Wiki article on this topic: A petticoat or underskirt is an article of clothing, a type of undergarment worn under a skirt or a dress. Its precise meaning varies over centuries and between countries.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in current British English, a petticoat is "a light loose undergarment... hanging from the shoulders or waist". In modern American usage, "petticoat" refers only to a garment hanging from the waist, a half slip. In historical contexts , petticoat refers to any separate skirt worn with a gown, bedgown, bodice or jacket; these petticoats are not, strictly speaking, underwear, as they were made to be seen. In both historical and modern contexts, petticoat refers to skirt-like undergarments worn for warmth or to give the skirt or dress the desired fashionable shape.
Petticoat is the standard name in English for any underskirt worn as part of non-Western clothing such as the lehenga with the sari.
Sometimes a petticoat may be called a waist slip or underskirt or half slip , with petticoat restricted to extremely full garments. A chemise hangs from the shoulders.Petticoat can also refer to a full-length slip in the UK, although this usage is somewhat old-fashioned.
In the fourteenth century, both men and women wore undercoats called "petticotes". The word "petticoat" came from pety coote, meaning "a small coat". Petticoats are also sometimes spelled "petty coat". The original petticoat was meant to be seen and was worn with an open gown. The practice of wearing petticoats as undergarments was well established in England by 1585. In French, petticoats were called jupe. The basquina, worn in Spain, was considered a type of petticoat.
In the 18th century in Europe and in America, petticoats were considered a part of the exterior garment and were meant to be seen. An underpetticoat was considered an undergarment and was shorter than a regular petticoat. Underpetticoats were also known as a dickey. Also in the American colonies, working women wore shortgowns over petticoats that normally matched in color. The hem length of a petticoat in the 18th century depended on what was fashionable in dress at the time. Often, petticoats has slits or holes for women to reach pockets inside. Petticoats were worn by all classes of women throughout the 18th century. The style known as polonaise revealed much of the petticoat intentionally.