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History of Lingerie

Once upon a time, in a country far away, an evil ruler decided to create a devise that would chafe, confine and torture women throughout time immortal. He called this device lingerie and set into place generations of suffering.

Okay, seriously, that isn’t how lingerie came to be but once look at lingerie from the days of old and you could almost believe it to be true. Lingerie or some form of lingerie has been around for centuries and it has seen a lot of progress from the confining whale bone corsets to the more comfortable chemises of today.

Although we can look at lingerie farther back than the 16th century, we are going to start our journey through lingerie history there. I would like to mention that lingerie was historically used as a way to keep outer clothing clean before that period. In fact, during the Middle Ages, women wore chemises between their outer clothing and their skin to soak up sweat and other fluids. The outer garments were rarely washed so the chemise acted as a way to keep the clothing clean.

In the 16th century and well in to the 19th century, lingerie was used mostly to shape a woman’s body, although they still used them to keep the outer garments clean. The corset is one of the most known items that women wore and they were used to shape the body. Waists were trimmed down to 16 or 17 inches (40 to 43 cm) and the hips and breasts were accentuated by the bound flesh. The hour class figure was very popular during this time and the corset insured this shape was held.

Also during this time period, women wore drawers. These were usually fully body, although there were waist high drawers as well, and many of them provided a flap in the back for ease when relieving oneself.

As with everything in our society, lingerie progressed over the centuries with the most changes occurring over the last 100 years. Corsets gave way to girdles, another body shaping undergarment that smoothed the body’s lines instead of binding them. Girdles had the added bonus of the stockings fasteners which were used to keep stockings in place.

Drawers progressed from full body to waist high underwear that extended to the thigh. Eventually, the thigh length underwear became the first panty, a large, baggy underwear, in the 1950’s and finally into the panties as we know them today.

Stockings also progressed and the late 1950’s saw the creation of the first pantyhose.

The bra had an unusual start with several inventors laying claim to the patent. Many historians feel that Henry Lesher patented the first brassiere in 1859; it was describe as a “perspiration shield,” instead as an actual support device.

Other inventors who can lay claim to the development of the brassier are Mary Phelps Jacob, who originally used the word, Cadolle Paris, Marie Tucek and finally Olivia P. Flynt.

Who ever invented the brassiere, it is evident that lingerie is general has had a very colorful history and more than likely, it will continue to evolve, progress and have many more, “What were they thinking,” moments for generations to come.

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