For the serious reenactor who eschews the wearing of boxers, budgie smugglers or even Y-fronts beneath his (or her) breeches, there are two choices: go commando or invest in a pair of drawers. Now we all know what we are talking about here I assume, baggy old pants with a tape tie or drawstring to hold them up. The kind of thing we all imagined Norah Batty wore above her wrinkled old hose. Well maybe yes, but also maybe no. The estimable Mr Peachey has done some digging in the vaults and emerged with a new theorem that you can investigate further if you invest in his new book Male Drawers, Linen & Aprons, Volume 17 of the new series.
He has found, as I did that searching for references to drawers is tricky as there are several meanings for the word. It could mean wooden drawers, a pillowcase, an occupation (wire drawers) or an item of clothing. There are some references to russet or cotton drawers which may be a form of over breeches and several that mention night drawers for use in bed. In fact there are very few real references to the use of drawers that we would recognise, leading to the thought that they weren’t really worn at all by common folk in seventeenth century England. I would like to differ here, I feel here are enough references to indicate this was at least worn by some and there are actually a few images that show what they looked like. In this picture from 1647 showing an Anabaptist baptism ceremony, the two participants are wearing what look like linen drawers.
Furthermore, this reference from Londons wonder being a most true and positive relation of the taking and killing of a great whale neer to Greenwich from 1658 is very plain about what was being worn:
“UPon the third of June this present year 1658. a huge whale came swimming up the Thames and was first seen by a boy at black-Wall being of a mighty bulke and bigness, which something frighted the boy to see such a Monstrous fish: the boy presently revealed it to some Water-men thereabouts, who instantly got Harping-irons: Spits, Hatchets, Bills and Axes, & fell a striking the Whale as far as they durst venter. The Water-men stripping off their Doublets and Breeches, and went only in their Shirts and drawers to be light and nimble at their worke; and to escape the danger of drowning in case the Whale had over-turn’d them, they struck the Harping-irons all at one time into her body, but she quickly remov’d them out again.”
It has been suggested that this suggests that drawers were only worn by sailors and watermen. What is does show is that drawers were worn beneath the breeches and that they were not restrictive in any way.
Here are a couple of photos of drawers made by the 1642 Tailor. The pattern is based on an extant pair examined by Janet Arnold and printed in her Patterns of Fashion 4. In this case we went for tapes sewn to the edges rather than drawstrings and an opening fly as on the original. There is another possibility for no fly and a drawstring, but that just sounds a tad too impractical to me. The pair on the right are decorated with blanket stitch in red linen thread outlining the run and fell seams.