The Brief History of Sexy Lingerie
It is well recorded that the female figure varies a greatly.
History shows that it has always been like this!
Historically, what's been fashionable for the shape of the
female body has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous!
However, the dazzling female body has always been subject to
what is covering it and history shows us that it's been covered
in many different ways. Also, different parts of the feminine
form have been accentuated, concealed, reduced, enlarged by the
style of the current fashionable frill fripperies.
We've witnessed some almost unthinkable extremes, from
devices that required a small army to force the unfortunate
fashion victim into, to the flimsiest, most whimsical mere
flutter of a garment. Let's take a trip back at how sexy
lingerie has developed and how it got to where it is today.
To start with, let's get some terminology straightened out.
Thanks to the world's most passionate language, we now usually
refer to female 'underwear' as 'lingerie' - unless we're being
derogatory in which case, depending on where you live, you can
fill in the spaces!
When we (at least us men) think of lingerie, we think of a
flimsy material embellishing the female body in a way that
gives us a hint of the pleasure that lie underneath. But the
'first' lingerie, probably from one of the Ancient Greek
islands, was much different. These bewitching Greek women used
a boned corset fitted tightly around the midriff, not for
support or even for a 'slimming' effect, but to attract their
men by showing their thrusting breasts in a most conspicuous
way. Maybe not what we would call lingerie today but with much
the same desired effect.
As time passed, the female form took on new 'perfect' shapes
dependant on the vogue. As each 'perfect' form emerged, frill
fripperies were perfected and developed to flatter and
accentuate that desired shape. The culture of the society
dictated whether the breasts, the bottom or both would be
highlighted and glorified. You could argue that nothing much
During Medieval times it was thought that the natural form
and shape of a woman should be constrained and that the breasts
should be firm and small. This condition was probably admirable
for those normally built that way but perhaps not so good for
those of a more luscious construction. Many types of corset
were worn with the single purpose of flattening the breasts
and/or the bottom. It has been said that, in order to draw
attention to that part of the anatomy that shouldn't draw
attention, some women folk wore small bells over their breasts
to remind the men folk of the pleasure that still lay
The 'modern' corset is said to have been introduced by
Catherine de Mdicis, wife of King Henri II of France. She
enforced a ban on chunky waists at court attendance during the
1550s and had a questionable effect on women folk for the next
The Renaissance saw another change in the preferred female
shape. Women now required cone shaped breasts, flat stomachs
and slim waists. In order to actualize this look, they also
needed to employ maids or family members to dress them because
the cinching up of their corsets was done from behind and
required much effort.
Due to this unnatural method of bringing about 'perfection',
Doctors and other notaries contended that these corsets
restricted women's bodies so tightly that their internal organs
were being impaired and their ribs were being permanently
misshapen. Around that time it was common for women folk to
collapse or fall into a swoon. This was usually put down to
their delicate nature but, in fact, it was because they simply
found it difficult to breathe! There are many accounts of women
folk dying because of serious punctures to vital organs due to
In the early 18th century the whalebone corset still kept
women folk tightly bound but the artistry that reflected the
times was painstakingly incorporated into clothing and the
corsets were decorated with dazzling ribbons, lace and
embroidery. A part of this lightening up was the fact that it
became fashionable for the breasts to be pushed upwards to the
point of almost popping out.
Towards the end of the 18th century the corset was being
worn by the gentry, the burgeoning middle class and even by
nuns in convents. It was often proudly displayed by its wearer
because it was a visible outer item of clothing at that time.
In itself it was an object of beauty and ornamentation and its
display was part of social civility.
However, as people became more educated and aware, they
started to question and critique many things including art,
politics and, you guessed it, vogue. Backed up by professional
people like doctors, public opinion became such that boned
corsets were actually outlawed in many localities.
By the early 19th century, a much softer approach to the
female shape became popular. The vogue still demanded the
support that the old corset had given so it returned with more
elaborate methods of construction. Boning was still used in
small sections which allowed for better and more comfortable
The vogue at the time was for a more separated look for
breasts and a corsetiere by the name of M Leroy (who designed
the wedding corset for Marie Luise of Austria when she married
Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810) perfected a model which he called a
'divorce', allegedly because of the 'separation' involved. The
most significant aspect of this perhaps, was the fact that
women folk were able to dress and undress themselves due to
more elaborate lacing construction.
During the 1840s the extremely exaggerated shape for women
folk caused whalebone to come back with huge hoops and
crinolines that were covered with all kinds of fabric and
fineries. Unfortunately for women folk, it became the vogue to
have waists small enough for a man to put his hands around and
the need for even harder waist-cinching became the female
nightmare of the day.
It wasn't long before hoops and crinolines were replaced by
the soft 'S' silhouette. This style still used the corset but
added a bustle to the back creating an exaggerated rump. Once
again it was the women folk who had to suffer for vogue,
needing to stand most of the time due to the cumbersome bustle
on their rumps. Obviously men found this appealing because it
gave them more opportunities to stare at the sexy women folk
with their large bustles.
As more innovation came to vogue design, greater varieties
of corsets were developed. During the morning, a lady could
wear a lightly-boned corset for visiting friends, an elastic
corset for riding sidesaddle, a boneless corset for an
excursion to the beach and a jersey corset for riding her bike.
The corsetry industry was in its heyday!
Towards the end of the 19th century the corset supported not
only the breasts but also the newly developed stocking.
Stockings were held up by garters and suspenders which were
then attached to the corset. These devices, although a triumph
of design, probably added yet another frustrating aspect to the
vogue-conscious female of the day.
By the beginning of the 20th century, corsets were being
laced down as far as the knee. But many people didn't like that
style, and vogue designers were leaning towards an uncorseted,
more free-flowing style. Sexy lingerie was about to take a
whole new dimension. With the advent of the industrial
revolution, and the introduction of the sewing machine, Germany
and France introduced the first corset manufacturing
In 1910 Mary Phelps Jacob a New York socialite developed a
new type of bra. Not happy with the corset stiffened with
whalebone which she was supposed to wear under a new evening
gown, Mary worked with her maid to sew two silk handkerchiefs
together with some pink ribbon and cord. It was much softer and
shorter than a corset and it allowed the breasts to be shaped
in their natural condition.
Mary Phelps Jacob was the first to patent an item of
underwear named 'Brassiere', the name derived from the old
French word for 'upper arm'. a little while after, she sold the
bra patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport,
Connecticut, for $1,500 (over $25,600 these days).
In 1917 the War Industries Board of the United States asked
women folk to stop purchasing corsets to free up metal for the
production of war materials. This step released some 28,000
tons of metal, sufficient to build a pair of battleships.
It has been said that the success of the bra is due mainly
to World War I. World War I altered gender roles for good,
putting many women folk to work in manufacturing facilities and
wearing uniforms for the first time. Women needed practical,
comfortable undergarments. Warner went on to amass over 000
dollars from the brassiere patent over the next 30 years.
The other thing to take into consideration in the death of
the corset was that World War I had taken its toll on the
number of men. This meant more competition for finding a man so
women folk needed to look their sexiest!
With the Roaring Twenties and its sophisticated parties,
vogue was turned on its back, the boyish look was in. The
crusade for flat chests and stomachs along with straight hips
and buttocks led to the introduction of the liberty bodice, the
chemise, and bloomers which were loose-fitting and light. For
the first time pastel-colored underwear appeared to replace
plain old-fashioned white. To enhance the boyish look the first
brassieres were perfected to flatten the breasts. What happened
to the corset? The rump part that held up the stockings was
shortened and became the suspender belt.
The full-figured look came back in the 1930s. The feminine
look once again became the vogue. Women were encouraged to look
well-proportioned with a full-figure while remaining reasonably
slim in the hips. Now women folk had a full set of underwear to
help with the image: breast-enhancing brassieres, elastic
suspender belts, not forgetting the girdle, which kept all the
curves in their designated place.
The 1930s also saw one of the biggest advancements in the
underwear industry when the Dunlop Rubber company developed
Lastex, an elastic, two-way stretch textile made from the fine
thread of a chemically modified rubber called Latex. This could
be interwoven with fabric which allowed the industry to make
underwear in several sizes to appropriately fit a woman's
The beginning of World War II and its shortages meant that
Germany was unable to import the fabrics they had used up until
then and their industry failed. Forever inventive, people
started making home-knitted underwear out of materials to hand.
Not the sexiest of lingerie but at least they kept themselves
At the end of hostilities underwear consisted of basic
brassieres and suspender belts. This was acceptable to the
majority of women folk but the teenage girl, just coming out of
the oppression of the war years, became a target market. These
young females could barely wait to become adults and wearing
lingerie was a huge way towards achieving that aim. The German
underwear industry developed lingerie sets that appealed to
these young girls and the industry never looked back.
In the U.S.A., the underwear industry was trying to create
something new and cutting edge. Women were bombarded with all
kinds of undergarments and top clothing to help them look sexy.
The film producer Howard Hughes developed a new bra, a special
wire-reinforced device for Jane Russell. This caused the
censors throw their toys out of the crib about Jane's breasts
being blatantly exposed all because of Hughes' terrifically
innovative bra improvements.
The Swinging 60s was a terrible era for the underwear
industry thanks to the rise of women's emancipation movements.
Feminists burned their brassieres and many lingerie companies
were forced to close down. However Lycra had just been
developed and women folk began to wear tight-fitting leggings.
The iconic vogue item of that era however, was arguably the
sexy little mini-skirt and the demand for bikini briefs.
Famously, for a fleeting moment in time, topless swimsuits and
topless dresses were the rage. But, unfortunately for most men
and fortunately for the vogue industry, they were merely a
The 1980s saw the wire-reinforced bra become the number one
best seller. While these are still in demand these days, the
best seller at the moment is the push-up bra. Statistics show
the average American woman owns six brassieres, one of which is
a strapless bra and one is a color other than white.
The modern female shape varies and is not as susceptible to
fashion trends as in previous times. However, the dazzling sex
will always looks breathtaking in sexy, slinky lingerie!
So, there we have it. From the push-up corsets of ancient
Greece to the push-up bra of today. Sexy lingerie? Nothing ever
Clive Johnson works in the fashion industry and runs a
Lingerie & Underwear website.