Image via Flickr creative commons from markhillary
It’s national underwear day on August 5th so I thought I’d take a look at the history of all things undie! Visit www.nationalunderwearday.com to celebrate your skivvies soon!
Pants, codpiece, sthropium, panties, knickers, gruds, boxers, y-fronts, thongs, hotpants, slips, boxer briefs, briefs, bras, loincloth, longjohns, drawers, jockey shorts, skivvies and smallclothes, playsuit.
What do you call them?
Whatever it is all of them fall under one umbrella – underwear.
Underwear serves several purposes, it keeps outer garments from being soiled, shapes the body, and provides support for parts of it. In cold weather, underwear is sometimes worn to provide additional warmth. Some undergarments are intended for erotic effect. Some underwear even has serious religious significance. It’s also a common source of amusement for toddlers and teenagers the world over – checkout the underwear book by NY Times best selling author Todd Parr to fully appreciate the fun.
Underwear has been around for 7000 years. The first and most primitive form the loincloth, a simple strip of material, often leather, passed between the legs and then around the waist, has been discovered by archaeologists in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Hawaii, Japan and Rome. The loincloth is simple but effective and continues to be worn around the world to this day.
In the middle ages men’s underwear evolved significantly, becoming looser, braise were very similar to modern day boxer shorts, the wearer putting them on by stepping through two leg holes and tying at the front with laces. Through the Renaissance tighter fitting garments became all the rage with braise becoming shorter and figure hugging hose new on the scene.
The modern day fly was starting to take shape around the 1500’s with braise starting to offer the wearer a front flap with an attached codpiece allowing him to urinate without removing the garment. It has been speculated that codpieces were also used to treat venereal diseases by soaking the material in ointment or medication.
The codpiece was also possibly the first multi-use undergarment, often containing small pockets for storage as a secondary use. The tertiary use of a codpiece was to provide a phallic representation for the wearer, portraying fertility and enhancing perceived masculinity – the first evidence of the erotic element of underwear.
During the 16th century underwear migrated upwards to the torso, the chemise in France and smock in England for men and women. Women also discovered the corset and petticoat, often stiffened with reed or whalebone these garments provided an artificial sexualised shape that to this day is still popular.
In the 16th century, fabric was beginning to change too. No longer were wearers limited to leather or wool blends; instead silks, cottons and ant linen drawers were prevailing.
The revolutionary introduction of the spinning jenny (http://inventors.about.com/od/indrevolution/ss/Industrial_Revo_3.htm) took place in the latter part of the 18th century. These new fangled machines heralded the beginning of underwear mass production, changing the world of the pant forever. No more would the wearer have to make his/her own underwear, but instead they would buy them from shops. Underwear prices hot the floor and 1000’s of people went out to buy a new pair of under-crackers in an instant.
The price drop caused by mass production also brought people the option of having many different pairs of underwear for different occasions. The less well off could finally afford to occasionally plump for style over comfort and many new and colourful designs hit the market, hot off the looms.
Through the 1900s and 2000s underwear sales were only suppressed temporarily by the first and second world wars. Underwear is now a multi million pound industry (£678million in the UK) as of 2008. And we have underclothes for every different occasion. The comparative liberalism and hyper-sexuality of the post-modern era provides the back bone for an ever growing, ever thriving, ever diversifying global market place. Companies like shelikes.com sell playsuit, pants and panties.
You can learn more about underwear in fashion by visiting the Victoria and Albert museum website here http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/touring-exhibition-undressed/ .