Let’s Talk About…Underwear

chemisette photo by PKM
Nobody ever talks about underwear, but let’s admit it, the things we put on underneath our clothes are interesting. And weird. Some of the get-ups adopted by previous generations as foundation garments are downright ridiculous. Exactly how do such fashion trends pick up speed? photo by PKMI don’t have the answer but I found some pictures I thought we should talk about. The garments designed to cover our under bits have morphed into some mighty bizarre things over the centuries. The wearing of undergarments has a lengthy history.

Loincloths made of fine leather have been recovered from archaeological contexts dating back 7,000 years. Ancient Egyptians were stitching together fabric unmentionables 4,000 years ago. Of course they were also making fine linen clothing of styles that are still in use today.

another embroidered Han infant wrap by The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Han infant wrap

Here’s a fascinating look at the art of making decorative female underwear in ancient China. A method of expressing individuality in a culture where outward appearance was mandated by strict ideals.

“In ancient China, where the patriarchal society left few opportunities for women to express their thoughts, the underwear became a unique channel to let out their romantic passion. Underwear revealed women’s beliefs toward life, taste in beauty and appeal for love. They expressed all this through various patterns, bold colors and delicate craftsmanship. Compared to outer garments, which were strictly governed by courtesies and ranks, ancient underwear was a private room for women to pursue their individuality. Whether well-bred women in rich families or girls of a humble birth, they all tried hard to distinguish themselves through underwear.”

old time undiesLest you think G-strings are something new…even the Romans paraded their athletes around in wispy strands of leather not so different from today’s thongs. Braies (baggy drawers in a variety of lengths) became common in Medieval Europe, only to be replaced by the chausses (similar to pants or hose) which ruled the land during the Renaissance period. Similar styles are found in many areas of the world because they’re relatively practical, easy to construct, and simple to use. These became the precursors to today’s fruit-of-the-looms.
childrens underwear from 1871

Over the centuries some amusing practices developed. Images of men’s codpieces and women’s hoops and bustles rush to the forefront of my mind when I consider unusual variants on the basic underoos. Those were clothing options many of us would consider abominations in the modern world. Depending on what time period and region of the planet you’re interested in, under-clothes may or may not have been present. Today we consider it a necessity of dress, but originally it was predicated by climate and the desire to alter the appearance of top clothes.

Hanfu underwear, photo by Ws227

People in positions of power and authority generally set the standard of fashion…I presume that goes for undergarments as well. That makes me wonder how anyone would know? I don’t recall seeing any world leaders in their skivvies – but I rarely watch television, maybe I missed the opportunity.
Feel free to offer up opinions, comments, and experiences about the clothes under the clothes. Several friends who’ve worked in theater and film have told me about wearing clothes from other eras. Some outfits were surprisingly comfortable, others were cumbersome and weighty. None were easy to slip in and out of as our modern styles. Laugh now but future generations will look at our undergarment choices and snicker behind their hands.
photo by wim demortier

blue question markConfession time! What’s the most daring foundation garments you’ve worn? Ever go commando (sans undertogs)? Did your mother warn you to always wear clean panties in case you were in an accident?

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  1. #1 by Alica McKenna Johnson on September 15, 2011 - 12:25 am

    He is way hot and the only reason to watch that movie- if I'm thinking of the right one. I go commando sometimes because being a plump woman undie can create lines and bumps and my jeans look better when I'm not wearing underwear. Most daring I once wore a purple lace teddy to Rocky Horror. I can't believe my mom let me out of the house.

  2. #2 by Lesann Berry on September 15, 2011 - 1:03 am

    I'm pretty sure that picture is from Brotherhood of the Wolf (much better in the original French with subtitles).Getting that smooth look can be a challenge, adn let's face it, there's not much between a thong and commando anyways.Purple lacy teddy? Rocky Horror picture show? Say no more. I think I was there that night. My mother would have fainted had she seen some of the things I wore in public. At one stage she just said, "I'd rather not know." lol

  3. #3 by Diana Murdock on September 15, 2011 - 4:03 am

    LOL. The accident thing. Yeah, my mom told me that a hundred times. I've gone through a lot of stages in the undergarment world. I think I'm stuck in the young adult stage. Great post, Lesann.

  4. #4 by Lesann Berry on September 15, 2011 - 6:29 am

    I remember, even as a kid, being puzzled why anybody would care about my underwear if I were in an accident bad enough to go to the hospital. Funny that.Underwear cracks me up – thank goodness we don't have to wear petticoats and bustles, I'd be a cross-dresser for sure.

  5. #5 by Angela Orlowski-Peart on September 15, 2011 - 8:38 pm

    Awesome post, Lesann – very informative on a funny subject. Speaking of the high concept! 🙂

  6. #6 by Lesann on September 16, 2011 - 12:33 am

    Thanks Angela! Yes, I suppose even underwear probably has a higher concept.

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