The term lingerie, as we know it today, has only been in popular use since around the late 1850s, however it goes back much longer than that. Lingerie was originally introduced, into the English language, as a word that meant scandalous underclothing.
At times lingerie has been painful, practical and empowering, and throughout history, from the Egyptians right the way through to the uplifted busts of the early 1990 supermodels, lingerie has been a part of our social and cultural development, and we have learnt a lot about people and history from that.
Lingerie is now available to buy online, from sites like lebeau lingerie, or on the high street. But it has not always been like this.
Lingerie in Ancient Egypt
It really is impossible to know exactly when the concept of lingerie started, but from records it seems that it first appeared in ancient Egypt (3,000 B.C.).
During these times, clothing was very much a status symbol, especially for women. Higher ranking women would wear a shapelier, narrow tunic as an undergarment. This would highlight and mould to certain areas around the bust and waist, the tunic being supported by a crosswire shoulder strap. Slaves and servants would only wear simple loin clothes, or went naked.
Certain artefacts have been found that certainly support the above, and have shown woman wearing these undergarments.
Ancient Greece and Rome
History is recorded in a number of ways, and in Ancient Greece a lot can be drawn from their many well preserved figures and statues. One female figure, from around 2,000 B.C., which was found in Crete shows the first ever recorded corset. It consisted of a caged underskirt, which pushes the breast upwards. So, our beloved corsets actually stretch back four thousand years.
The statues that can be seen in Rome, Greece, and the surrounding islands, often depict woman wearing a crossed band over the shoulder that supports the breast.
As well as the statues, there is plenty of writing to support the early use of lingerie. They are often described as bands of linen that support and control a woman’s body shape.
Roman fashion followed the Greek very closely, and in Rome, there is evidence in a mosaic (A.D. 400) that show woman wearing a bikini. So, next time you wear yours on the beach, or around the pool, you can safely say that the bikini is two thousand years old.
The Middle Ages
Just as in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, it was the privileged and nobility that wore undergarments. These were usually placed under very expensive outer dresses because people did not want to have their expensive clothes dirtied by their own skin, but the undergarment also provided an extra layer of warmth.
There were two huge developments in the undergarment, or lingerie, during the middle ages: the smock (chemise) and later the corset. These were introduced, and widely used between the fourth and sixteenth centuries.
The Golden Elizabethan Age
Lingerie quickly started to develop during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This was partly down to the introduction of the skirt, during the mid to late 1500s. These skirts were named a ‘farthingale’ and were available in two types; the Spanish, and the French. The French farthingale quickly became the most popular choice, and many Elizabethans wore a roll or sausage of stiffened material known as a ‘bum roll’ to help hold up the skirt. During the fifteenth century women also wore a ‘basquine’ or ‘vasqine’, which, as you know, is a laced bodice that the farthingale was attached to.
The French Revolution
During the late 1700s is where lingerie was turned on its head. French woman discarded their more traditional petticoats and corsets and returned to a more Greek approach to undergarments. They replaced the stiffened corset with a more flexible undergarment, where it was more about shaping the body with high-waisted muslins.
The Innovative Victorians
In the 1800s woman saw the return of the boned corset, following the end of the Napoleonic wars. This form of lingerie was regarded as being part of the fabric of society, and had no class or social boundaries. This trend carried on from the end of the French Revolution to World War One – the corset ruled supreme.
(Image taken from Flickr: Minnesota Historical Society)
The Victorians were often seen as modest and prudish, however this was not the case for most people during this time. The corset allowed women, from all classes and backgrounds, to feel more empowered and feminine.
The innovative Victorians, in 1829, created the first front fastening bask which allowed woman to put on or take off their corset without the help from anybody else. Victorian woman also started to wear lingerie which was laced trimmed, embroidered and frilled, as well as using silk in their underwear.
During this time, the Industrial Revolution was starting and in full effect, allowing lingerie to be more mass produced, using moulding and dye to enhance the colour and shape of the lingerie.
Also, during this innovative period of lingerie development, woman’s stocking were invented, together with the garter. Striptease shows became more popular, with French girls wearing the very latest, and more revealing lingerie items of the era.
This is where comfort became more important than appearance. With social and cultural changes, woman needed lingerie that would support and fit in with their new lives. Woman participated in more sports and dancing, their lives and roles in society were evolving and changing.
With this softer bra, which had been introduced, came cup sizes in 1935. The four cup sizes were A, B, C and D, with Double D, and Double A coming along later.
Now lingerie producers, and fashion designers had really got a hold on lingerie, bras and pants, they started to really push and develop for the mass market.
More importantly, lingerie started to be developed for every occasion, with the launch of a variety of different styles, types and cup fills. Pants started to be developed with this in mind too, varieties were launched that focused on different types to be worn underneath different clothing.
Over thousands of years lingerie has helped support, change and empower women. It has only been in the last century that lingerie has been made available to every woman.
The big question is: what is next for lingerie?