From Pantalettes to the present: the evolution of women’s underwear

We track the fashion transformation of lingerie in association with Canesten

It's hard to imagine a time where women didn't have too much of a choice about what knickers they could wear. While we girls can now choose anything we like - from girl boxers to a cheeky thong - with most specifically designed to look great AND be good for feminine health, back in the day ladies were lucky to get any sort of selection when it came to their undergarments, and before the 1800s they didn't even wear underwear at all (scandalous!).

In solidarity to the ladies of yesteryear, who weren't exactly clued up on breathable undies and how they can help avoid that pesky itch you just can't scratch, we're taking a look back into the pants of the past and how they most definitely could have been improved…


In a word, blergh. Well, before the 1800s, it seems that ladies didn't wear underwear! Apparently, their several layers of petticoats helped protect dignity, and ladies in Europe only realised that underwear would probably be a good idea by the turn of the 19th century. By the 1840s they’d evolved into hot and sweaty, overly frilly pantalettes that ruffled around the calves, can you imagine how uncomfortable that might have been?  


If the thought of walking around in mini scaffolding doesn't sound like your idea of a good time, it's probably best that you didn't live in the 1860s! By then, giant skirts were supported by steel structures, petticoats and constricting corsets. Simply, ouch!


The 1890s was a mixed bag of developments for undergarments. On the one hand, corsets and bloomers became a thing of the past, Hallelujah! But on the other hand, an invention that still haunts most women to this day was oficially created. That's right, we're talking about the first ever bra. Patented by Mary Phelps Jacob in 1890, we can't help but wonder whether she threw it off the moment she got inside her home like the rest of us. Nothing really changes!


With the birth of the roaring 20s came women everywhere flinging off their flamboyant underwear in exchange for silky petticoats to create that perfect silhouette under a favourite flapper dress. It makes sense though, right? As the outer garments shrink, so must the bloomers! To summarise, the 1920s was instrumental in updating the knicker game.


The Kardashian family would NOT have fared well in the 1930s! The trend was all about flattening and minimising curves to create a boyish figure with the use of corsets and the original Spanx – the girdle. Bras also became more supportive, with a 'Full Fashion Double Support' available for the bustier women.


For some reason, the end of the war marked a rise in popularity for the underwired bra. We might leave it to the philosophers to work out why – it might have just been that the newly practical women needed practical underwear! Speaking of practical underwear, progress still fell woefully short on the knicker front, as a connected knickerbocker and bra was particularly popular during this period. Did this give women's skin a chance to breathe? Probably not. Would it have been an ideal environment for Thrush? Almost definitely yes!


The Age of Aquarius meant freeing the belly button and introducing the modern day knicker, hurrah! Young women of the hippy age went crazy for bra and pants sets (of course, when bras weren't being burned in an act of defiance and liberation that is!). No wonder everyone was feeling the peace and love!


In the 70s, underwear grew up and got sophisticated. Girly ruffles and bows were dropped for sleeker, streamlined underwear. As cute as this sounds, no one was really thinking about intimate health - all that lace and nylon's enough to make us squirm! Control top panties were also popular, holding in bellies, especially at the Victoria’s Secret launch in 1977.


Avert your eyes! Lingerie became more provocative and sexualised. Film stars and celebs posed in sheer black intimates and underwear became the star of many a photoshoot.


The decade of the thong! Although they (and G-strings) technically emerged in the 1980s, it was in the 1990s that they really started trending. Towards the end of the 90s you could say that we saw the birth of a trend that we see now in 2017: underwear as outerwear. The most mini of undie items (glitzy g-strings) were now visibly peeking out of low slung jeans – tasteful!

So there we go,  the history of underwear from scaffold petticoats to skimpy little numbers you can buy by the handful at most stores! We have to say, we're breathing a huge sigh of relief (thankfully un-impaired by a bloomin' girdle!) that lingerie of 2017 is as gorgeous as it is: stunning to look at, makes you feel gorgeous and actually supports the health of your intimate area thanks to airy natural materials like cotton and silk – something that the generations before us (not blessed by Canesten's multitude of effective remedies) must have been itching to get hold of - literally!

* Canesten Thrush Combi Pessary & External Cream contains clotrimazole. Always read the label.

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