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The Legacy of Lingerie and Women

Feb 10, 2008
In the beginning, lingerie was designed to accent the breasts. Women in Crete wore corsets so extreme that they would literally thrust cleavage out as far as it could go. These garments were less about support, and more about the effect. In Rome, women wore bras made out of leather and loin cloths made out of either leather or wool.

In the Middle Ages, most women wore a close fitting, slip like garment called a shift, smock, or chemise, as well as petticoats and in particular, a petticoat known as the farthingale, which was stiffened with reed or willow rods so that the garment stood out from a womans body like a cone. The first corsets were worn underneath garments, and were designed to flatten the busts.

In the Industrial Age, inventions like the spinning jenny machines and the cotton gin made cotton fabrics more widely available, and people began to wear cotton underwear on a regular basis. The standard undergarment in this era was the union suit multi purpose long underwear. Women began wearing says in the 18th century, which wrapped around the torso behind and closed in the front, and these garments were stiffened and later evolved into a more restrictive, waist slimming corset.

A tiny waist was seen as the pinnacle of beauty, and as a result, corsets were lined with whalebone or steel which caused most women to be in constant pain, and even damaged some womens internal organs and bones. Breasts were thrust outward by corset designs, but were other wise not supported and allowed to hang loose. Most women also wore Crinoline petticoats, which were designed to keep skirts full and stiff.

The first underwear print ad in the United States was an advertisement for the Kenosha Klosed Krotch line, which emphasized durability and comfort. The first brassiere came two years later, as a result of the efforts of socialite Mary Phelps Jacob, who tied two handkerchiefs together to cover the whalebone of her corset, but the result was support for the cleavage, and a new project for Jacobs, who began making and distributing bras for her family and friends, receiving a patent for her design in 1914.

It has been said that the flapper era was truly the birth of modern lingerie, since decreasing hemlines necessitated a change in the look and feel of underwear and stockings. Since then, strapless bras, thongs, teddies, garters, and babydolls have become some of the most popular lingerie items on the market, and are designed for style, comfort, durability, and flexibility no whalebone or steel included.
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