When we talk about layering our clothes for warmth, we mostly mean tops. Vests worn under t-shirts, worn over long-sleeved t-shirts, under sweaters and cardis, all add a much needed layer of warmth to an oufit. But often we forget about the importance of keeping our bottom halves warm too.
When people tell me they prefer trousers in winter because they’re warmer, I sort of know what they mean. Even with two layers of tights and a waist slip under my skirt, I would often feel the sting of the wind around my legs whilst awaiting the train on a draughty platform. But for a great many hundreds of years, women have worn skirts without dying of pneumonnia. And before the widespread adoption of trousers, men wore “skirts” too – from the draped clothing popular in Roman times to the belted plaid “kilts” worn by the Scots. (The “kilt”, in fact, is merely a name given to the heavy wool blanket that highlanders would belt about their waists to keep the chill out, and not by any stretch of the imagination particular to Scotland, the same method being used in colder climates across Northern Europe, despite the early Celtic versions of trousers also being popular. The Scottish kilt and the clan tartans as we recognise them today are more a less entirely the invention of the great novelist and saviour of Scottish heritage, Sir Walter Scott.)
The answer to the cold conundrum is, naturally, the petticoat. Throughout history women have layered undergarments, partly for reasons of fashion, but also for reasons of practicality, beneath their top skirt. At times it has been fashionable to display these layers, but even when this has not been the case, the heavy, wool underskirts have still been present, trapping the warm air close to the body and insuring against corned-beef legs.
Back in November, I also mentioned that Dapper had bought me a belated birthday present at the Re-enactor’s Market, of a pair of Victorian-style oxblood leather boots. These then had to be sent for reheeling, so the promised pictures never quite materialised…
They are exactly what I needed for wearing in winter under my full-length dresses. They’re delicate enough to look pretty, but sturdy enough to be comfy, and being leather, they warm to the skin and soften to the shape of the foot. Plus, not too high to spend a whole day wandering around a National Trust property – always a consideration!