For most, if not all, women who live in modern societies, the wearing of bras and panties underneath any outfit – sexy or sporty, casual or formal, everyday or business – is an everyday occurrence. These pieces of underwear are so much an accepted part of life that women will give little thought, if any, to its history. This should not be because the history of lingerie is filled with interesting stories of fashion, of sex and sexuality, and of power in the social, cultural and political spheres of human life. Here are a few of the most interesting tidbits in the history of bras, panties and all things lingerie.
Not Exactly Sexy in Etymology
The etymology of the word "lingerie" itself is not sexy, which is in contrast with the way we think about it in modern times. The term comes from the Old French word meaning linen – "linge". High-quality linen may be sexy in terms of being one of the most luxurious fabrics used for the bed – the place where the most number of sexual encounters happens, thus, it being sexy in its own way – but it does not exactly conjure up images sex, sexuality and sexiness in an immediate fashion.
Still, the bras and panties we know today as lingerie are the sexiest pieces of clothing known to man. You can place a picture of the most beautiful woman's headshot and yet it will not garner as much sexual interest as a photo of a Plain Jane with a smashing body clad in the lacies barely-there bras and panties. Indeed, the unsexy etymology has taken on a sexy connotation!
Undergarments as Status Symbols
We may not consider lingerie today as a status symbol – without, of course, you are wearing a diamond-studded bra as a bodice – but it was so in ancient Egypt. Women in the upper classes were educated undergarments that resembled narrow maneuvers while ordinary women and slaves went with simple loin cloths or went naked underneath. Nowadays, bras and panties are everyday items that are designed to be worn underneath clothes so the brands and prices are not important. The most important considerations for choosing bras and panties are comfort, style desired (ie, full support, demi and balcony) and materials used (ie, satin, cotton and lace).
Changes in the Perception of a Beautiful Body
Lingerie is often an expression of societal standards of physical beauty where a woman's body is concerned. Thus, the bras and panties we know today have evolved with the changing perceptions of what is beautiful and what it not in the eyes of society.
A few of the most notable changes in perceptions of beauty where lingerie is concerned are:
- During the 14th century, tight-fitting underwear like corsets was used to manipulate women's bodies into an hourglass shape while also making the breasts protrude. In fact, the corset was seen as a symbol for sexual intercourse itself despite the health issues associated with its use made it a non-everyday item in the modern world.
- During the mid to late 1500s, big butts were the rage because these signified fertility in women. Thus, the farthingales were particularly especially amongst royalty with Queen Elizabeth being a great fan of the fashion.
The next time you are choosing your bras and panties to wear underneath your clothes, think of how these have evolved from ancient Egypt to our modern times. And how lucky women are today to choose the most comfortable underwear instead of forcing their bodies into the ideal shapes.