Drawers are long underpants that were worn by men or women. For women's drawers, see also bloomers. Drawers were typically knee-length (ending above or below the knee) but could also be ankle-length. They were made of non-elastic fabrics such as linen or cotton, cut wide enough to be comfortable, and were either tied with ties or closed with buttons. The material was usually bleached white or natural, unbleached.
Types of drawers
Drawers came in two main types: "open" and "closed" style. Open drawers which had a slit at the rear down to the crotch were usually preferred because they were more practical for toilet purposes. They were closed either at the front or, more commonly, at the rear, either with ties or a button.
Closed style drawers did not have that crotch slit. Instead, they had two slits at the sides, such that the upper part of the drawers consisted of two flaps: a front and a rear flap. Each flap was tied round the waist. The front flap was fastened with ties at the back, and the rear flap with ties at the front. This design allowed to unfasten the rear flap like a drop seat (for toilet use or for the administration of a bare bottom spanking). In her book Mein Schicksal. Bekenntnisse von Edith Cadwé, Edith Kadivec describes how her step-mother had a tailor come to her parent's house to make drawers for her and her sister, insisting on making the side slits longer than usual. This had the effect that the girl's buttocks were more fully exposed when their rear flap was let down, which happened whenever one of the girls received the birch.
Both open and closed style drawers thus allowed to bare the buttocks, when necessary, without having to pull down the garment from the hips, and with the front of the drawers still in place.
A variant of closed-style drawers used side-buttons instead of ties to fasten the front and rear flap. In this type, both flaps fell down when the buttons were undone.
Drawers for men and women, boys and girls
Men's and boy's drawers were always in closed style as open style was a specific female thing. Ladies' drawers were often decorated with lace at the hems of the legs, while men's drawers were more simple in design. Girls had a choice of wearing open or closed style drawers. However when a girl reached puberty, with the beginning of menstruation, closed drawers were often considered no longer practical or appropriate and open drawers became the preferred type of underwear.
Up to the late 19th century, it wasn't uncommon for children (up to adolescence) of poorer families to be wearing no underwear at all. Clothing was expensive and underwear for children was sometimes thought to be a dispensable luxury in times of hardship.
Underwear for females in general did not exist until the first half of the 19th century.
Caning a girl on her bloomers, artwork by Helga Bode (1920s).
Side-button drawers were also worn by boys, as in this spanking drawing by A. Hegener (Richard Hegemann).
Drawers came out of fashion in the first half of the 20th century when more modern types of underwear appeared that were more practical, such as elastic-waistband briefs (and later, boxer shorts) for men and knickers and panties for women.