The History of Underwear

ImageWe look at how underwear has changed from the late 1800’s through to the 21st century.

In 1860 wasp waists were at the height of fashion therefore corsets were essential. Luckily women were used to this restrictive form of undergarment as they had been wearing them for over 200 years when they were first introduced in the medieval era. Whilst the top half of a women was rigid in fitted bodices, the bottom half was very large and volumized which was achieved through the use of petticoats and hoop skirts which were steel, cage like contraptions. They provided structure for the many layers of fabric on dresses and created the illusion of a smaller waist.


Typical hoop skirt worn in 1860

 It wasn’t until the turn of the new century when corsets were abandoned and replaced by the brassiere. The bra was accidentally invented by a New York socialite in 1913 named Mary Phelps Jacob who tied two handkerchiefs together with ribbon as her corsets were too visible under her sheer and slim lined dress. Word began to catch on of this revolutionary new alternative to the corset and Jacobs soon licensed the design to much success.


Old (left) and new (right) fashions with the arrival of the brassiere 

The sought out androgynous fashions of the 1920’s meant underwear had to be even less bulky than before with the likes of sheaths and silky petticoats to help women obtain a boyish silhouette. As dress hemlines began to rise and rise with the flapper styles, such undergarments like the ‘camiknickers’ were designed. This was literally a camisole vest and a pair of knickers sewn together which helped to conceal a women’s modesty when she was dancing in short styles. This form of underwear was still worn through to the Second World War when women had to take on the jobs of the men who were away at war so many had to wear trousers and the camiknickers were good to wear underneath.


Pattern for Camiknickers in 1927

The 1930’s saw dress hemlines drop again but the style was very straight up and down in various luxurious fabrics such as satins and silks. The dresses of the time clung to the figure so past forms of underwear were not suitable as you could see them underneath. Therefore underwear began to get smaller and smaller where it often looked like women weren’t wearing any at all. This naturally led to more sexy lingerie being developed and worn.


Bra from 1930

During World War II the need for luxurious underwear was neglected and it wasn’t until after the war in 1945 that lingerie began to get popular again and various advertising campaigns were employed to try and entice women to buy into the underwear market. Before she became famous, Marilyn Monroe, modeled for such campaigns which were, in those days, painted by hand.


Marilyn Monroe modelling lingerie in 1945 

1947 saw another turn in fashion with the introduction of Christian Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’ which was characterized by a small, nipped-in waist and full skirt falling below the knee, which emphasized the bust and hips. The style became extremely popular, its full-skirted silhouette influenced fashion and other designers into the 1950’s, and Dior gained a number of high-profile admirers from Hollywood starlets to aristocracy in Europe. The New Look required a sturdy foundation of garments to achieve an hourglass silhouette. A fundamental part of this was the girdle as it helped to create the desired wasp waist. This restrictive piece often extended below the hips and had suspender clips attached to hold up stockings.


Underwear worn under ‘New Look’ designs 

Whilst many women were back in restrictive underwear 40’s pin up girl Bettie Page was one of the first to champion bondage wear and was seen in more risqué lingerie often brandishing a whip. Other forms of sexy underwear included seamed stockings and curve hugging basques. Furthermore the late 50’s saw the likes of Jayne Mansfield, who was tipped as Marilyn Monroe’s rival, wear triangular shaped bras to obtain the ‘pointy’ silhouette which was popular at the time.


Pin Up idol Bettie Page

The 1960’s brought a turn in underwear styles again as the youthful fashions called for more girlish pieces such as the babydoll nighties, frilly knickers and unstructured bras. The later years saw the emergence of modern styles we are used to today such as the balcony bra.


Classic 60’s babydoll style 

Lingerie became more womanly and luxurious in the 70’s with sets often made in delicate lace and silk. Again these styles matched the fashion of the time and complemented the big hairstyles adorned my many.


Lingerie style of the 70’s

1980’s saw more garish styles emerge such as thongs, g-strings and body suits. It was also the first time underwear was worn as a fashion statement for outerwear. This trend was often seen with singers such as Cher who would often wear lingerie whilst performing on stage. Furthermore in 1990 Madonna took this to a new extreme and infamously wore John Paul Gaultier’s cone shaped bra on her Blonde Ambition tour.


Madonna in arguably her most iconic look

As for the rest of the 90’s minimalism was at the height of fashion with Kate Moss being the face of this trend. She was also the body of Calvin Klein adverts and their underwear became the new ‘in’ thing to be seen in, literally, as you could see what brand of underwear people were wearing as it would poke over their waistband. This was often seen as a status symbol to see who was cool enough to be wearing designer underwear.


Calvin Klein Advertisement 1990

Also in 1994 the most iconic outdoor advert was released, that being The Wonderbra campaign which saw supermodel Eva Herizgova posing in her underwear with the tongue in cheek tagline – ‘Hello Boys’. This billboard was so sexy that it claimed to have caused several male drivers to crash due to being distracted by the ad. Wonderbra has since went on to become one of the biggest underwear brands.


Wonderbra Campaign 1994

The beginning of the 21st century saw the revival of old fashioned lingerie. Agent Provocateur, a British high end lingerie company, caused controversy by having pop sweetheart Kylie Minogue ride a bucking bronco in their designs. Also they later roped in Kate Moss to once again model designer undies and this resulted in the ads being titled the sexiest ever. Dita Von Teese single-handedly brought burlesque inspired lingerie to the masses and she even did a collaboration with Wonderbra which featured her signature pieces such as corsets, stockings and suspenders. This retro pin up look has since been adopted by many.


Wonderbra by Dita Von Teese

Finally we can’t ignore the biggest lingerie seller of the Noughties – Victoria Secret. It is credited with making sexy lingerie fashionable. The company holds an annual fashion show which garners a lot of press attention and has launched the careers of supermodels such as Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Miranda Kerr.


Victoria Secret Angels Show 2012

As you can see underwear really has come a long way from the restricted corsets of the 1600’s to the many different forms of lingerie you can get these days in so many styles and shapes and in various fabrics and colours.

Underwear can create structure, completely transform your figure, provide support and can make you feel fabulous so be bold and flaunt what lies beneath!

Written by Katy Gordon

About Lady JoJo's Boutique

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