Panties in a Wad: The Evolution of Lingerie


An archaeological find of medieval lingerie in Austria has started to raise questions concerning our female ancestors’ dressing and sexual history. Recently, during extensive reconstruction of Lengberg Castle, a vault was found hidden beneath the floorboards. It is hardly racy by today’s standards but this skimpy lingerie has certainly shocked historians. The lace and linen undergarments date back to hundreds of years before women’s underwear was thought to exist.The pair of panties have more  resemblance to the string bikini bottoms popular today, while the bra has the fitted cups and delicate straps of its modern-day counterparts. According to Hilary Davidson, fashion curator at the Museum of London, this discovery totally rewrites fashion history.

So how exactly has women's lingerie and underwear evolved throughout the years? 

Ancient Lingerie

In ancient Roman artwork, there is evidence that a wrapped form of a brief or bikini-like garment may have been worn by women. These garments were known as "mammillary" and "fascia," which were basically bands of tight fabric worn around the breasts for support.

These styles are considered to be some of the very earliest examples of "intimate apparel", or lingerie if you will. The purpose was to enhance the female form to grab the attention of men. Using fashion and dress to tease and attract men is hardly a new idea, but this is where it is thought to originate.

 Evidence has also shown that Athenian woman also wore a different type of tunic made from a material that was usually sheer. During these accident times, female sexuality was more pronounced as documented in the Dialogues on Love notes where young girls were often found as the object of sexual desires. 

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the ideal body type became far more constrained, including flattened breasts and cinched waistlines. Women would use corsets and other lingerie implements to achieve the look of a flat stomach, narrow waistline and a flat chest. By the 1500’s, corsets became a mainstay in the female’s lingerie wardrobe and started to be worn in various levels of tightness and structure for many years to come.

This garment hilights the extremes that women throughout the ages would put themselves through in order to attain the ideal body image, fashion appearance, and sex appeal that was considered desirable during the time period. 

The French Revolution

During the French Revolutionary period around 1789, women shunned the stiff corset and began to rebell against their all too restricting garments. The empire waist dress was introduced to women fashion during this era and didn’t require the tight, cinched waistlines anymore. For a brief time, women could breathe again! Instead women of that time used a light un-corset type undergarment. Instead of tightening in the waist, this lingerie inspired piece was designed to push the breasts up and out, making 'the girls' once again the main focus.  


19th Century

During the 19th Century,  the traditional hourglass figure came back into favor. Though this included bringing back the suffering stiffness of the corset, this trend came with some new advancements like metal eyelets.  The invention of  eyelets ensured that women could be tightly laced into corsets without worrying about tearing or ripping the garment itself.

 Besides bringing about the corset, the 19th century also introduced the use of stockings. Garters were attached to corsets and were used to hold up these stockings. Although to have been thought to be a prim and proper historical period, the century brought upon most classic sexy lingerie pieces:  corsets, garter belts and stockings. It was also during this time that we saw the beginning of adding decoration to the undergarments such as stitching on lace, bows, and embroidery.


20th Century

All praise to Mary Phelps who invented the first bra in 1913! By the 20th century, the corset had been ditched for good, set aside for more intimate times. But for the most part, women during this age were becoming more active. Bloomers were being worn and getting shorter and shorter throughout the century as women became more involved in athletics. 


During the 1950’s, women like Lana Turner and Jane Mansfield were the trendsetters. The bra’s shape had become extremely pointed and panty girdles with garters helped give women the look of a small waist and full hips while also keeping their hosiery in place. Thigh high hosiery was used for both functionality and the bedroom.


The 1960’s brought on the era of freedom and non-conformity. Women began to liberate themselves by “bra-burning.” The lingerie industries responded to this newly found need for women to be comfortable and free by creating a bra that was less structured, softer, and often wireless. Instead of restricting panty girdles to hold up high stockings, decorative tights took its place. During this period, women were finally celebrating the natural shape.


During the last 20 years of the 20th century, technology hit the lingerie industry. Cleavage became popular again in the 1980’s. Those women who weren’t as well-endowed realized that what nature couldn’t do, bra technology could. And thus comes along Victoria’s biggest secret…The Wonderbra. The Wonderbra, along with other push up bras of the decade, were popular among women to provide cleavage for the plunging necklines that were popular at the time. Also going into the 90's, panty lines became a no-go bringing along every girl's best friend and worst enemy: the thong. 


Today’s lingerie is made to be comfortable and sexy while also enhancing the natural female figure. No longer are we forced into corsets or worrying about runs in our tights! Now no matter what your lingerie needs may be, there is a vast array of products that are designed just for you. Walk into any intimate apparel store today and you can find an extensive selection of bras that come in every imaginable style and size. Panties cover a wide range from granny panties, cheekies or thongs.

Basically if you can dream it, it can just about happen. Just ask Victoria...





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