A Fairly Recent Invention
Panties as we know them today are a fairly recent invention. The underwear of yesteryear was far more practical and functional and was designed primarily for durability, long before it became important to also be comfortable and pretty. Women needed something for modesty as well as to absorb any bodily secretions that might be around. Catherine de Medici is often credited with the earliest form of panties, as she needed an undergarment that she could wear while she rode her horse sidesaddle and when she looped her leg around the neck of the horse, she was a bit reticent to expose all her girlie goodies; thus a form of rudimentary undergarments were fashioned to cover her up. Around the 1800’s, during the very prim and proper Victorian era, women ironically wore a pair of knickers with two separate legs--which were then tied together at the waist, leaving the entire crotch area open and exposed. Say what? The thinking at the time was that an open crotch was more hygienic and would keep a woman fresher having more air flow to the area. Underwear changes could be infrequent and this was the norm in this day in age.
Parisian Can Can dancers can ironically get some of the credit for the eventual sewing up of the crotch area to form a completely covered up pair of knickers. The length of the knickers did rise, however as the Can Can dancers enjoyed showing off a little more thigh during their high kicking dance numbers.
During the Industrial Age, toward the end of the 18th century, the invention of the Spinning Jenny and the Cotton Gin made cotton fabrics widely available. Over time, factories began cranking out manufactured underwear and for the first time customers could buy their undergarments in a store rather than having to make them at home.
During the latter part of the 19th century, very long drawers (like Queen Vicky’s) were the fashion and were called cutely enough, “pantalettes.” These pantalettes were worn on the bottom half of a woman’s body with a lightweight, shift-like garment that was worn on the top. The shift was just a thin garment which was worn underneath the dreaded corset…but that’s another story altogether. Over time, as skirt lengths began to rise, pantalettes became shorter as well, out of necessity. The pantalettes did a good job, however of keeping a woman’s legs out of sight as in those days, seeing a leg was considered to be immodest. (Unless you are a Can Can dancer, or some other type of ‘loose’ woman, of course.)
By the early 1900’s, women were becoming more active and a trend toward athleticism in women was becoming popular along with the day of the “Gibson Girl”. Pantalettes evolved into a shorter version of underwear that became known as bloomers, which were very popular for active endeavors such as tennis, gymnastics or other sports. These bloomers still were long, hung like trousers on the body and fastened just below the knee.
In the 1920’s the advent of the dance-loving Flapper created a new more masculine fashion for women. Skirt lengths went up, which required undergarments to change as well. During the Flapper era, stockings and garter belts began to be very popular and for the first time, women’s undergarments began to be designed to be pretty and as well as just functional. The Flappers wore a type of almost panty known as a ‘step-in’. These ‘step-in’s’ very much resembled a panty, as we know it today. Because of the dancing enjoyed by the Flappers and the social climate of the era, a new sexual awareness was happening that flowed through into the undergarments of the day. For the first time underwear was made to be sexier and many attribute the ushering in of the era of lingerie to the Flapper girl.
Before the 1950’s panties were primarily made of plain white, basic fabrics and had an elastic waistband. Panty girdles were popular in the 1950’s and helped to create a silhouette that conformed a woman’s body to the small waistline fashions popular during this time period. As time went on, by the 1960’s women demanded that a more flattering and comfortable undergarment be created that was more figure flattering as well as fashionable. Prints and colorful fabrics were used to make panties, and different styles were invented, including popular hip huggers and bikinis.
Lingerie popularity reached a pinnacle in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Perhaps it was all those Jane Fonda aerobics classes, but women wanted more figure flattering and sexy panties than were available before. During this time, a high cut leg became very popular as it elongated the leg visually and created a very sexy look that women loved. Comfort and function were lost somewhere in the fashionable desire to have sexy underwear that also had erotic appeal. Sexy panties were popular with the masses and ‘granny panties’ began to become somewhat extinct amongst fashion forward individuals.
Sometime around the late 90’s, the Brazilian g-string that had been popular in South America and amongst exotic dancers, made its way into the general population. Women embraced this undergarment, popularly known as the thong, because it eliminated VPL (visible panty lines) and was virtually invisible underneath clothing. It also had a very sexy appeal on it’s own and by this time, women were very familiar with using many types of underwear for its erotic and sexual appeal. Today the thong is one of the fastest selling types of panties sold in the lingerie marketplace.
How to Choose a Pair of Panties