Lingerie's Evolution

Today women are very fortunate for the available choices that came from lingerie's evolution. Lingerie changed along side women’s evolution; the corset was fashionable during the eras when women were restricted and had few rights; the 1920’s boyish hairstyles and figures encouraged lingerie that flattened the breasts. When decorative fashions gained popularity, lingerie design became decorative by adding trims of lace, ribbon and embroidered ruffles. Designers used colours to reflect the era of the 1960's, with vibrant shades and psychedelic prints. As fashion became unisex and androgynous; promoting sleek, savvy tall slim boyish shape it encouraged braless ness.

Like women, lingerie has had a complicated history, love or hate it, lingerie like the female species has many facets; elegant, seductive, delicate, function, decoration, restrictive, erotic, exotic the list is endless. As women’s roles changed so too did their attire thus underwear or lingerie had to change. The term lingerie is also woven into sexual politics and female emancipation. Women were not permitted to wear underpants till nearly 300 years after men started wearing underpants. Restrictions and forbiddances of women having anything between their legs also saw riding side saddle as allowed and bicycle riding not, so it took a while for knickers and panties to become acceptable along with riding a bicycle or a horse astride.

Lingerie (basically known as underwear) has been and still is influenced by outerwear fashions and lifestyles. The original purpose of underwear was to provide protection, warmth and modesty; as women evolved more needs and requirements became influential toward the purpose of lingerie. Such as the need to support the shape and design of outer clothes and alter the shape or exaggerate the body to accommodate fashion. Another lingerie purpose was to keep outer clothes – often expensive and difficult to maintain - clean by providing a layer between them and infrequently washed skin. Last but not the least important lingerie can provide a personal pleasure to the wearer; enhancing status and making a statement.

Luckily one or two pieces usually make up todays daily lingerie ensemble, where historically multiple layers of items were used in combination. First a chemise was worn; next a corset with garter and stockings. Then on went drawers or knickers, a camisole over the lot and finally the petticoats - up to six petticoats depending on the style - before the dress went on. It would be difficult to ride a bike in such fashions. Those fashions represented status so too did lingerie; good posture represented a proper upbringing and breeding therefore wearing correct fitting underwear was a sign of affluence. Just as ratty tatty undies and grotty stretched out of shape bra implies uncleanliness and poverty. Colour was also exclusive, black lingerie was usually reserved for luxury class society leaving the working class or lower society - who couldn't afford to pay someone else to launder - with lingerie that was plainer and easier to maintain.

As societies morals, and industries evolved so did lingerie, ultimately becoming acceptable to all stations of life and its availability widened. However intricate, delicate and complicated lingerie could not stay the norm forever. During the First World War lingerie became modest and less frivolous, then by the end of the Second World War the underwear staples consisted of bra, briefs and suspender belt (or garter belt). War time resulted in the materials to make lingerie scarce, so to meet demand, lingerie's history took another necessary turn. Eventually Lingerie became much simpler to wear, maintain and produce.

As fabric availability and manufacturing processes improved lingerie became more accessible and affordable also more fashionable and interesting to designers. Fashion houses continue to influence lingerie with their creative designs. In some cases to wear a particular designer's designs accessorising lingerie is required. Two such examples include Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood creating collections around bras, corsets and basques.

With its evolutions and accessibility lingerie today comes in a wide variety. Today specific pieces of lingerie can be found for specific occasions and functions. Nursing bras and maternity bras were created for the changing breasts of pregnancy and nursing; a strapless bra for strapless or halter neck dress that reveal more flesh. Basques and bustiers can also be worn with strapless or halter style evening wear. Knickers and panties were invented and then went through various changes of length and styles as hem lines shortened and modesty required better coverage. To avoid making a fashion faux pas matching lingerie to the outfit's requirements is a wardrobe must, a nude or beige colour blends with the skin, better to create a unity under white or sheer fabric, wearing white will show through as it stand out from skin tone and producing an unsatisfactory effect. Same applies to dark lingerie under light colours as the lingerie can stand out, detracting from the outfits’ desired effect. G-strings, thongs and petticoats are also specific pieces of lingerie designed for the purpose of avoiding the dreaded panty line is a must for that special occasion wardrobe choice.

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