Fashion is a constantly evolving thing, changeable to the season and the whims of fashion houses across the world. However, it’s not just the clothes we wear on top that change over the years, but the items we wear underneath, too. The lingerie worn by women has changed in length, cut and design regularly ever since it was first worn, with a range of factors having affected the most suitable options for the times. The evolution of lingerie has seen the rise and fall of the hoop skirt to the staying power of the almighty bra. For an in-depth exploration of women’s lingerie, look no further.
Lingerie has always shifted to reflect the current fashions. In the 1800’s the style was wildly different from what we recognise now, with women’s bodies manipulated to the maximum to present unrealistic body shapes. In the 1820’s long-line corsets that also covered the derriere made sure the female figure was streamlined to best suit the straight, column dresses that were then all the rage. However, just thirty years later fashion opted to an extreme in the other direction as over-tightened corsets created strict hourglass figures, with tiny waists, exaggerated busts and pronounced rears. Steel or whalebone was used to best contain the shape within.
Not long after this came the arrival of the hoop skirt in the 1860’s, as trends began to lie in favour of exaggerating a woman’s lower half. These hoop skirts provided the ideal framework for the vast crinoline skirts then in fashion, though probably made movement quite difficult. Of course, the attraction to these skirts wore out quite quickly, with corsets designed with skirt supporters to create generous hips arriving as early as the 1880’s and providing an ideal replacement.
Corsets continued to be in favour throughout the 1800’s, and are still used today. However, the beginning of WWI triggered various shortages, which meant more practical solutions had to be found. In 1910 Mary Phelps Jacobs invented the bra when she sewed together two hankies. This ingenious solution to the need for support while using significantly less material solved the problem of a material shortage, while also significantly lessening the amount of labour needed to produce suitable lingerie. The 20’s also brought a boyish figure into fashion, and so the slip was born as the ideal base upon which to wear the more sleek and skimpy clothes that were then widely worn.
Lingerie also needed to become smaller to compensate for the fact that the clothes worn over them were becoming skimpier, too. Corsets were still widely used, but their purpose in the 20’s was to flatten the hips, which helped to create the androgynous shape that was so in fashion.
With the arrival of the 1930’s a slow transition began towards lingerie that worked with the natural feminine shape instead of against it. Bras with more supportive features, such as thick bands underneath the bust, became more widespread and S.H and Company created the standardisation of the cup and band measurements. Underwear began to be bought separately, in the form of bras and bloomers and once the 50’s arrived, lingerie began to take a lot of its design inspiration from contemporary interpretations of sexiness.
Pin up girls became the norm and with their influence came the desire for curves to be exaggerated and shown off by lingerie. From this point onward lingerie began to be seen more as the enabler of sexiness, mystique and liberation than as oppressive and limiting.
The 1980’s saw big leaps in lingerie evolution, with one-pieces, thongs, g-strings and high-cut bottoms hitting the scene. It was also the time in which we began to see underwear worn as outerwear as a regular thing, with musicians such as Cher and Madonna, and model Kate Moss, following this trend. The close of the century saw more androgynous underwear which, though plainer, was still overtly sexy.
The start of the millennium saw the rise and fall of the g-string as the most popular knickers of choice, but the trend of wearing underwear as outerwear still sticks. Now lingerie is more diverse than ever, with a wider array of shapes and styles available than ever before. Sporty lingerie that allows for day long flexibility in a range of scenarios is increasingly popular, but so too are elaborate styles, such as mesh and lace body stockings. The evolution of lingerie has seen female undergarments transition from items of constraint, to beautiful garments that celebrate the various forms of sexy possible with the female shape. Not only does modern lingerie offer an array of options but it is yet another way for a woman to pronounce her individuality and sexuality on a daily basis.
Do you have any interesting facts about the evolution of lingerie? Let us know in the comments section.
Leigh is a writer for Sparkling Strawberry with a penchant for fancy dress and a love of all things lacy.
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