Her Majesty’s bloomers

Among the many treasures in the textiles collection at Te Papa there is one very large pair of drawers (or bloomers).

Bloomers front

Queen Victoria’s bloomers. Image by Norm Heke, copyright Te Papa.

These drawers were owned by Queen Victoria. After her death in 1901, Queen Victoria’s underwear was distributed to members of the Royal Household. This particular pair was owned by Lady Louisa Seddon, wife of Rt. Hon. Richard Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand. Lady Seddon attended the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 with her husband and may have acquired the drawers then. Definitely not your usual travel souvenir! The drawers were donated to Te Papa in 2009 by Louisa’s granddaughter.

Souvenir portrait, Queen Victoria, about 1901, London, by Walery. Gift of the late June Starke, 2009. Te Papa (GH016438)

Souvenir portrait, Queen Victoria, about 1901, London, by Walery. Gift of the late June Starke, 2009. Te Papa (GH016438)

These voluminous drawers have a waist circumference of 1186mm. They are made of cream linen and have the royal cypher of Queen Victoria embroidered into the waistband. They also have the number ’35‘ embroidered below the cypher. This number was intended to help the Queen’s staff keep track of her clothes and linen when it was laundered.

Bloomers cypher

Cypher and number. Image by Norm Heke, copyright Te Papa.

This curious collection item made us wonder where in the world the rest of Queen Victoria’s numbered drawers have ended up. Our investigations have revealed that Kensington Palace in London has at least one pair, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have a pair too (numbered ‘6’).

Have a look at the drawers in the V&A’s collection

Have you seen pairs of Queen Victoria’s drawers in other museums? If you have, we’d love to hear about it! Let us know in the comments section.

Andrea Hearfield, Collection Manager Humanities
Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi

3 Responses

  1. adele

    have heard something about the underwear on Antique Roadshow from time to time back home in UK!

    Reply
  2. Leimomi Oakes

    What a wonderful addition to Te Papa’s collection! It’s lovely that you are showcasing the collection through the blog.

    One correction though – drawers and bloomers are not synonyms. These are drawers (underwear). Bloomers are women’s reform outterwear named after Amelia Bloomer, who advocated them. Queen Victoria, that bastion of conventionality (at least outwardly) certainly never wore bloomers! As you can see from your lovely pair, she was so old-fashioned she wore divided drawers to the end of her days, long after the fashions had changed to closed drawers.

    Reply
    • Tamara Patten

      You’re absolutely right – thanks for the correction.

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