How did Women use the Toilet in those huge Puffy Dresses? Victorian Era

When discussing women’s clothing and Victorian hygiene, many wonder how Victorian women managed restroom visits with multiple layers of clothing. To modern individuals, the idea seems daunting, but it was not as complicated as it appears. The construction of Victorian clothing, particularly the undergarments, actually facilitated easier restroom use.

Breaking Down the Layers of Clothing

A woman in the mid-Victorian era wore several layers. She would start with a chemise or shift, a long, loose-fitting garment resembling a modern-day nightgown. Next came split-crotch drawers, which were similar to modern underwear but featured an open crotch. This garment was a relatively new addition; for centuries, women did not wear drawers. The split-crotch design covered the bum but split down the middle, which was crucial for restroom use.

Following the drawers were stockings, garters, and shoes. Then came the corset, providing bust support, a smooth silhouette, and even distribution of fabric weight. A chemisette or corset cover might follow, giving the appearance of a shirt underneath or smoothing out the outer garment. Additional options included false sleeves. The crinoline, or hoop skirt, tied around the waist, followed by a petticoat to smooth out the boning. Finally, the outer garment completed the ensemble.

A Trip to the Privy

The key to an easy restroom experience lay in the split-crotch drawers and skirts. Despite the multiple layers, none obstructed restroom use. Women only needed to lift their skirts and crinoline and sit on the privy seat. There was no need to remove any clothing.

But the Crinoline! How?

Crinolines were malleable and lightweight, allowing women to press them together to pass through doorways or lift them to sit on furniture. For restroom use, there were a few options:

  1. Option 1: Commode and Chamber Pot
  • Women would lift their skirts and crinoline at the back, pressing them flat against their back, and sit down. The split-crotch drawers made the rest easy.
  1. Option 2: Approaching the Commode from the Front
  • Women could gather their skirts and crinoline at the front and sit down.
  1. Option 3: Holding the Chamber Pot
  • Chamber pots could be handheld. Women would rest a foot on the top of a chair and hold the chamber pot underneath their skirts.

For a visual demonstration, the YouTube channel “Prior Attire” shows how to use the restroom in Victorian clothing from minute 1:31 to 3:18.

What About Menstruation?

Split-crotch drawers offered little protection during menstruation. Medical publications provide insights into the methods used. In 1852, Charles Delucena Meigs described the T-bandage: cloth folded like a cravat and tied around the hips with a string or ribbon. Women changed these bandages 12-20 times a day. Frederick Hollick’s 1847 publication mentioned early tampons made of linen rags, cotton, or sponge with a thread for extraction.


Victorian women’s restroom use, despite the multiple layers of clothing, was not as challenging as it might seem today. Historic clothing, no matter how odd to modern eyes, was functional. For Victorian women, that functionality was achieved through a cleverly placed split in their garments.

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