Evolution of Women Undergarments

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Since the 14th century, underwear has been an essential piece of clothing for women. For both their upper and lower inner garments, women use various kinds of dressing. As fashion evolves through the years, the garments are crafted for various purposes. Some of the reasons why women use undergarments, particularly those from colder parts of the world, are to stay warm. Others use these clothes to shape and strengthen their bodies, while others use clothing to cover some parts of the body. However, the major reason for the invention of underwear is to prevent soiling of upper clothing by bodily fluids and secretions. As well, some innerwear reduce friction from rough upper garments while others are worn for religious purposes. With evolution taking place, the purpose of underwear has considerably changed and hence the different types used by women. As such, there have been great changes in women undergarments since the Victorian age (Faulkner, 340).
Upper Undergarments
Some of the upper undergarments worn by women by the Victorian age include the corset. Before the corset, women used to wear a chemise, which was among the first types of underwear. The chemise resembled a sleeveless t-shirt, which was worn under the blouse and tucked in the skirt. The chemise was loose and, therefore, led to the discovery of the corset. A corset is a tight and fitting form of underwear, which was introduced in the 16th century. Its main purpose is to give shape to a woman’s waist as well as offer support for their breasts (Leib, 83). The Victorian corset was designed to clinch the woman’s body thus giving an hourglass figure. As such, it lacked the straps on the original corset, and its finishing went beyond the waist flaring out just below the waist. As such, it gave a curvaceous impression on the body hence became very popular.
In the 19th century, changes were made to the corset after the emergence of health concerns associated with the tight garment. As such, the inner side of the corset was laced with wool to make it soft. As well, the garment was loosened to avoid the risk of health conditions such as indigestion and constipation, which were associated with tight corseting. Therefore, the wool corset was elastic and flexible but uncomfortable due to excess heat especially during the hot season (Leib, 83). The Edwardian corset followed the woolen corset in 1910. The corset had a straight front which offered health benefits to the wearer. For instance, it exerted little pressure on the stomach thus considered to be less injurious. However, the garment gave the wearer an unnatural posture hence causing back health issues. The corset era came to an end during world war one when women had to stop buying them to free up the metal in the garments, for use in the war. As such, other options such as girdles and brassieres were used to support the breasts although some people still referred to them as corsets. Consequently, the corset is not popular in the twentieth century and is only used by some women who are overweight for reducing stomach fat (Leib, 83).
The other popular upper undergarment is the brassiere, which is commonly referred to as the bra. This clothing became popular after women stopped wearing the corset for different reasons. The English women who used it to support and enhance the appearance of their breasts adopted it. Unlike the corset, the bra was lightweight and comfortable thus giving maximum comfort to the wearer. The change in gender roles such as going to war and working in factories during the war motivated women to use the bra since they had to wear uniforms. The first form of the bra was hand sewn and included two pieces of cloth joined with straps to give a separation between the breasts (Goldschmidt, 432).
By the year 1930, most women had some knowledge concerning the bra thus increasing its demand. As such, the sewing industry invested in the bra thus incorporating different sizes and colors to satisfy their customers’ needs. Consequently, most women could afford it unlike before when only the rich could afford to buy a bra. By the year 1950, the manufacturers upgraded their products by use of different fabrics. As well, there emerged padded bras with enhanced elasticity. Apart from that, nursing bras were also introduced to help nursing mothers maintain hygiene as well as protect their outer garments. As the years progressed, manufacturers continued to produce different shapes in a bid to define the look of an ideal woman. As such, bra production featured different patterns from pointy to round, flat, conical as well as natural. All these forms were designed to meet different preferences from the customers (Goldschmidt, 432).
In the 20th century, the bra gained popularity all over the continents, and more than 60% of women are using it. Due to technology and fiber availability, there are new designs that are produced to meet comfort and fashion needs. As such, the various fashions include the strapless bra, which goes with strapless dresses and tops. As well, there is also the push-up bra suitable for mothers because it enhances the appearance and shape of the breasts as well as the cleavage. The bras are made of different materials including colorless plastic while some are embroidered differently. Some of the commonly used embroideries include beads of different materials such as silver, gold, and plastic which comes in various colors. Other types include the design with a seamless cup that helps in the maintenance of the round shape of the bra. There are also printed designs which include floral and patterns which are gaining popularity in the 2000s (Tsaousi and Joanna, 19).

Lower Undergarments
One of the most popular forms of an undergarment during the Victorian age was the farthingale which in some places it is called the hoop skirt. The main purpose of the farthingale was to support the outer skirt and give it a desirable shape. As such, it was a popular fashion piece especially for the rich during the 16th and 17th century. The farthingale was made of a large hoop with stiffeners radiating from the waist thus giving it a platter like design. However, the farthingale was not used for long since the fashion died out before the 18th century (Villani, 1).
Lower undergarments became popular in the 18th century when women felt the need to cover their nether regions. The first undergarment to be introduced was the drawer in the form of underpants. Since pants were considered men’s wear, women were reluctant to accept the drawer until after a long time. The drawers were longer, and hence their length went below the knees. They had two distinct legs, each with laced decorations and were worn by women and young girls under the dress. By 1840, the popularly known Victorian drawers progressed to knickers, which were much shorter and had more decorations especially at the waste and at the opening of the legs. The preferred fabric for knickers was silk, but some individuals preferred flannel. By 1890, the knickers legs became much shorter with frill decorations at the knee (Villani, 1).
At the beginning of the 1900s, the knickers progressed to undergarments known as the combinations. The combinations constituted a complete garment of knickers attached to an upper bodice such as a chemise thus giving a full set of both upper and lower undergarment. As such, women stopped wearing the chemise and petticoats thus embracing the combination. In the 1990s, the knickers were replaced with panties. The panties were as a result of a gradual decrease in the height of the knickers (Pfiefer, 70). However, unlike the knickers, the panties were well fitting giving a smooth appearance thus enhancing the wearer’s body contours. The fabric used to tailor panties was still silk, but with additional merino to ensure, the were absorbent enough. There also emerged panty combination, which resembled the knickers combination . However, they did not last long due to fashion demands. The need for more absorbent panties led to the use exclusive use of cotton for panties. Consequently, the panties took longer to dry and required heavy ironing (Pfiefer, 70). As such, manufacturers opted to use other types of fabric such as nylon. The fabric is easy to clean and requires less or no ironing. As well, they dry fast hence offered wash and wear panties to the individuals who could not afford many sets of panties.
The1960 panties were referred to as briefs and comprised of stretchy lace with some elements of cotton. This was after the discovery that the nylon garments could not absorb sweat thus emission of odors. As such, they required frequent cleaning while posing a risk for bacterial infections. As such, the 1960 briefs aimed at comfort and good hygiene. The 1970 briefs were made of the same fabric as the 1960 briefs, but they were much shorter. The hip line was much lower while the thigh line was upper thus resulting to much brief panties. By 1980, there emerged designer lingerie, which was a combination of briefs and well-laced camisoles (Villani, 1). They were available in different fabrics to include the wash and wear materials. Apart from that, they had designers’ tags on them bearing the brand names thus attracting much attention especially from the wealthy.
The 20th century was graced with much briefer panties made of all sorts of fabrics to fit the customers’ expectations. The most popular pants are thongs and G-strings, which come in different colors and materials. The G-string is made of only a string that goes between the private parts attached to another one around the waist. A thong looks like a G-string, but it has a skimpy piece of cloth, which covers the private parts. These types of pants are preferred by the young generation who wear tight fitting trousers and dresses (Tsaousi and Joanna, 19). Since they do not show panty lines, they go well with tight fittings outer garments.

Works Cited
Faulkner, Katie. “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear: Victoria and Albert Museum, London April 16, 2016–March 12, 2017.” West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 23.2 (2016): 338-341.
Goldschmidt, Michal. “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” (2016): 431-433.
Leib, Amanda. “The Corset: Constriction or Liberation?.” Sprinkle: An undergraduate journal of feminist and queer studies 9 (2016): 80-85.
Pfiefer, Emily Catherine. “Undressed: Undergarments as Cultural Limina in Eighteenth-Century France.” (2014): 67-115.
Tsaousi, Christiana, and Joanna Brewis. “Are you feeling special today? Underwear and the ‘fashioning’of female identity.” Culture and Organization 19.1 (2013): 1-21.
Villani, Sabrina Roberta. “Review of the Exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear.” Brief Encounters 1.1 (2017): 1.

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