The Knicker Lady – Rosemary Hawthorne

The Knicker Lady - Rosemary Hawthorne
A drawing of a luxury hourglass corset from 1878, featuring a busk fastening at the front and lacing at the back taken from Wikipedia.

The Knicker Lady – Rosemary Hawthorne

Rosemary Hawthorne was the speaker after our Christmas lunch.  She arrived with a friend and several large suit cases full of garments.

Rosemary started her talk by explaining how she became interested in fashion as a child as her mother worked for the small fashion house Matita and she would help dress the models during the holidays.  Rosemary became an actress and had a large family so there was very little time for her own interests but she started collecting old clothes and underwear and, as there was no book on Knickers, she was encouraged to write one (details below).

Rosemary then produced a wonderful selection of underwear starting with very delicate white chemise decorated with hand embroidery from the Jane Austen period around 1790’s.  There was a basic shift from the 1870’s and Rosemary explained that a corset made with whale bones would be worn over the top. 

There were a variety of knickers with two separate legs which was the favoured design until the start of the First World War.  A number of garments were passed round the room and we were interested to see the warm flannel ones.  As time went on lace inserts and bows were added and some had trap door openings.  

Over the years the knickers were getting shorter and we were shown maternity knickers and those designed with cycling in mind.  There were several combinations and the name of Horrockes Fashion House was mentioned together with the fabric known as Aertex.  We were shown an early wraparound bra which had a hook for stays and another with suspenders.  The 1920’s changed everything and underwear became far more feminine and my favourite garment of the day was a truly beautiful silk petticoat which even today would be classed as an exquisite item of clothing. 

We all had a good chuckle when the 1920’s knitted bathing suit was produced and later some of us went down memory lane when we saw the elasticated swim suit which we remember wearing as children as they blew up when you got out of the sea!

It was interesting to see different fabrics come on the scene namely nylon and elastic and to see knickers made from parachute silk.  After World War II bloomers became popular and Rosemary made us laugh when she produced baggy knickers with pockets similar to the ones many of us wore to school.  Several of us also remember wearing liberty bodices with the good old rubber buttons on them.

In addition to all the underwear Rosemary had a number of garments she had collected over the years including a Laura Ashley dress, a circular skirt and a Crimpelene suit from the 1950s. Another favourite of mine was Rosemary’s own “little black dress” designed by Mary Quant from the 1960’s.

Bringing the history of underwear up to date Rosemary mentioned Gossards, Victoria’s Secret and the luxury brand of Janet Reger.

As a finale we were shown a selection of men’s underwear from the historical two legged pants through to the jazzy pink Calvin Klein and the Y fronts.

I can honestly say it was a fun talk with lots of laughing, a wonderful variety of garments, lots of history and lots of memories and a truly great way to celebrate Christmas.

Report by Ros

Rosemary asked us not to take photographs so below I have listed some websites for further reading and images:


Rosemary Hawthorne’s website:

Rosemary’s book available on Amazon either for the Kindle or hardcover:

Rosemary’s Facebook page:


Images from Matita Fashion House on Pinterest: 

Blog post about underwear from ancient Greece onwards

Images of 1920’s underwear:

Horrockes Fashion House:

Video about Horrockes:

History of Aertex material:


Janet Reger underwear:

Victoria’s Secret

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