A Brief History of Underwear (2022)

March 15, 2018

A Brief History of Underwear (1)

Western History of Underwear:

Some of the earliest knowledge of underwear stems from ancient Rome in 100 AD. Women wore a subligaculum (su.bliˈɡaː.ku.lum), which is basically a glorified diaper. Women also wore band of fabric called a strophium to cover their chests and to bind their breasts, because large breasts were considered unattractive - that’s in complete opposition to our modern standards of beauty.

The next major development of women’s undergarments came in the medieval period when there were no subligaculum in sight! Instead - women commonly wore a long sleeved nightie called a shift or chemise. This underwear garment was a loose fitting ankle length dress that had long sleeves and a round neckline. So, a long simple dress was basically worn as underwear. No bra or underwear during this time, just a “chemise”.

Around the mid 14th century, when women’s clothing started getting tighter, so did the undergarments. We see the chemise sleeves getting more fitted and were being made out of thin and sometimes transparent fabrics.

Also, during the medieval period we see the introduction of corsetry and the bustle. The bustle was an understructure situated at the lower back used to create fullness, accentuate the behind, and keep dresses from dragging on the ground. The most primitive bustles were made by sewing fox tails into their skirts. So now, women are wearing a chemise and a corset - still not underwear!

Between the late 1400s and 1600s chemises evolved to be more embellished at the neck and sleeves. This is because lower square necks and slashed sleeves started gaining popularity and often revealed the chemise below. During this time see the emergence of hoop skirts, AKA farthingale, which was a hooped petticoat. For the ballers on a budget, the cheaper version of this was called a bum roll - a crescent-shaped pad, that mimicked the effect of a hoopskirt, farthingale, crinoline, bum roll and bustle. Here’s the modern bum roll - panties with butt pads. Women were wearing a chemise, corset and hoop skirt.

Women finally start wearing a version of underwear. Italian women of the early 1600s began wearing silk or linen breeches, or drawers, under their gowns - it was a slit short style with hip ties. Fun fact: the reason women started wearing “drawers” (long baggy shorts) is because they thought that their mens underwear looked comfortable so they started stealing their husbands drawers! It makes sense because during the 17th century, we saw a slight resurgence of renaissance art, and I’m speculating, but whenever there’s women’s liberation it common to see women reject feminine characteristics and adopt mens - so we see women starting to wear bifurcated garments. At this time, women were wearing drawers, a chemise, corset and a hoopskirt. That’s a lot of layers!

(Video) A Brief History Of Underwear | QI

200 years later, most of europe had adopted the short underwear style and in the 1800’s we see hoop skirts at their biggest. The hoop began as an inverted v then became the quintessential dome shape and then moved out to the hips. It was during this time that the chemise started to fall out of fashion, or split into two pieces - the corset and the drawers. Corsets during this century became longer and covered from breast to hip.

In the early 1900s, chemises were slowly losing popularity in favor of separate top and bottom garments. Corsets in the first 20 years of the 20th century we getting shorter above the waist and longer below, furthering the empire waist style. Due to the closer fitting gowns of the era, drawers became a closer fitting garment and were often referred to as pantalettes which started to be made out of synthetic fabrics, like rayon.

Until the 1920’s women wore knickers, a chemise or tank top and a corset/girdle on top - then your dress on top of that.

A Brief History of Underwear (3)

Between the 20s and 30s we saw drawers/ knickers which were then shortened and referred as panties and became known as pantie briefs by the end of the 30s.

By the end of the 40s women had done away with corsets due to the rationing from the war, and underwear had gotten shorter and women were wearing briefs more regularly. During WWII, British women were known to steal parachute silk to sew their knickers.

The 50s is mainly responsible for the ‘sexy’ connotation that underwear has due to the prominence of pin up girls.

The 60s saw more development and differentiation in styles of underwear where briefs, bikini, and hip huggers were popular, in many fun and youthful prints.

The most notable change to underwear in the 70s came from the invention of the thong. Made famous via thong bodysuits.

The 80s aerobic culture and leotards made the high cut style popular as well as the development of g-strings.

The 90s underwear trend that took over the entire decade was the sensationalism of calvin klein underwear and their choice to display their name on the waistband which became a status symbol and was often displayed above the waistband of jeans.

(Video) A Brief History of Men's Underwear

The early 2000s saw the introduction of spanx and similar shapewear. But the biggest contribution to underwear in the 2000s was whale tail. If you aren’t familiar with whale tail, its when your thong rise is above your hips, and was visible when wearing low rise jeans which were popular during the time. We wish this trend wasn’t burned into our eyeballs.

And finally that brings us today! Today underwear trends fall on the side of comfort. While shapewear is still popular it is more of a special occasion item, and not an everyday necessity. We are also seeing a decline in the popularity of the thong for the comfort of a full brief.

Underwear from Around the World:

Just as outer garments, women's underwear/ undergarments was heavily influenced by the social beliefs and humans' understanding towards beauty in different parts of the world. Here are a few of my favorites…..

In the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun, various articles of clothing were found. These included tunics, shirts, ‘kilts’, socks, and a large supply of undergarments in the form of triangular loincloths made of linen. For the average ancient Egyptian, however, clothes were expensive.

A Brief History of Underwear (4)

Furthermore, the hot Egyptian climate meant that wearing lots of clothing was impractical. Therefore, the loincloth was probably the clothing of choice for the average man in ancient Egypt. For women, on the other hand, the usual clothing was a simple dress known as a kalasiris. It is unclear if ancient Egyptian women wore undergarments, but considering the climate, it is unlikely that they did so.

A breechcloth is a long rectangular piece of tanned deerskin, cloth, or animal fur. It is worn between the legs and tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fall down in front and behind. Sometimes it is also called a breechclout, loincloth, skin clout, or just a flap.

A Brief History of Underwear (5)

In most Native American tribes, men used to wear some form of breechclout. The style was different from tribe to tribe. In some tribes, the breechcloth loops outside of the belt and then is tucked into the inside, for a more fitted look. Sometimes the breechcloth is much shorter and a decorated apron panel is attached in front and behind.

A Brief History of Underwear (6)

(Video) A Brief History of Underwear

A Native American woman or teenage girl might also wear a fitted breechcloth underneath her skirt, but not as outerwear. However, in many tribes young girls did wear breechcloths just like the boys until they became old enough for skirts and dresses. That style was very similar to that of some of the Pacific Islands.

A Brief History of Underwear (7)

Chinese cultures also wore a loincloth, but in a slightly different style. Similar to that of the Egyptians but thinner.

A Brief History of Underwear (8)

Japanese cultures have also worn the traditional loincloth for thousands of year and the picture below is from the 1800’s. It's the style that we associate with Japanese sumo wrestlers - thus proving that a great thong style can stand the test of time!

A Brief History of Underwear (9)

What is your favorite underwear trend?

Do you feel lucky to be living in the age where women aren’t as pressured to wear cosets?

Do you long for the days of hoop skirts and pantalettes?

Did you learn anything new?

Let us know in the comments below!

(Video) A History of Underwear

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(Video) A Brief History of Underwear | Ask Dr. Deb


Why was the underwear invented? ›

Underwear actually started as an outer garment back in the 5000's BC and appeared for cavemen and cavewomen as a small piece of fabric wrapped around the waist and through the leg called a loincloth. It was a basic necessity for protection, especially in colder areas of the world to conserve their intimate areas.

Who first started wearing underwear? ›

The first known underwear dates back almost 7000 years, when prehistoric man used leather to cover and protect his loins while running prehistoric errands. For several millennia, not much changed. Ancient Egyptian art shows everyone from the pharaohs on down the line decked out in loincloths of their own.

How many pairs of underwear should a man own? ›

Average pair of underwear owned by men ranges between 8-10. Ideally, you should have between 15 to 20 pairs of underwear for ease and comfort. At any given time, there should be at least 10-12 fresh pair of underwear in your closet.

How many pairs of underwear should a woman have? ›

So, give or take 20 to 34 pairs, this number works for the majority of women's lifestyles. While there are exceptions to the rule, this is the general estimate you should aim for. However, more important than how many pairs of underwear you own, you need to know when to throw them out and replenish one with a new pair.

Why do humans wear underwear? ›

“Undies provide a barrier against some bacteria, fungi, dirt, and other environmental contaminants,” Dr. Ross says. This is especially helpful if you regularly wear bottoms, like jeans, that only get washed occasionally and may trap germs close to your genitals.

What's another word for underwear? ›

What is another word for underwear?
34 more rows

Why should you wear underwear to bed? ›

Wearing underwear keeps that moisture close to your genitals. This allows bacteria and yeast to grow, which can cause infection and other problems. If you are prone to yeast infections, vaginal infections or vaginal irritation, going commando at bedtime could be a great—and healthy—choice.

How many bra should a woman own? ›

Five to six bras are all you need. Every good wardrobe needs good lingerie. You need different kinds of bras for different occasions. For instance, if you primarily dress in formal shirts you'll never need a backless bra, you can go with a few solid everyday bras and a few sports bras.

Is it necessary to wear underwear for male at night? ›

For men, there is no health benefit, nor is there any harm, from going commando to bed, said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist and the director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University Medical Centerin Palo Alto, California.

What is the lifespan of underwear? ›

According to most experts, you should replace your old underwear with new underwear once every 6-12 months.

When should you throw out underwear? ›

However, if you've had underwear hanging around for a decade, they've well exceeded their lifespan. Regardless of whether it's women's underwear or men's bamboo underwear (Don't get us started on the boxers vs. briefs debate!), most recommendations for how often to replace underwear are between 6 to 12 months.

Can you wear the same underwear for two days? ›

We have good news for anyone who's skipped a laundry day: As far as health is concerned, it's not a huge issue to wear the same pair of underpants 2 days in a row, says J. Scott Kasteler, MD. That is, as long as those undies are clean to the eye (unmarked with urine or stool).

How often should a lady change her underwear? ›

"From a health perspective, there is no need to throw out your underwear every six to nine months, provided you're wearing a fresh pair every day and you're washing them in a hot water wash after every wear," Dr Shreya Andric, a Sydney-based specialist dermatologist, told news.com.au.

What happens when you don't wear underwear? ›

"The material causes more friction and irritation, and any friction or irritation can make little cuts or microabrasions in your skin, and those cuts can lead to bacterial infections, which can cause discomfort, itching, redness, [and] pain," OB-GYN Scott Osmun told HuffPost.

Is bra A underwear? ›

When you get right down to the nitty-gritty, both lingerie and bras are undergarments. However, the function of each item is used in a different context. Underwear covers bras, panties, and other concealed items that can make women feel their best, like nylons, corsets, and control wear.

Is it better to wear underwear or not? ›

It reduces the chances of irritation and injury

This can cause irritation and even injury, which may lead to infections if they happen often or are left untreated. Wearing a loose, comfortable pair of jeans or shorts without underwear can actually reduce chafing to your genitals.

What is girl underwear called? ›

Panties (in American English, also called pants, undies or knickers in British English) are a form of women's underwear. Panties can be form-fitting or loose.

How many types of underwear are there? ›

Types and styles
TypeOther Names
Lower body
Boy shortsbooty shorts, boyleg briefs, boy short panties, boys' cut shorts, boyshorts, hipsters, shorties
Tap pantsside-cut shorts, dance shorts, French knickers
Pantiesbriefs, classic briefs UK: knickers
23 more rows

What is underwear called in America? ›

The American word is underpants.

Is it healthy to sleep without bra? ›

By wearing a bra to bed, which is wrapped firmly around the ribcage, your ribs can't fully and freely expand. Sleeping in a bra can make your breathing more labored and shallow, lowering your usual intake of oxygen. On the other hand, sleeping without a bra better allows you to breathe (and rest) easy.

Why are there 3 hooks on a bra? ›

Each bra comes with multiple hooks to extend the life of your bra. When a bra is brand new, its fitted to the loosest hook. As time goes by, the elasticity in the band of the bra weakens. As this happens, you move to the middle hook so it fits you like it did when it was new on the loosest hook.

Should I wash my bra before wearing it? ›

Yes! You should definitely wash your new bras before wearing them. Of course, looking back, you'll likely remember many times that you purchased some new bras and put them on right away without suffering any consequences.

Is tight underwear harmful? ›

High-rise panties that are too tight can compress the stomach and cause acid reflux into the esophagus, which leads to heartburn. Low-rise panties that are too tight can decrease blood circulation in the upper thigh area, resulting in irritation, tingling or numbness.

What happens if guys wear tight underwear? ›

Wearing underwear, especially tight underwear, can push the testicles against your body and raise your scrotal temperature. This makes the testicular environment less than ideal for sperm production, causing testicular hyperthermia.

How do you properly wear underwear? ›

They should sit against your skin on the legs and hold your package comfortably in the front. The waistband should sit (unsurprisingly) at, or just below, your waistline where you normally wear your clothing - it's different for everyone, so we'll leave it to you to find the most comfortable spot.

Can I wear new underwear without washing? ›

Elle said: "While the risks from new clothes are generally low, certain items (such as underwear) should almost certainly be washed before wearing, if nothing more than to freshen them and prevent any potential risk."

How often should you change your bra? ›

Here's a good rule-of-thumb to remember: Replace your bras every 6 to 12 months. That's a broad range, but it's because many factors come into play when determining the right time to replace your bras, such as the number of bras you own and the frequency of your wears and washes.

What the color of your underwear says about you? ›

Dingy or dull yellows represent decay, sickness, caution, and jealousy - so be careful which ones you go with. Orange signifies wisdom, prestige, and wealth. Orange is the underwear choice for when you're trying to look your best as it contains creativity and success.

What type of underwear is best for females? ›

Cotton and other natural fibers are good

Natural fibers, like cotton, are one of the best underwear fabrics to add to your cart because they're gentle to the skin, breathable, and comfortable (also one reason we're fans of Viv all-natural bamboo feminine hygiene products).

How do I keep my underwear clean all day? ›

Here are some simple tips of cleaning your underwear so that you can retain their quality and look, and make them last for a long time.
  1. Separate them by colour. ...
  2. Wash after every use. ...
  3. Handwash them. ...
  4. Check the settings for machine wash. ...
  5. Use laundry bags. ...
  6. Wash separately. ...
  7. Use mild detergent. ...
  8. Try enzymatic laundry stain remover.
Oct 13, 2020

When did wearing underwear become common? ›

1950s and 1960s. Before the 1950s, underwear consisted of simple, functional, white pieces of clothing which were not to be shown in public. In the 1950s, underwear came to be promoted as a fashion item in its own right, and came to be made in prints and colors.

Did people in biblical times wear underwear? ›

The clothing of the people in biblical times was made from wool, linen, animal skins, and perhaps silk. Most events in the Old and New Testament take place in ancient Israel, and thus most biblical clothing is ancient Hebrew clothing. They wore underwear and cloth skirts.

When did boys start wearing underpants? ›

By the 13th century, loose pull-on underpants were invented. Called "braies", these baggy, calf-length drawers, often made from linen, were worn by peasants and kings. Knights wore them underneath their armour. Richer men also wore "chausses", which only covered the legs.

What the Bible says about underwear? ›

Exodus 28:42

"Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh.

Where in the Bible does it say not to wear women's clothes? ›

A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young.

What does Deuteronomy 22 vs 5 mean? ›

Reading the text literally, Deut 22:5 appears to condemn cross-dressing, that is, males wearing female clothes and vice versa. In Nigeria, as in other African countries, this text had been given a literal interpretation by all mainline churches since the advent of Christianity in Africa.


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