History Of Lingerie
Lingerie has been around for a long time, experts can track it as far back as 3,000 BC. I would say that the first piece of lingerie was made by God when He clothed Eve in lambs skins, but who knows for sure. To sum it all up; there has always been some form of support or suppression for breasts. It has just changed by the fashion of it’s own day. I will take you on a tour over time. Most early history will be in Europe/Asia; then float on over to America. I will trace it by the fashion of it’s own period — The desired shape of the woman’s figure or the war that was being fought at that period.
3,000BC (Accentuated Breasts) Ancient Greek bras consisted of a strip of leather or linen tied around the breasts in the form of a bikini. A wall painting in Crete shows a woman wearing a type of lace up corset worn on the outside of the clothing to accentuate the breasts.
700 – 500 BC (Breasts Minimized) Large breasts were a form of a joke or old age. Young women wore a breast band in hopes of suppressing the growth or sagging of their breasts; like in this bronze statue of Artemis. The bands were made of wool or linen, crossed in the front and tied or pinned in the back.
79 AD Wall paintings in the city Pompeii were preserved by the volcano lava of Vesuvius. These painting show women wearing the crude form of a bra.
300 AD Roman women wore a strapless bikini and briefs while doing gymnastics or dance routines.
1368-1912 AD Wealthy women in China during the Ming and Qing Dynasties wore what was called a “belly cover”. It was a foundation cloth complete with formed cups and straps drawn over the shoulders and tied to the girth seam at the lower back.
500-1500 AD (Breast Minimized) In Europe the Holy Roman Empire had a strong influence on the fashion of that day. Straight bodices and high necklines were worn. No women were allowed to wear a dress or blouse with the intent of supporting her breasts. A resent archaeological discovery resulted in finding four 600 year old linen bras under a wood floor in an Austrian castle; dating 1413 AD. The bras were even decorated with lace and other ornamentation!
1450-1600 AD (Perfect Hourglass Figure) The corset “stay” was introduced during the Renaissance in Europe. It began as a paste stiffened linen and then evolved to iron supports at the sides and back. It was impossible to work in. The laboring class wore a “cotte”. This was a simple, front-lacing corset worn on the outside of clothing. The emphasis was on a long, lean torso; which caused the breasts to be pushed up so far to the point of spilling out. In the upper class the women did not nurse their babies in order to maintain the perfect figure. They were given to a wet nurse instead.
1600-1650 AD (Working and Survival Figure) A Pilgrim woman was faced with tragedy everyday but that didn’t mean she was not aware of the fashion of the times. Though simple; she still wore the appropriate attire of the day. A simple “shift” was worn over the skin. The shift was a sort of undershirt or chemise. Over this was tied a simple corset. In cold weather, wool stocking were worn. Then the petticoat was added. It hung from the waist. The petticoat was sometimes made of wool and quilted for warmth. It’s intention was to give the skirt a nice roundness so as to make the waist appear smaller and the breasts larger. To make the outfit complete; an overskirt or jacket dress was worn over everything. These were often times shorter than the petticoat. So the petticoat doubled as a skirt.
Native American Indian: I will tell a little bit about the Indians. They are a great part of our history and heritage. Indian women did not, as a rule, wear any underclothing. Every tribe was different. Some women wore a sort of soft leather chemise under their outer leather dress. When they did wear panties; it was in the form of a loincloth, sometimes called a breechclout or skin clout. A cord served as a sort of belt. You put your legs through the cord on each side of the soft leather type scarf. Rarely did they wear pants, but instead wore leggings that were held up at the knees with a thin piece of rawhide or leather (similar to modern day gaiters) . These were intended for warmth and protection much like today. There is no indication that the breasts were supported in any way. Though it seems possible that a leather strap tied around the bosom would serve the purpose when needed.
1700-1770 AD (Panniers Invented) The hoopskirt or “basket” first appeared in England during the 1710’s. It was cone shaped and not always floor-length in its early days. France adapted the look in 1718 or 19 and soon the shape changed to a huge dome called a “a’ couple”. Over the years it flattened in the front and back, then changing instead to two baskets, one over each hip. Pads were sometimes added to reach all the way to the elbows. The church frowned on such comical fashion. Only the rich and famous wore these. It was at its best when the ladies were in court. These “baskets” were made of willow, steel, or whale bone “baleen” to make a frame that fastened around the waist. Corsets or “stays” were still the rage. They had to be slipped over the head and laced in the back. For the perfect posture, a busk or “busque” was sewn into the front of the stay. Some busks were made with a pocket to slide a wide piece of wood, whale bone, or ivory into. The pocket was tied in place with a lace called the “busk point”. These busks were often carved, decorated, or inscribed with messages. It was not uncommon for a man to give one to his sweetheart as a gift.
1789-1799 AD (No strict hourglass figures, so as not to associate with the upper class) The French Revolution was aimed at abolishing the class from among the people. Wealthy, upper class people now wore cotton in dark shades of color so they would blend in with the working class people. The red, white, and blue “cockade” was always worn to associate one with the New France. Women wore a “shift” like a t-shirt over their skin and a stay over that. The dresses were snug over the bodice, so this gave some support to the breasts.
1789-1810 AD (Waist was raised to empire) In Europe the Napoleonic Wars caused French political upheaval. Napoleon’s first Empress Josephine de Beauharnais was influential in popularizing the empire waist around Europe. Greek/Roman fashion became popular. No corsets were worn. Only an airy linen chemise or slip was worn. Toward the end of the century many changes took place. Arms became shockingly bare or sleeves were sheer. Hair was not covered as before with bonnets or hats except when outdoors. Ribbons and beads were interlaced in the hair instead. The waist being just under the breasts was usually tied with a contrasting color of ribbon. With the dress being so tight at the bosom; it could have given some support to the breasts.
1837-1901 AD (Corsets are back!) The Victorian Age: The corset was smaller and less cumbersome allowing for freer movement and easier breathing. Different styles were designed for various activities such as horseback riding verses dancing. Well made, more expensive corsets were reinforced with baleen or “whale bone”. Baleen is not actually the bone of the whale, but rather the horn-like plates attached to the upper jaw of a baleen whale, instead of teeth. The whale uses them to filter plankton from the ocean water. Baleen is made up of the same material as the fingernails or hair. Being fibery, it could be split into the appropriate size and length. No other material could rival its important demand, used for hoopskirts and corsets. So popular that the whale population was brought to the brink of extinction. As baleen became rare, other alternatives were searched out. Cheaper corsets and panniers were enforced or made with willows. Horns were used, but with little success. In the 1850’s watch spring steel came into use. Coil like springs were pressed flat and could bend to the desired shape of the hour glass figure. The smallest waist recorded was of a young actress, 14 inches circumference.
A new form of busk made an appearance. It was made of two long, narrow pieces of steel instead of one wide plate that slid into a front pocket. The new busk was sewn into the front of the corset and was held together with hooks and eyes. This made the corset easier to put on. The laces would only need to be loosened slightly as the woman wrapped it around her torso and fastened the hooks over the eyes at the front.
Another kind of bust was the “spoon bust”. This was invented to smooth out the stomach area better than a regular bust. The two pieces were shaped like a large spoon; the handle at the top of the corset with the dished spoon on the lower end. They fastened the same as the regular bust. The downside to the spoon busk was that the corset could not be laced up as tightly because the wider metal was weaker than the narrow metal in the regular bust.
Southern Bells: With slaves or servants to do most of the work, these women were the picture of beauty and perfection. Tiny waists and huge hoop skirts and petticoats; with yards and yards of lace, ribbon, and silk, made up a southern bell’s attire.
Pioneer Women: It was not at all practical for pioneer ladies to wear corsets. After the west was settled, fashion became more prevalent. In some of the big mining towns, one might see ladies dressed in corset and bustle fashion. Especially after the railroad went through. Many pioneer woman may have started out with a trunk full of beautiful dresses and underclothing, but sooner or later, for survival purposes, the load had to be lightened. Thus the trunk was heaved out of the wagon to be left in the desert for the Indians to marvel at. A pioneer woman would first dress in a cotton chemise. This was a longs slip or undershirt. Sometimes a chemise would have tucks, a little lace or embroidery; all hand sewn. Next came the stockings made of cotton, linen, or wool depending on the weather. These went over the knee and were held up by a thin ribbon or garter. “Drawers” were like underpants. These were sometimes split up the middle in order to make the trip to the outhouse easier and quicker. If they did wear a petticoat, it was similar to the one pictured above.
By the beginning of the 1900’s, doctors started speaking out about the dangers of corsetting. The perfect hourglass figure became a thing of the past.
1914-1918 World War I: Lighter, more breathable fabrics were being invented. Undergarments were made for support not appearance. Everything was practical and thrifty. Everyone’s energies went to helping provide for the war. Any metal that may have been used for corsets was now needed for war supplies.
1920’s (No Curves) Straight as a stick was the new sexy. The “bandeaux brassiere” was used to downplay the woman’s figure. Waistlines dropped to around the hipbones. Breasts became flat a as pancake. Undergarments did start coming in different colors, though.
1930’s and 40’s (Enhancing Breasts Makes a Comeback) Lastex (Latex) was invented. The “Maidenform” was introduced. Bras were being manufactured in different colors and sizes. Fat was not beautiful, but full breast were.
1940’s and 50’s We have a veteran from World War II to thank for the pushup bra’s popularity. Frederick Mellinger was inspired by his fellow army men to engineer a sexier bra. Frederick took his buddies’ advice and designed pieces their girlfriends would prefer. He returned home from the War in 1946 and opened up Frederick’s of Hollywood. America’s first pushup bra was dubbed “Rising Star” in 1948. The perfect figure was now 36 Bust, 24 Waist, and 36 Hips.
1960’s (Lingerie Takes A Plunge In Popularity) From the Hippies to the Women’s Liberation and “bra burning”; lingerie was not at it’s best. Women before the 1960’s were known as housewives and mothers and nothing more. 150 feminists trooped to the 1968 Miss America Protest. Trash cans were loaded up with bras, girdles, curlers, tweezers, highheels, anything that represented the stereotype for women being flawlessly beautiful. It was then burned. Women felt the stresses of looking beautiful and parading around like cattle. Inferiority of perfect beauty was too much and they were letting the world know. Some women went to the extreme of not wearing a bra at all. The natural look was vogue, no makeup or curled hair.
Today you can view lingerie in any size, color, or style you could possibly dream of; like this $Million bra from Victoria’s Secret.