This week, we’ll be looking at the history of some of the most popular garments– lingerie. Over the past 100 years, our undergarments have gone through tons of different styles and iterations, from functional to flashy. We’ll be studying some of the most influential styles over the decades. Undergarments have gone through as many changes as our fashion has over the centuries. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, undergarments were more structured and constricting to support the styles of the time. Throughout the past century, we’ve become less and less conservative in our clothing, and the freedom and variety in our undergarments reflects that.
The style of the 1920’s was focused on a more boyish silhouette for women. Because of this, their undergarments were loose and unrestrictive slips that didn’t accentuate the bust or hips. Slip dresses are still popular today, though now you’re just as likely to see them worn as regular dresses! During the 20s and 30s, women wore many layers getting dressed every day. Between lingerie, slips, garter belts and stockings, and a dress and coat on top, there were a lot of components to an everyday look.
What looks the most like a modern bra was born in the 1930s. These were created to separate and lift breasts while still giving a natural, feminine look. During this time, bras with two separate cups were popularized, and brands started adopting the standard bra sizes that we see today, with the first underwire bra being invented in 1938.
The 1940s saw an end to the popularity of steel-boned corsets when the steel was needed for war production, giving women new freedom of movement in their undergarments, an important development as more and more women joined the workforce. Most women were also wearing garter belts at this time to hold up their stockings. This decade brought in a new era of fashion, where women’s clothing sought to accentuate their curves rather than hide them.
This was the decade of hyperfeminine, pin-up model styles that are still iconic today. Pointed bras were popular, and bras with padding were often worn under looser clothes like sweaters. The fitted pencil skirts of this time also gave way to more modern briefs that were fitted to the body and didn’t show through tighter clothing.
The 1960s brought an important development in women’s lingerie: the creation of the modern pantyhose. Before this, tights only went up to the mid-thigh and had to be held in place with girdles and garter belts. After pantyhose were revolutionized, this decade became famous for tights in a wide variety of colors and textures. The popularity of synthetic fabrics like nylon also led to more brightly colored lingerie, and you could even get many different pieces in the same colors, like this ad shows.
During the 1970s, many women stopped wearing bras entirely as an act of rebellion against gender norms. Because of this, the lingerie that was popular at the time featured sleek, simple designs made to be invisible under clothing and look like nothing at all. Nude colors and soft fabrics like jersey and silk are common as well.
The 80s were a decade of bright colors and extravagant styles, and the trends in lingerie were no exception. There were also frills, lace, and bright colors on more feminine lingerie looks. Athleticwear was popularized by aerobics and sports in this decade, bringing about the iconic high-cut leg in underwear and bodysuits. This is a silhouette we still see today in lingerie and swimwear. The casual, comfortable cotton panty that’s still around today came about during this decade as well.
Other new styles of dressing that came about in the 80s, from power suits to punk culture, came with their own styles of lingerie. Power suits brought around a more traditional style of undergarment again, with the resurgence of women wearing slips under their dresses. Punk fashion and other alternative styles that popped up at this time used these traditional pieces in different ways, including corsets and fishnet tights.
The 1990s were the era of two huge brands: Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein. Victoria’s Secret was full of girly, glamourous styles that were paired with angel wings for their runway shows. Calvin Klein took a new approach with their minimalist looks that included cotton bras and briefs with their iconic branded elastic. Advertisements were full of black-and-white photos of their celebrity models in relaxed denim and comfortable underwear.
This decade turned lingerie into outerwear in a way we’d never seen before. Thongs showed over ultra low-rise jeans and bras were visible through see-through tops. Corsets, teddies, and bras were popular to wear all on their own, making for plenty of the outrageous styles we remember the early aughts for.
What do you think of vintage lingerie and how our underwear has evolved over time? Do you have a favorite era of lingerie whose looks you just love? Be sure to let us know in the comments!