Did anyone else do this/have this done to them as a kid? Let me paint you a picture. Shy-ish first grader is sitting against the bookshelf in the first grade classroom reading, when the boy who eats glue comes over and asks, “what are you eating under there?” And since the girl isn’t actually sitting under anything, she says, “under where?” and then of course, the boy shrieks with laughter and shouts, “she’s eating underwear!” Fun times in first grade..
Anyways, underwear is on the forefront of my mind recently, because I continually commit the grave panty line fashion faux pas. I think I’ve figured out why this keeps happening to me, and I believe it’s because I’m not used to wearing dress pants. Mind you, in my mind any pant this is not made of denim is a dress pant. The obvious solution is to wear a thong, but I hate thongs. Who wants a piece of dental floss riding up their lady parts? Besides, it’s been proven that continual thong wearing increases your chance of yeast infections. No fun. On another, yet related note, women who wear tight pants (i.e. jeggings, leggings, too-tight trousers) are more likely to have ingrown hairs and other irritations in the bikini area.
Due to these negative side effects of today’s stylish clothing I find myself fantasizing about the day when flowy skirts were de rigor. Or even when skirts in general were common place, preferably with supportive undergarments which might mask any lingering panty lines, like in the 1960s. My new mother-daughter ritual is watching Pan Am, and a girdle check is part of the standard beauty inspection. Perhaps modern ideals took over, but the characters wear pretty tight skirts and there are no lines, so I must conclude that the actresses cheat with anachronistic thongs or girdles actually decrease those embarrassing lines.
I digress. The history of underwear is fascinating. How civilizations went from wearing loincloths to layers upon layers of garments–chemise, petticoats, corsets–just to name a few. I suppose the change in our undergarments, as well as the change in our outergarments has a lot to do with society’s view on what is appropriate. Back in the day, a woman couldn’t show her ankles yet, today, we see much more. Just watch an episode of Jersey Shore for proof. However, while today’s short hemlines are new, in certain eras, showing an expanse of bosom was all the rage. Personally, I don’t mind showing off a bit of cleavage (or a lot if you’re my mother), but even these grand ladies show more skin than I am comfortable with. Men also, went through a phase, thanks to King Henry, of stuffing their codpieces*. Perhaps this is why men have such issues with size of their penises?
Anyway, underwear changes with the socially acceptable outerwear of the time. For example, by the middle ages the loin cloth served only as a genital cover, while new pants or, chausses covered the legs(1). Women and men wore other undergarments to protect their outerwear from their dirty skin, while women wore petticoats for warmth and protection. Men wore something similar to the modern shirt(2), while women wore chemises(3). Fun, or not so fun, fact, women menstruated right into their chemises(4). There was no device or special garment to protect their clothing. It wasn’t until Bloomers entered the fashion world in the 1850s that female undergarments as we know them today came into existence(5).
After the sexualization of the 1920s and the flapper, lingerie entered the fashion world(1). I remember reading and watching Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and being astounded by the existence of a lingerie fashion show. Looking back, it was probably in the early years of undergarment acceptance. Previously corsets and bloomers and whatever else fell under the “unmentionable” category. And, by the 196os the bikini underwear hit stores and the thong in the late 1980s-early 90s(1).
While I have no desire to wear a corset I do sometimes wish we could go back to the days of girdles. I suppose I could wear little girl’s bike shorts under my clothing like Zooey Deschanel in The New Girl.* I tried really hard to find a clip with this specific part, but unfortunately the only way I can post it is through not-so-legal channels. So check out Hulu or hope a family member DVRd The New Girl!
* What’s your new favorite TV show? I just mentioned mine!
2. http://www.maletribe.com/mensunderwear/historyofmensunderwear.html (renaissance)