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Lingerie, a term that first came into use in the mid-nineteenth century, comes from the word linen and originally referred to linen or lace items used for women’s undergarments and nightwear. The word lingerie is French in origin, arising from the French word for linen – linge.
Lingerie was originally conceived as being necessary for hygiene, body shaping (e.g. corsets or girdles) and modesty. By the late 19th century, lingerie began to have different connotations – e.g.. erotic, sexy, alluring, provocative. In fact, as early as the Edwardian era, underwear designs became more sexually oriented.
Initially, when lingerie styles became more provocative and sexual in nature, there was a social expectation that these items would be worn within the context of a happy marriage, and were kept very private in nature.
Handmade lingerie was a luxury item affordable only to the wealthy. It became a sign of social status. Lady Duff-Gordon (most commonly known by her professional name “Lucile”). Lucile was British, born in London, and designed fashions in the early twentieth century. She may be credited with having a great deal of impact upon styles for the modern 20th century woman as society transitioned from the 19th into the 20th century. She made use of feminine, sensuous fabrics, such as silk, lace and chiffon – materials which appealed to the touch.
Many styles of lingerie came onto the fashion scene during the early part of the 20th century:
The Teddy, for example was named after its inventor: Theodore Baer. Teddies were originally known as camiknickers, the name having been derived in the 1920’s from the words camisole and knickers.
The camisole is typically regarded as being merely a top, in contrast to the Teddy. Camisoles have actually transitioned from being worn as an undergarment to outerwear in many cases.
The slip was another standard piece of lingerie from the 1950’s which eventually became used as outerwear; For example, a “slip dress.”
Following a decline in lingerie popularity in the 1960’s caused by the influx of miniskirts, making classic lingerie styles less relevant, the 70’s enjoyed a revival of lingerie in the fashion arena. Companies like Victoria’s Secret and Frederick’s of Hollywood became household names, and acceptance of more exotic and sexually enticing styles became more accepted within mainstream fashion.
The Victorians are deserving of credit for giving us The Corset. Originally designed as a body shaping garment, early wearers would often lace their corsets so tightly that they were unable to breathe properly. Anyone who has ever seen the movie “Titanic” may remember Rose being uncomfortable with her corset, though at that time it was expected of her to wear and endure it. The corset offers the promise of a gift waiting to be unwrapped, and its sensual allure has endured for hundreds of years. Modern corsets are most often worn for their sensual nature, rather than for body shaping, even doubling as outer wear on occasion.
Contemporary styles of lingerie are found in our magazines, TV shows, even on billboards. Fashion designers are bluring distinctions between different types of lingerie, and their uses. Many swimwear fashions are now doubling as lingerie, and they often are used interchangeably. Dresses which would only a few years ago have been termed “lingerie” are now worn at parties and clubs, and are not only considered acceptable, but in fact appropriate. The 21st century has released us from many of the social mores which dominated, or at least influenced the styles of the past, leaving wearers free to dress more confidently. We may now dress in a sexual, attractive manner, without the classic negative stigma which our forbearers would have attached to it.
Garment styles in the past decade have become fashionable for men as well. The standard “Tighty Whiteys” and cotton boxer shorts have evolved into sexy garments, often purchased by women.