were worn next to the skin, under the shirt or trousers. Throughout the 19th century drawers had been worn, made of similar materials to the vest, including stockinette, cotton and wool; but by the end of the 19th century the distinction between drawers and underpants was recognised. Pants were either ankle-length to the mid-calf, drawers were either just below or just above the knee.

Design & Designing
Some underpants were knee-length, to go under clothes for sporting wear: short pants of absorbent stockinette, for example, were worn for cycling. The loop of tape outside the waistband through which tongues of the braces were passed became general towards the end of the period. Many men preferred to have the vest and pants combined in one. These were known as combinations and became very popular in the 20th century.

Materials & Making
Underpants were made in linen, cotton and merino, but machine-knitted silk was fashionable with the wealthy and also for summer wear. Underpants of natural coloured wool or cellular cotton were also popular as these fabrics allowed the skin to breathe. Such materials were seen by dress reformers as the healthy alternative to silk, which they claimed trapped harmful chemicals close to the skin. By the late 19th century vests were available in a range of colours, including peach, flesh tint, lavender, light blue and heliotrope.

Ownership & Use
A typical gentleman probably owned several sets of vests and underpants. They were often initialled with the name of the owner so they could be recognised during the laundry process. By 1906 the vast majority of men dispensed with underwear altogether in the summer months.

Physical description

Underpants of machine-knitted cream silk with pearl buttons and silk loops for braces. Machine-sewn. Ankle length with a waist band and brace loops in the front and two triple buttoned sliding tabs for size adjustment at the back.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1880-1900 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Machine-knitted silk, pearl, machine-sewn

Marks and inscriptions

Knitted into the front left leg, probably the initials of the owner


Length: 105 cm, Width: 57 cm, Circumference: 35 in waist

Object history note

Made in Britain

Descriptive line

Underpants of machine-knitted silk, Great Britain, 1880-1900

Labels and date

British Galleries:

Knitted silk underwear became very fashionable in the late19th century. It fitted close to the body and did not disrupt the line of a smart, well-tailored suit. [27/03/2003]


Underwear; Men's clothes; Textiles; Fashion; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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