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The Evolution of Underwear

16 December 2013

Just like many of today’s fashions, lingerie has changed dramatically over the years. Initially, underwear was devised to serve numerous purposes – preserving modesty, altering a woman’s shape and for hygiene reasons.

Women often wore rib-crushing corsets in order to achieve an enviable hourglass silhouette; they even bandaged their chests to create the illusion of a genderless style and burned their bras as a declaration of liberation.

Over the years, a vast number of lingerie designs have come into play. From outlandish pointy brassieres and to oversized bloomers to paper-thin thongs and gel-infused push-up bras, the evolution of underwear certainly says a lot about how women have changed in society. Certain items also say a great deal about how we identify ourselves and how others view us.

Interestingly, despite a number of lingerie items altering noticeably over the last 100 years, many shapes and designs have also remained the same.

The Mid-19th Century

The massive hoop skirts, which first came about in the mid 1800’s, were created using spring-steel, cage-like structures. Women wore these objects with petticoats and corsets. Although they were light in weight, their shape made it almost impossible to sit down.


By the 1890’s, women’s lingerie began to shrink in size. Designs were less restrictive and the brassiere gradually began to replace the corset.


The androgynous silhouette was extremely popular in the 1920’s, as it allowed women to fashion slinky petticoats. Lingerie appeared extremely boyish in style, yet despite this, the fabrics used were very sleek.


Lingerie designers began to adopt new lightweight fabrics, in the hope of making underwear breathable. The fluid designs teamed well with the dress styles of the 20’s and 30’s. Camiknickers were also very popular at this time (a camisole and knickers seamed together). Such an investment was the perfect option for ladies that wore the new-style risky, ‘flapper’ dresses.


The 1930’s showcased a racier, designer style. Many of the fabrics appeared extremely delicate in style, whilst the bras themselves could easily pass for some of the more contemporary designs worn today.


This was when Christian Dior’s revolutionary fashions showcased. His many garments required the perfect hourglass silhouette, which was achieved through wearing sturdy underwear garments. A girdle was used to create a cinched in waist and the garment itself was often worn with suspender stockings.


The 1950’s introduced a more risky silhouette. French knickers were worn with a lace bra and stockings. The end result was a very demure look and one that only a few dared to wear. Towards the end of the 1950’s, impressive scaffolding underwear became all the rage and many women showcased the famed ‘pointy’ silhouette. The 50’s were an extremely glamorous time for lingerie and many of the styles worn then have in fact been imitated today.


A more girlish style and one that appeared very playful took to the high street in the 1960’s. Corsets were swapped for baby doll nighties with matching frilly knickers. Towards the end of the 1960’s, women began to have fun with their lingerie and girdles were replaced with cutesy patterns and simple shapes.


In 1966 there were huge developments in underwear technology and many women were able to choose between varieties of different styles, many of which enhanced their busts.


The 70’s swapped feminine styles for a more sophisticated look, in which opulent fabrics including lace and silk were used to create a number of underwear designs. Of course, these looks were teamed with huge hair, sultry make-up and a typical 70’s vibe.


This was the decade that introduced the world to thongs, bodysuits and G-strings. Towards the end of this year, underwear was being fashioned as outerwear – famously worn by Madonna on stage.


After Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour came to an end, a cool, minimalistic style was introduced – and the branded Calvin Klein waistband staple was born.


Possibly the most memorable year in lingerie history – the introduction of the world-renowned Wonderbra. Many will be familiar with the ‘Hello Boys’ billboard ad starring the supermodel Eva Herizgova. In fact, this is one of the most iconic lingerie adverts ever to be created.


Agent Provocateur released what is said to be the sexiest ad of all time. The advert, which stars the renowned supermodel Kate Moss, certainly brought sexy back with a boom! The underwear featured was worlds away from the androgynous style of the 20’s.


In 2008 we took a step back in time and many of the original lingerie styles were given a contemporary twist. Stockings, suspenders and corsets created a vintage, glamour style. However, towards the end of this year, Victoria’s Secret took to the catwalks, with many of the models (who are now renowned supermodel icons) sporting carnival style attire. Today, Victoria’s Secret is the biggest selling lingerie brand in the world and many fashionista’s flock to see their shows, which are often fronted by the likes of Rosie Huntington Whiteley, Miranda Kerr and Heidi Klum.

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