21 April 2009

Fashion: Lingerie Through the Centuries

By Vicki Gaia

The silhouette of a woman is formed by her lingerie. What is beneath the three piece suit can affect a woman's mood, behavior and set the tone of the events that follow.

Lingerie can be traced to the ancient civilizations. Purely functional, not used to create a fashion statement, tomb paintings show Pharaohs wearing socks to keep sand out of their toes, Minoan vases depict women athletes strapping their breasts for support. In Roman times, the early prototype for a bra was named strophium. Still, what we consider foundationwear is a relatively modern invention. Underwear (panties) were not invented until the late 19th century. Before it was considered unhealthy for a woman to wear anything underneath her petticoats!

In the Middle Ages, nobility began to wear simple linen clothes under their richly decorated dresses. It protected the expensive outer dress from their dirty body and provided a layer or warmth. Then the purpose of foundationwear slowly transformed into providing a particular shape and form--molding a woman's shape into the fad of the century.

The first corsets were invented in the 15th century. There was a rigid center called a basque, usually very decorated and even given as a love token, to be worn close to the heart. Also popular were farthingales, hooped petticoats, and bustles, a framework for the robes worn as outer garments. The farthingale was essential in creating the wide-hipped Elizabethan fashion. Exaggeration was the key fashion word for the 17th century, the women's frame achieving extraordinary proportions.

As the 19th century rolled in, the style of underwear and quantity reached its peak. The female body was wrapped in layers and layers of clothing--the bustle skirts, pantaloons, tightly laced corsets and bodices. The corset reached its extreme, literally reforming the women's body, dangerously so. They were designed to constrain and shape the body, some made of tortuous steel.

The 20th century ushered in a new age for women. They saw their clothing as a way to control them in every aspect of their lives. It was during and after WWI, that lingerie became linked with sexual politics and female emancipation. A looser, more androgynous style emerged as women had to take on more and more jobs usually held by men. Never again would women go back to being 'constrained and molded' by their lingerie.