The History of Lingerie and How It Has Evolved to Today

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When you look back at the first ever lingerie garments created, it’s significantly different from today.

In this article, we’re looking at the history of lingerie compared to now. What is the definition of ‘sexy’? Is it showing more or leaving more to the imagination? Let’s look at how the industry has changed and how it’s affected the perception of women too.

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The History of Lingerie Revealed

It’s truly fascinating to see how the history of lingerie has changed over the years. In the 1860’s, women often wore cage-like structures which were dangerous and impractical. However, they did allow women to move their legs freely. Thirty years later and women’s underwear became less restrictive and bulky. Instead, it became replaced by the brassiere.

In the early 1900’s, boyish fashion developed the fabric technology in women’s lingerie. As a result, we saw slinky petticoats and slinky materials which achieved a desired silhouette. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the world saw the most erotic lingerie to date. Whips, rubber and bondage gear became regular accessories. The world saw classic stockings and suspender belts with no other purpose than for a sexual look.

What is Lingerie?

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Lingerie is women’s underwear and nightclothes which originated in the mid 19th century. The word derives from France and means ‘linen’. It’s a term derived from the French language for women’s undergarments. These are often heavily eroticized in American culture. Lingerie can come in the form of bras, panties, stockings, teddies, suspender belts, babydolls, corsets and more. Lingerie garments are usually made of Lycra, nylon, polyester, satin, lace, silk and more.

When and Where Did Lingerie Originate?

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In the 18th century, women whalebone corsets. These undergarments weren’t as sexual as they are today. Instead, they were essential to mold a figure into the ideal body to create a tiny waist and push-up breasts. This included a morning routine of underdressing and dressing. Women performing would linger in their undergarments to hint at sexual intimacy. Victorian corsets became popular in the 1800’s, and pushed the breasts forwards and arched the chest back to reveal the hips. These were constructed beautifully with intricate designs. However, they were extremely constricting and not highly practical or comfortable to wear.  

Towards the 1920’s, fashion designers introduced changing the ideal shape of a woman’s body from hourglass to boyish to straight. As a result, lingerie changed its purpose, shape and design too. Tight corsets weren’t as popular and undergarments were constructed to look invisible. In 1910, Jacobs invented the bra to give women the choice and freedom that lingerie is now designed to offer. Society’s corset requirement began to fade, and lingerie adapted to new designs.  

Due to the Second World War shortages, lingerie companies needed to create minimal designs using as little materials as possible. As a result, this began to shape a new ideal woman’s figure which celebrated the female body as the definition of ‘sexy’ as we know it. Towards the 30’s, and 40’s, underwear headed in a positive direction with bras and bloomers.

Why Did Lingerie Emerge?

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The history of lingerie is fascinating because of how much it’s changed to this present day. Women have worn garments to support, suppress or accentuate their breasts as far back as 3000BC. Consequently, the modern-day bra developed from Cretan women who wore a hip corset over their clothes in the middle ages. By the 1500’s, the corset flattened and raised the bust whilst hiding the stomach and hips. This is also the era of the iron corset which correlated a woman’s position in court by her waist size. Also, lingerie emerged to correct bone deformities. Commonly known as a ‘stay’, the corset consisted of linen with boning and stiffened with paste. Women were then ‘straight-laced’ into them for a tight and constricting hold. By the end of the 17th century, corsets became more elaborate and it became fashionable to wear them on the outside.

By 1825, corsets became essential to accentuate an hourglass figure with a desired waist of 18 inches or less. The Victorian era advanced the corset design to show off a woman’s body. For example, metallic eyelets ensured the tight lacing achieved an hourglass figure without damaging the delicate material. Thanks to the invention of a sewing machine, the corset produced quicker and didn’t involve hand-stitching.

The bra has developed tremendously with thanks to man-made fabrics such as nylon, Lycra, polyester and more. These fabrics enable garments to become more flexible, seamless, supportive and lightweight. They’re also easier to wash and less likely to damage. The new millennium saw further advancements in design and fabrics with innovative designs now available on the market. With a variety of styles for all occasions, shapes and designs have changed dramatically.  

How Has Lingerie Evolved?

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The history of lingerie is completely different to how we perceive it today. Lingerie from the 1920’s has evolved significantly to the present day. Over the past century, women’s bodies have been highlighted in different ways too. As a result, lingerie has followed the same suit. If we look back to the 1920’s, lingerie featured thin fabrics such as satin, silk and lace. Ten years later, a curvy silhouette became popular, which introduced underwire to accentuate a fuller bust. Fast forward to the 1960’s, and there’s a rise of matching lingerie sets with embellishments and details on them. You’ll also notice how they feature ruffles and geometric patterns.

The 1970’s reached a new height for lingerie. For example, Madonna is a prime example as she worn bold materials, leather, fishnets and more. Twenty years later and people were mixing and matching lingerie with different patterns and colours. In fact, lingerie then became a part of everyday fashion, with people evidently showing their bra through their clothes. People became less afraid of revealing their lingerie in public as it became more acceptable and desired.


Why Do You Wear Lingerie?

We hope you enjoyed reading about the history of lingerie. What we wear underneath our clothes can be a secret, or a revealing fantasy for our partner. The 1950’s were a glamorous time for lingerie and models posed in curve-hugging undergarments.

Why do you wear lingerie? We’d love to hear how it makes you feel, so share your thoughts and feedback in the comments to keep this conversation going.

Related Article:  The Best Lingerie Brands to Boost Your Confidence Right Now

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