History of Women's Underwear


Women’s underwear has had quite a change from its humble beginnings. From starting as a simple loincloth type of clothing to becoming expensive pieces of frivolity, women’s underwear has definitely had a makeover.

The First Pair of Underwear

In Rome, neither men nor women wore underwear. They did, however, wear either a loincloth or something similar called a subligaculum. A subligaculum is a crude pair of shorts. These could be worn underneath clothing or just by themselves. In addition to wearing a subligaculum, some women also wore a band of cloth or leather around their upper body as a bra, called a strophium or a mamillare.

The Chemise

Women’s underwear evolved from a subligaculum to a chemise around the 16th century. A chemise is a long, shirt-like garment worn underneath clothing. A chemise was usually made of linen and was not fitted. Besides wearing a chemise, women did not wear any sort of underpants during the 16th century.

The Petticoat

Toward the end of the 16th century, women began to wear petticoats under their clothing. Petticoats were skirt-like garments starched to be very stiff. Women layered their petticoats to achieve the look of a full skirt and a small waist. Petticoats were embellished with lace and other decorations to be a symbol of status. Sometimes a slip was worn underneath a petticoat to reduce itchiness.

Knickers and Panties

Knickers, loose-fitting pants worn under clothing, were all the rage at the beginning of the 19th century. The name “knickers” comes from a novel called History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker. This book features an illustration of a Dutchman wearing a pair of knickers. Knickers are also the reason why modern-day underwear is called “panties” because knickers are essentially a pair of pants.

The Thong

The invention of the thong returned women's underwear back to its roots of a loincloth. A thong is basically a pair of underwear without cloth covering the backside. It is believed that the thong first appeared in 1939 at the World's Fair, worn by dancers. Rudi Gernreich designed the first thong bikini in 1974. Thongs are popular in today's fashion because they prevent a panty line from showing.

The Birth of Victoria’s Secret

When one is looking to buy underwear, most people think of the Victoria’s Secret, a business made especially for women’s underthings. Established in San Francisco in the 1970s by Roy Raymond, Victoria’s Secret specializes in underwear, bras, lingerie, and body products. Available in most malls, Victoria’s Secrets provides trained salespeople to fit women for bras and advise them in purchasing underwear.

The Evolution of Women's Underwear

As history shows us, women’s underwear is constantly being remodeled. Underwear serves as a functional piece of clothing as well as a symbol of status and romantic gifts. In today’s society, underwear is also considered a piece of clothing that conveys playfulness and provides an air of flirtatiousness. From subligaculums to thongs, women’s underwear gives women a sense of comfort and security.

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