Pantalettes for Girls and Women

Figure 1.--This image from an American fashion magazine shows French styles. I think it would have been about the 1850s, but a friend tells me it is an 1880s image. The child on the right is clearly a boy before breeching. Notice that his dress is much plainer than his sisters, but includes a lace collar. His pantalettes are also plainer than his older sisters.

Pantalettes of course are most associated with girls. Much of the literature of the 19th mentions them for girls and women. The most important fashion news of the age was the introduction of pantalettes, although they did not become widely worn untill after the Regency. They were accepted in the British royal circles by 1811 and in fashion journals since 1805. Pantalettes were usually trimmed with expensive lace and hung slightly below one's dress. Very little consideration was given to pantalettes for boys. This was to a large extent decided on by a boys' mother who used the styles available. As a result, some consideration of the styles of pantalettes for girls is needed to understand the styles worn by boys.


One may see the term drawers to describe pantalettes. I'm not sure yet about the chronology of the two terms or any regional difference in usage or meaning. The term drawers by the tirn of the century was being used to mean boys' and mens' underwear--at least in America. Another term for pantalettes was pantaloons. Pantaloons was a common term in the early 19th century, but was not widely used at mod-century.


The fashion magazines of the era commonly showed girls wearing pantalettes. They were at first mostly worn by younger children. Young children, both boys and girls wore pantalettes, the fancier obes trimed with eyelet embroidery that might match the hem of the dress.

Early 19th century

During the early years of the 19th century, pantalettes were not visible or at least just a hint of them at the hem of long dresses. As hems shortened they became part of the ensemble and were decorated to match the dress. By the end of the 1830s pantalettes were a widely accepted article of clothing. They were worn by girls, and boys between the ages of 2-5 years.

Mid-19th century

Older girls by the 1840s older girls were also wearing them. They were also commonly worn by younger boys, especially boys that had not yet been breeched and still wearing dresses. They became more common for women as hoop skirts became fashionanle, I believe in the 1850s.

Late 19th century


The increasingly popular Fashion magazines described the patterns and materials in detail. At a minimum, pantalettes came to below the knee and for dressweart were often finished with lace. The split in the crotch seam of the drawers would have made matters of personal hygine easier. The discusion in ladies fashionnmagazines focused on women and girls. However the pantalettes worn by boys were similar to those worn by girls. Thus the informtion available on women's and girl's pantalettes offer some insights for our web page.

Leg type

The legs of early pantelletes were often actually separate items, like stockings. This example buttons together at the waist, but early ones often were tied on. This was not a very sturdy arrangement, as one woman found out the hard way in 1820: "They are the ugliest things I ever saw: I will never put them on again. I dragged my dress in the dirt for fear someone would spy them. My finest dimity pair with real Swiss lace is quite useless to me for I lost one leg and did not deem it proper to pick it up, and so walked off leaving it in the street behind me, and the lace had cost six shillings a yard..."

Trim type

Godey's highlighted "two favorite styles of trimming pantalettes". The first gathered into a band of cambric embroidery which is edged by a frill. The second had a hem, straight band of intsertion and frill. They maybe also trucked in groups, or simply embroidered on the edge. [Godey's Lady's Book, November 1859] A new plainer sttle of pantalettes were introduced in 1860. The drawers were decorated with small tucks and insertion of lace in a band about the knee. The fabric was gathered to the waistband in the front and pulls through a casing to fit the waist. [Godey's Lady's Book, v. 61 December 1860.]


Pantalettes had rows of tucks, but they often had lace. When Princess Charlotte, a trend-setter, sat down and stretched her legs, her pantaloons showed. "Your drawers are much too long," the Lady de Clifford told her. "I do not think so," replied the princess; "the Duchess of Bedford's are much longer, and they are bordered with Brussels lace." "Oh," answered the Lady de Clifford, "if she is to wear them, she does right to make them handsome."

Other Clothes

Pantalettes were worn in place of petticoats, I'm not sire if a child might wear both.

Gender Conotations

Fashionable little girls wore long, lacy pantalettes. They became standard wear, and are regularly seen in fashion plates filling the space between the skirt, which ended at the knee, and the ankle. We also see girls wearing the plain pantalettes or drawers that boys were more likely to wear. We think that social class differences may have been a factor here.


Age was a factor in wearing pantalettes. Here the larger consideration may have been skirt length. Both women and girls wore long skirts in the early 19th century. As the century progressed skirts began to raise. This was especially true for girls. The length of the skirt thus varied by age along with chronological changes. It was not considerdc proper for much of the century to show bare legs, although here there were differenves among countries, affected in part by climate and seasonality. Thus we see girls very commonly wearing pantalettes. Adult women might wear pantalettes, but only showing the very bottoms. Girls on the other hand with shorter skirts would show more of their pantlettes. Some family portrait show these age conventions ay play. This is is a complicated topic as so many different factors are at play.

Literary Characters

Americans when they think of the mid-19th century, think of the two most famous litteary characters of the day, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Becky was based on Mark Twain's childhood sweetheart and she of course wore pantalettes.

As he was passing by the house where Jeff Thatcher lived, he saw a new girl in the garden - a lovely little blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two long tails, white summer frock and embroidered pantalettes. The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing a shot. A certain Amy Lawrence vanished out of his heart and left not even a memory of herself behind. He had thought he loved her to distraction, he had regarded his passion as adoration; and behold it was only a poor little evanescent partiality. He had been months winning her; she had confessed hardly a week ago; he had been the happiest and the proudest boy in the world only seven short days, and here in one instant of time she had gone out of his heart like a casual stranger whose visit is done. [Tom Sawyer, chapter 3]


Pantalettes, unlike underwear, were designed to be seen. For women this ocurred when a skirt was lifted overmuch, and were thus long and prettily trimmed. For girls who by the mid 19th century were wearing shorter dresses, the pantalettes were always visible and an important part of their outfits. Pantalettes were the most efficient way of covering the legs and providing modesty as hoop could sometimes swing out of control revealling too much of a lady's leg in proper Vicyorian society.


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Created: November 27, 2000
Last updated: 4:51 PM 4/4/2008