The Victorian period lasted from approximately 1837 to 1901, and I can assure you that even though lace and bows were definitely popular back then (even neck bows for men), comfortable dresses and gowns were nowhere to be found.
It's from doing research for my young adult novel, A Confederation Mystery: Victorian Town, (when my main character, Abby, ends up in 1867), that I became familiar with the clothing of that period.
Even though the dresses and gowns looked beautiful, to wear them meant young, middle-aged and older women had to endure much discomfort - restrictive corsets laced as tightly as possible around their waists, layers upon layers of petticoats beneath unbelievably wide skirts, and perhaps tight sleeves cinched around their arms. Gloves, hats and maybe a parasol or cape completed the ensemble. Some of the fabrics at that time consisted of horsehair woven into the material.
In the mid 1800s, cage crinolines became popular which meant petticoats weren’t needed. These crinolines, made from fine steel wire or whalebone shaped into strips created the bell shape of a “cage”, and provided much needed freedom of movement below dresses and gowns.
During the time of Canada’s Confederation, these massive dresses were worn to celebrations marking this historical event. Balls and banquets provided opportunities for wearing your finest silk satin gown.
One of the issues I encountered when researching was what my character would wear in 1867 and how she would adapt to living in the 19th century. She needed to fit in. And then there was the simple and necessary act of peeing. Where would she go to the bathroom? And how? How did women manage to go to the bathroom with a six-metre gown surrounding them? Would a reader even want to know this?
I figured, yes. It’s interesting, isn’t it? But where to find this information? The antiquated morals of the 19th century ensured the topic wouldn’t be mentioned in novels or writings of that time. It was as if necessary bodily functions didn’t even exist back then.
After fumbling around on the Internet trying to locate obscure articles on 19th century undergarments, I came across only a few articles on the subject, and those held only tidbits of information. But what I finally discovered is that panties were sewn without a crotch. Underwear, fitted loose, covered the legs like two tubes and were tied at the waist (pantalettes), but had no crotch and were simply open. A ladies room could be reached as easily as stepping discreetly behind a tree or locating a small chamber pot that could fit easily under your gown. And now you know.