Fashion History

The Actual Origins of Women’s Undergarments

The Actual Origins of Women's Undergarments

Clothes provide us with comfort and warmth. We fail to associate the clothes we wear with its history. And if you are reading this you may be curious to know the origins of your clothes. The undergarments women wear today have gone through several phases and changes.

There are many undergarments that women wear around the world. But there are two that all women have in their wardrobe. The focus of the bras and underwear we know as today is focused both on comfort and style.

However, the history of these undergarments has many stories to tell. They have gone through a lot of changes since their origin. And the history of undergarments holds stories that some are fascinating.

The Origins of the Modern Bra

The bra as we know it has gone through several changes from what it originally was. They are used throughout history to cover, restrain, support, and modify the breasts of women.

The origins of the bra-like garments can be dated back to 14th Century BC. The art from the Minoan civilization depicts women athletes wearing these garments to restrain their breasts.

The Actual Origins of Women's Undergarments
By Kenton Greening – Own work, Public Domain

Women used to tightly bind tie pieces of fabric around their chest and pin it back in ancient Greece. It was used by Roman women to keep their breasts in place while playing sports. Garments other than fabric such as girdle and belt were also mentioned in Homer’s Book 14 of the Iliad written in the archaic period.

In 1869, a woman named Herminie Cadolle designed the first modern bra as we know it. It was designed as a part of a two-piece corset. The design helped women support their breasts with shoulder straps. These bras were more comfortable than most corsets but were stiffened with whalebone.

bra patent
Google Patents

Because of the stiffness of the bra, curvy women had a hard time wearing them. And frustrated with such a problem Mary Phelps Jacob designed something more comfortable. She designed two separate cups with handkerchiefs and joined them with a ribbon to support her breasts. Later in 1914, Mary patented the bra as the “Backless Brassiere” and started a factory becoming the first women’s undergarment manufacturer.

The Origins of Women’s Panties

The origins of panties are more covered in stories of the misogynistic past. The earliest panties were worn by women dating back to 4,400 BC in Egypt. But female underwear before the 1600s did not have two leg holes as we have now.

Later, as women started riding horses, there was a new problem. Unfortunately, women would flash as they fell or were getting off from horses. So, to prevent this from happening women started wearing short cotton pants under their skirts. Unlike, the modern bra, the panties were not created for comfort.

Apparently, women also wore panties in the past to protect themselves from being assaulted. Why? Because young men used to slip their hands inside their skirts and touch them. So they wore panties to stop men from touching their skin. It was illustrated by Cecil Saint-Laurent in her book “The Great Book of Lingerie.”

In the 19th century, the drawers (panties) had two separate leg holes and an open or sewn crotch. But they were much longer than what we see now. The leg length, however, decreased after WWI as women started wearing shorter skirts. Hence, they continued to shorten after WWII for comfort as women continued to join the workforce.