The Interesting History of Women's Underwear

Have you ever wondered how underwear came to be? Aren’t you a bit curious about what undergarments women wore centuries ago?

The history of underwear is quite interesting. From wearing nothing underneath (except a shift garment) to frilly lingerie and thongs, women’s underwear has come a long, long way.

The earliest women underwear we know of was a simple nondescript shift, some form of a loose dress worn by women of the Middle Ages. By the 16th century, a wire frame made with whale bone called a "farthingale" became an item of clothing that served as an undergarment.


Interestingly, ancient Egyptian women wore underwear in form of loincloths, same as the Romans too.

And for something to hold the bosom firmly in place, women wore a wide band of linen fabric around their chest, called a strophium, the Roman equivalent of a brassiere.

It wasn’t until the early 18th century that underwear became an item of clothing with some importance attached to it. It was at this time that the shift transited into a chemise yet still, that was it!

A few decades after, by the turn of the century, women began to wear drawers, also known as pantaloons.

Pantaloons were ankle or knee-length drawers that covered the legs from waist to ankle or below the knee with frilly ends.

Soon the word was shortened to ‘pants’. And by the late 19th century, they were being made ‘pretty’ by adding bands, ribbon tapes, and lace.


It’s interesting to know that in the 19th-century women's underwear was usually open between the legs, but by the 1900’s closed ones replaced them.

From long pantaloons to shorter knickers, in the 20’s they became shorter and shorter . . . down to mid-thigh.

By the forties and fifties, women began to wear briefs. Soon the word ‘drawers’ became known as underpants or pants. In the USA they were (and still are) called panties; obviously a diminutive of the word pants.

And in the 1900’s, other items of underwear or lingerie emerged – first rayon then nylon stockings, the modern bra, briefs, wonder bra, and the thong, which was invented in the 70’s.

Though many variations have evolved, thongs continue to be highly popular underwear until this day.

Further Reading:
Vintage Inspired Lingerie for Plus Size Brides
Curvy Girls' Guide to Best Lingerie Picks (InfoGraphics)
Authentic Vintage Lingerie - Wash and Care Tips


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