Do you ever think about the design of your underwear and where it came from? Chances are, it isn’t something that usually crosses your mind; however, the evolution of underwear has contributed to the designs you know and love today.
Before the 20th century, women’s underwear as we know today, didn’t exist. Particularly in ancient civilizations such as Greece, Rome and Japan who had not yet created women’s underwear. In those days, women wore long slips under their dresses or minimalistic loincloths (if they wore anything at all). There were very few women who wore what we would consider panties today.
During the Renaissance era, some versions of underwear started to be worn by sex workers and young girls to protect themselves from unsavoury situations with men. Although many women still did not wear underwear, they wore skirts and slips under their clothing. During that time, it was considered improper to wear fabric that close to your private area. "As a result of their direct contact with the female genitals, underpants were considered the most risqué of garments, so much so that it was considered almost more immodest to wear them than not, as they not only concealed but also drew attention to the vagina."
Women’s underwear has changed a considerate amount over the decades. “The history of lingerie reveals a lot about women’s changing role in society – how we perceive ourselves and how we are viewed by others.” Originally, underwear was designed to serve several purposes. This was for hygiene reasons or to alter a woman’s shape and preserve her modesty. In today’s society, it is interesting to analyse how underwear trends have changed over the years but also intriguing to understand what styles and trends have stayed the same.
Bow on women’s underwear
For example, the majority of women’s underwear designs have a little bow in the front centre. You have probably seen it hundreds of times and haven’t registered it, but why is it there?
“It comes from pre-elastic days, when your [undergarments] were held in place by a bit of ribbon threaded through the eyelet lace at the tops. The little bow is where you tied that ribbon, and of course it's in the front because that's the easiest place to do something like that.” So, although the bow may be a cute detail for some, it actually served the purpose of keeping your underwear in place.
Another historical purpose for the bow was for women who got up before daylight and would get dressed in the dark or by candlelight. The bow at the front centre would help them to identify which way around their underwear was meant to go.
Today, these scenarios are no longer applicable, however the bow is still present on underwear all around the world for aesthetic reasons. Now that we’ve pointed it out, you’ll never miss it!
Changes in women’s underwear
In the 1850’s women wore “trouser-like undergarments that extended below the knees.” These garments were referred to as bloomers. This was supposedly named after an American women’s rights advocate Amelia Bloomer who encouraged women to wear that underwear as it was more practical than other options at the time.
As time went on, hemlines grew shorter, and underwear got smaller to be able to remain hidden under changing fashion trends in the 20th century. In the 1920’s previous plain white undergarments were forgotten about, and lingerie was introduced. Lingerie was decorative, less modest and were worn under trendy short dresses.
Fan favourite bikini briefs were introduced in the 1950’s after an island in the Pacific Ocean. The bikini grew to be a popular style of underwear that was comfortable and cute unlike the plain, industrial undergarments previously worn.
In the 1980’s thongs were introduced becoming a favourite in the U.S. The underwear was more risquѐ compared to original loin cloths composing of a triangular piece of fabric and strings.
The historical development of underwear and undergarments signifies a woman’s changing role in society – how they perceived themselves and how they were viewed by others. Today, women embrace the trends of underwear from external influences or simply want to embrace their body and show off their lingerie rather than keeping it hidden under wraps.
Cox, C. (n.d.). History of panties. https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/clothing-types-styles/history-panties
Deczynski, C. (2014). A brief evolution of underwear.https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/fashion/tips/a24247/evolution-of-underwear/
Moor, A. (2021). How Women's Underwear Has Changed Throughout History. https://www.thelist.com/422640/how-womens-underwear-has-changed-throughout-history/
Stylist Team. (2012). A brief history of underwear.https://www.stylist.co.uk/fashion/a-brief-history-of-underwear/95946
Windle, L. (2021). All tied up – Ladies are discovering the mind-blowing truth about why there’s a bow at the front of women’s knickers. https://www.the-sun.com/lifestyle/3994584/wondered-always-bow-front-womens-knickers/