How Women’s Underwear Has Changed Throughout History

Prior to the 20th century, the version of women’s underwear that we are familiar with now did not exist. In fact, many ancient civilizations — like those that existed in Greece, Rome, and Japan — had not even created women’s underwear. As writer and researcher Vivian Lawry wrote on her website, women simply wore long slips of sorts under their dresses or, in the case of ancient South and Central American women, minimalistic loincloths. “Very few women in the ancient world wore what we would consider panties today,” Lawry wrote. “Men frequently wore variations of loincloths for support, but women in most cultures simply wore a garment like a slip made of soft material, if they wore anything at all.”

Some versions of underwear began being worn by sex workers and little girls during the Renaissance era as a means of protecting themselves from unsavory situations with men. However, most women did not wear underwear, and only wore skirts and slips under their clothing, because it was considered improper to wear any fabric that close to their private areas. “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,” Love to Know reported.

Underwear has shrunk in size over the years to accommodate fashion trends

Beginning in the 1850s, women began wearing “trouser-like undergarments that extended to below the knee,” writer and researcher Vivian Lawry reported on her website. These undergarments were often called bloomers as an ode to Amelia Bloomer, an American women’s rights advocate who encouraged other women to wear this underwear that was decidedly more practical than other options available at the time. As hemlines grew shorter throughout the years, underwear got smaller in size to remain hidden under changing fashion trends of the 20th century. According to Love to Know, between the 1920s and 1960s, while underwear was still just a bit longer than the traditional underwear worn by millions of women today, it still signified a change in the way the masses approached undergarment design. 

Lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret made shopping for underwear an exciting experience when it opened its doors to the public in 1977. Much of the merchandise sold by the retailer was inherently sexier than the other options available at that time. From that point on, women donned bikini-style bottoms and matching lingerie sets more than ever, according to The New York Times. Now, some women wear men’s boxers, opt for thongs, only buy underwear when they’re fresh out of clean pairs, or just go commando. From loincloths to luxurious bikini-style bottoms, women’s underwear has come a long way.

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