Foundation garments are key to achieving the desired silhouette of any costume. Petticoats should be smaller than the skirt but in similar proportions and essentially the same shape. Poorly constructed petticoats will start off or at least end up distorted and unusable.

Petticoats without a yoke can be gathered or pleated on to the waistband. If this would be unsightly or uncomfortable then you can use a flat yoke with flat pleating or cartridge pleating to ensure that the skirt is full at the bottom, but there is not too much fabric round the waist. This allows the yoke to lay flat over pad(s) and the gathers fall from the edge of the yoke. These flat yokes may be bolstered by tiers of netting underneath, usually with more gathered at each side or between the hips at the centre back. Netted frills may also be incorporated at the ‘roll point’ to add volume.

Most pads go under with the petticoat shape moulded over them (though Regency styles do not follow pads). Piping cord (when used with bias tape, applied horizontally) provides shape and body both on hems and within the body of the petticoat. Frills at the bottom add weight and shaping, but gathering should not be too bulky, as it will spoil the silhouette and drape.

For closures, drawstrings at the side may be used (to retain flatness at centre front and centre back) when quilting is incorporated. Quilted petticoats are worn over basic petticoats as a second/over petticoat and are constructed after the basic petticoat has been completed. For unquilted petticoats a placket closure can be used. Plackets in petticoats (as well as skirts and overskirts) are cut longer in theatre costumes to make it easier to step in and out during dress changes. Plackets may be inserted at the CF, CB, or on either side (bearing in mind if the wearer/dresser is left or right handed).

Planning an 18th Century petticoat pattern

An outline of the different parts of the petticoat and their measurements.