Wednesday 8 July 2020


Drawers, in the sense of underwear, are usually something that is associated with nineteenth century women, but the term is much older dating back to the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century drawers are rarely associated with women, except for the occasional example, for instance Pepys’ wife. When Pepys thought his wife was having an affair he would check to see if she was wearing drawers, he wrote 4th June 1663 “I did so watch to see my wife put on drawers, which poor soul she did.” Elizabeth Pepys was the daughter of Alexandre de St. Michel, a French protestant convert, and drawers for women were commoner in France. (Cunnington & Cunnington, 1951)

Drawers for men seem to have come in two types. Short, as in Cotgrave’s definition of the older word brayes, “Brayes, short (and close) breeches, drawers, or vnderhose, of linnen, &c.” (Cotgrave, 1611) These are the type that survive on the effigy of Charles II at Westminster Abbey, the image right is the only one I can find of these and if from Cunnington.(1951) and are the type Pepys wrote about when saying that the pressed men in the navy had “want of clothes” and there was a need to “to provide them shirts and stockings and drawers.” (10th July 1666). The other style was longer, Cunnington quotes from 1670 “a paire of longe linen drawers to put under the breeches”, and suggests they may have had stirrups under the foot.(1951) Whether these would be the same as stirrup hose is debatable. It has been suggested by Tankard, (2020)  that what are referred to as linings, and listed separately from garments, may also be a form of drawers. These would be linings that were separate from, not actually attached to, the breeches.

The style of drawers referred to in literature are usually the shorter form, and appear in Restoration comedies, for example in Aphra Behn’s 1677 The Rover, Lucetta and Blunt have an assignation in her bedroom. Lucetta demands “Are you not undrest yet?” and Blunt replies, “As much as my Impatience will permit.” The stage direction is then [Goes towards the Bed in his Shirt and Drawers].  Steele writing about the play in 1711 complains that Behn, “Makes a Country Squire strip to his Holland Drawers.” The fabric for these drawers is usually linen, especially holland. When Pepys is worried that he and his wife have no children, he is recommended to wear “cool holland drawers” (26th July 1664) The amount of cloth needed for a pair of drawers can be seen in the Seymour accounts, where in 1641 they “paid for tenn elles of holland at vs iiiid the ell to make 6 paire drawers to my Hon. Lord,” which would imply a metre and a half each. (Morgan, 1945)

The longer style, with or without stirrups, are often worsted. In 1675 Richard Legh paid for “2 pair of large worsted drawers with stirrups,” while in 1650 the Earl of Bath paid “for 2 pair fine large worsted stirrups £1.” (Gray, 1996) These may be for winter wear, James Master often purchased drawers, when he bought “a pair woollen drawers, 4s 6d” it was in November. (Robertson, 1889)  Another material used for drawers is leather, in 1676 Samuel Jeakes spent 3s 6d on two pairs of oiled skinned drawers. (Tankard, 2020)

Drawers appear to be worn at all levels of society. King Charles I purchased 23 pairs of holland drawers at a time. (Strong, 1980) Poor law overseers could also provide drawers, in 1680 Arundel the ten-year-old orphan Luke Wareham was provided with, three shirts, two pairs of stockings, a pair of drawers and two pairs of shoes, he was provided with another pair of drawers in 1682. (Tankard, 2020) Occasionally they appear in wills and probate inventories. In 1674 John Harris, a coal miner, left his son in law “a pair of woollen drawers.” The further up the social scale the more pairs of drawers, George Stearte, a surgeon, has four pair in 1671, (George & George, 2005) and  Richard Matthew, a vicar, has five pairs in 1686 (Wyatt, 1997)

Drawers could be purchased ready made, James Claxton, had thirteen pair in stock for 2s 6d each in 1680, while five years earlier Thomas Moggs had “fifteen pair of white & blew drawers” at 1s 4d a pair, and a further three pair in blue. (George & George, 2005)

Cotgrave, R., 1611. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues. London: Printed by Adam Islip.
Cunnington, C. W. & Cunnington, P., 1951. The history of underclothes. London: Michael Joseph.
George, E. & George, S., 2005. Bristol probate inventories, Part 2: 1657-1689. Bristol: Bristol Records Society publication 57.
Gray, T., 1996. Devon Household Accounts 1627-59. Part 2. Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 39.
Morgan, F. C., 1945. Private Purse Accounts of the Marquis of Hertford, Michaelmas 1641-2. Antiquaries Journal, Volume 25, pp. 12-42.
Robertson, S., 1889. The expense Book of James Master 1646-1676 [Part 4, 1663-1676], transcribed by Mrs Dallison.. Archaeologia Cantiana, pp. 114-168.
Strong, R., 1980. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633-1635. Costume, Volume 14, pp. 73-89.
Tankard, D., 2020. Clothing in 17th century provincial England. London: Bloomsbury.
Wyatt, P., 1997. The Uffulme wills and inventories 16th to 18th centuries.. Exeter: Devon sand Cornwall Record Society, vol 40.

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