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Beneath the surface Beneath the surface

In rustic Finnish women's clothing, no difference was made between underwear and outer garments until relatively late. In the countryside, old outer skirts were used as underskirts, and shirts with long hems were used as both underwear and an outer garment. In the higher social classes the difference was more pronounced. In Western fashion, an undershirt worn beneath outer articles of clothing started becoming more common in the heart of the Middle Ages. Women have also worn corsets since the late Middle Ages up until the 1920s. They have been used to shape the body to the ideals that have been prevalent at the time.

In the west, women's underwear did not become common before the 19th century, but had been used irregularly in the previous centuries. They first became common with the higher classes – also in Finland. In the countryside, they were rare until the turn of the 19th and the 20th century. In Finland the open-crotch drawers, which extended below the knee and were open at the crotch, were a typical early model. They made it possible to urinate standing up while still being covered by the skirt. The open-crotch drawers were later superseded by the ‘closed-style' drawers with a rear flap that could be opened for urinating or defecating. The drawers gradually became smaller. In the 1920s and the 1930s tricot fabric was introduced, and panties could be bought in a shop.

Women's undershirt, corset and crinoline hoop
Late 19th century
An undershirt worn by a young office secretary in Oulu and a Parisian-style corset.

Women's blouse and pants
1880s/1890s
A high-collar blouse made of tulle lace worn by a telegraph operator in Oulu, and panties made by a young lady in Tampere.