From the era of corsets and bloomers to thongs and push up bras; there has been an evolution in lingerie. This evolution of lingerie is also significant of the changing role of the women in the society. Let’s go back into history and look at what lingerie was in the past and what it has become now and see how it has changed from merely preserving a woman’s modesty and ensuring hygiene to now being a source of fashion and also an example of innovation in craftsmanship, fit and function.
- Ancient Greece
The earliest form of undergarments came in to existence from Ancient Greece. Women just wore a band of cloth to support their breasts. This band of cloth was called, “apodesmos” which was wrapped around the front of the chest and secured with pins at the back.
- Ancient Rome
In ancient Rome, women with larger breasts were considered to be unattractive. Thus, they wore tight support garments called “mamillare” or “fascia” which constrained and reduced the appearance of the size of their breasts.
During the ancient period, the purpose of the undergarments were functional and not aesthetic.
- The corset was born
There was a shift in the mind set in the society and women with larger breasts were considered to be attractive. This gave birth to the corset which gave women the appearance of larger breasts and narrow waists. Over a period of time, the corset became more fashionable and were being made in fancy designs.
- The corset was split
The first modern bra was born in France in 1869, called the “corselet gorge”. Herminie Cadolle cut a corset into half and made two separate undergarments out of it. The top was used to support the breasts with the help of straps while the lower part was a corset for the waist. This style became so popular that by the 1905, the “bras” were being sold alone.
- The inception of the brassiere
The term “brassiere” was born in 1907 and Vogue used this word for the first time. The term was also added in the Oxford Dictionary in 1911.
- The Modern Bra
Even though the corset and the bra were now two different pieces of clothing, women still faced the issue of comfort. Thus in 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob invented the “modern bra” using a pair of silk handkerchiefs and silk ribbons and removed the stiff whalebone. This lightweight and comfortable bra separated the breasts from each other rather than pushing them together.
- Cup sizes were invented
In 1932, S.H. Camp & Company started to correlate the sizes of a woman’s breast to the letters of the alphabets (A-D). To make the bras even more comfortable, adjustable bands and eyehooks were added.
- The push up bra
Invented in 1947 by Frederick Mellinger, the push up bra gave women the only one thing they missed the most about the corset; the appearance of larger breasts as it lifted and pushed the bust line together. Actresses like Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe further popularised the push up bra.
- Underwired bra
The concept of the underwire can be traced back to 1893 where a rigid plate was used under the breasts for stability. In 1930s, the modern underwire bra was developed which used a thin, semi- circular strip of rigid material, usually metal, plastic or resin inside the fabric. Women slowly started complaining about the underwired bras being uncomfortable as the wire used to rub and pinch their breasts.
- Sports bra
As women became more conscious about their bodies, exercise and fitness became popular. Women needed a bra which would be supportive and help them stay comfortable while exercising. Keeping this trend in mind, the first sports bra, called the “Jogbra” was created in 1977.
This was also a remarkable year as Victoria’s Secret opened its first store in San Francisco.
- The sexy bra
From the 2000s, bras started to be available in various types and started being “sexy”. In today’s time, it is no longer about what and how much is covered, rather it is more about the woman; a woman who is confident, strong and one who can choose from a number of options. She is no longer dictated by the societal norms rather her femininity is celebrated in all its forms.
The longest existing style of the underwear, the loincloth was merely a piece of fabric which was wrapped around the hips and through the legs. This type of underwear was the first. To separate the upper class from the rest of the community, they wore silk fabric to cover themselves.
Clinched at the waist to give a slimmer look and an hour glass figure, corsets were worn by women in the 16th & 17th century. This was painful for women to wear although they had no other option available for them to wear.
An under skirt cage worn to create a bell shape, the crinoline petticoat came into existence in the 1830s. While the result was a charming look, it was highly uncomfortable for women to sit, walk and do any physical movements while wearing these.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the fashion of rising hemlines meant that women had to start covering themselves up in different ways. Thus, long, baggy trousers were introduced which were worn under skirts and dresses. This was done so that despite the short length of the skirts and dresses, the calves and ankles of women remain concealed.
A new style of underwear; the lingerie was created in 1920. Unlike the old styles of plain and white undergarments, the lingerie was a new style which was made with embroidery and lace work.
- French Knickers
In 1935, women started to wear French knickers in a short boxer style. Sheer and delicate fabrics were decorated with lace.
By 1940, the underwear’s started to get shorter and women started wearing briefs. During the WWII phase, British women stole parachute silk so that they could use the same to sew knickers for themselves.
By 1950, women began wearing girdles which helped them achieve an hour glass figure. They used to hook the girdles to their stocking garters to achieve an overall pin up look.
- Nylon Underwear
During the 1960’s nylon underwear’s became the trend. The fabric of these underwear was stretchable and they were decorated with pretty laces.
- High Waist Band & G-Strings
In the 1980’s Jane Fonda Leotard launched a workout video in which she wore high cut panties. This video started the trend for aerobic apparel, high waist panties and also for the G-strings.
- Brand Name On The Underwear
1990 was the first time when the brands started to display their name on the waistband of underwear’s. This also became a symbol of social status.
- Low Cut Jeans
The 2000’s was a time when low cut and low waist jeans were in trend. Following this trend, the underwear also had to be deigned in the same manner. Thus, the whale tail of the underwear rose above the hips and peeked from the low-rise jeans.
This was also the time when spanx became available in different sizes to suit women of all sizes. Women started to wear body shapers underwear to give their bodies a well-defined shape.
- Briefs Back In Fashion
In today’s time, the millennials and the Gen-Y consumers are shifting back to the full form underwear as that provides them full coverage and are the most comfortable. This had led to a direct decrease in the sales of thongs and an increase in the sale of briefs.
Men too have a chapter in the history book on their underwear! From the leaves, to the one pieces and now with modern day boxers, let’s have a look at how the men underwear has transformed over a period of time.
- 100% Natural
As we all know, Adam & Eve chose to be use 100% natural products and thus chose to use fig leaves to cover themselves.
Around 7,000 years ago, loincloths were the first known underwear worn by men. A piece of fabric was tied around the hips for men to protect their modesty.
In the middle ages, loose fitting trousers tied at the waist and the thigh or the mid-calf were worn by men. Made out of linen, once worn, the man had to tighten the trousers around his waist and shins.
The lacing and tightening of the braie made it uncomfortable and difficult for men. It further made answering nature’s call a bit of a hassle. Thus, the codpiece was created, which used to open up at the front using buttons, snaps or laces.
- Union Suit
Men wore tight fitting flannel drawers or a head to toe union suit. These suits had button up fronts and rear flaps known as “access hatches” “fireman flaps” or “drop seats”.
- The Boxer
Jacob Golomb in 1925 began to tweak the designs for the trunks. The leather belts on the trunks were replaced with elastic waistbands. Although, boxers became more comfortable with the elastic waistbands, they lacked the support which the union suit and drawers offered.
- The Y-Front
In 1934, Arthur Kneibler, an executive and designer at a hosiery company got inspired by a postcard received from his friend who was visiting the French Riviera. The postcard depicted a man wearing a bikini style bathing suit and Kneibler got inspired. After a lot of experimentation, he introduced a new type of snug and legless underwear which had an overlapping Y-front fly. This invention became widely popular and in 1971, the company changed its name to Jockey.
- Boxer Brief
The 1990’s brought the boxer brief to the world. These were classic and comfortable drawers which were made out of stretchy micro modal fabric and made the wearer feel airy.
These boxers transformed the fashion as up until now, men wore underwear which was hidden and kept under wraps. But now, the cuts became tighter and sexier and the designs became colourful, flashy, fun & humorous.