Some Curious Facts From the History of Women’s Panties

Today, we can enjoy having a large variety of women’s underpants: from minimalist boyshorts to lacy G-strings, from granny-style briefs to bright-colored bikini sportswear... But did you know that in Western civilization, women went commando up to the 1800s?

In the ancient world, proper underwear--a thong made of animal skin, attached around to the waist with cord or sinew--was worn exclusively by men in Egypt, Greece, Japan, most of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The ancestor of all underwear is loincloth--a scarcely noticeable flap of cloth (resembling a thong) covering the buttocks and genitalia. Of them, the most famous authentic one belongs to Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 5000 B.C. His loincloth was found in the Italian Alps in 1991 and is now exposed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Italy. 

Since the 1700s, men often wore drawers of two separate legs joined at the waist. For many ages, mostly due to social prejudice, Western cultures considered it indecent for a woman to put anything between her legs (so women also rode side-saddle on horses). To keep their private parts warm and safe, starting from the Middle Ages up to the Victorian era, women wore many layers of clothes: petticoats, shifts, girdles, chemises, multiple long skirts, crinolines, etc. – but no underwear. 

As social and industrial evolution went on with mass production of more varied and affordable fabrics, in the early 19th century pantaloons--baggy trousers gathered at the ankles--were introduced for warmth. They were hemmed with lace and looked quite elegant when peeking from under the long dresses. It was Elizabeth Miller who invented loose pants for women.

In the 1850s, American social reformer Amelia Bloomer promoted them, so they became known as bloomers: shorter, wider baggy pants often worn by more socially active women. With more and more women taking on gardening and sports, by the later 19th century bloomers and drawers became a part of daily wear in most social classes. 

The average American woman owns approximately 21 pairs of underwear, and about 10% of women own over 35 pairs

The prudish Victorian age banned open-crotched undergarments, so women drawers had to switch to a side waist opening. Knickerbockers, that joined up completely, started appearing in the 1850s, but most considered them very impractical, unhealthy, and unfashionable.

In the late 19th century, the Victorian dress reform (also known as rational dress movement) was run mainly by middle-class American and British women who designed, wore and promoted more simplified, comfortable, and practical clothes and underwear.

1868 in New York witnessed the invention of a union suit: a one-piece knitted front-buttoning garment, with sleeves extending to the wrists and legs down to the ankles. It originated as women’s wear, with its style under influence of the United States clothing reform, and soon became popular among men and children, too. 

While Queen Victoria’s pair of bloomers, recently sold at an auction in Edinburgh, had a 50+ inch waist, yards of white cream silk and her initials embroidered on them, over the 20th-century women’s panties shrunk in size and came in zillions of elaborated designs, patterns, and materials.

Nowadays, the average American woman owns approximately 21 pairs of underwear, and about 10% of women own over 35 pairs. Most women in the US prefer bikini underwear (37%), briefs (23%), thongs (19%), or boy shorts (17%). Although satin, lace, and silk underwear looks elegant and charming, cotton--or at least a crotch lined with cotton--is known to be more breathable and hygienic for our down-there health. 

At Genial Day, we produce panties from eco-friendly innovative Organic cotton with Silverplus® finish underwear in a range of models, sizes, and colors. Please check our options for breathable and cozy undergarments here.