Undergarments, also called "underwear", "underpants," "lingerie", or
"panties" (undergarments for women), or sometimes "intimate clothing", and
"pants" or "knickers" in British English, are clothes worn next to the skin,
usually under other clothes. They are also known as 'Katch' or 'Katchie' and
worn under Indian traditional clothing.
A man wearing a Japanese traditional fundoshi—specifically a red rokushaku.
Some clothing is specifically underwear, while some is also used as swimsuits
(if made of suitable material), and both T-shirts and some shorts are suitable
as underwear as well as outer clothing. Suitability as outer clothing is, apart
from outdoor or indoor climate, largely a social and sometimes even a legal
matter. One of the criteria for shorts not to be suitable as outer clothing may
be that it has a fly that avoids exposure of the genitals just by an overlap of
cloth, without buttons etc.
In the English Regency times this garment, basic for both men and women, was
straight cut, usually knee length, and had the elbow length sleeves set straight
into the shoulders.
The two major types of men's underpants are boxer shorts (shorts-length and
loose; also known as "boxers") and briefs (smaller and tighter), which are also
referred to as Y-fronts in British English.
In addition to keeping outer garments from soiling, undergarments are worn for a
variety of reasons: warmth, comfort and hygiene being the most common.
Undergarments are often used for modesty or erotic display; sometimes both of
these motivations are simultaneously present.
Roman female underwear from a mosaic at the Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
The loincloth is the simplest form of underwear; it was probably the first
undergarment worn by human beings. A loincloth may take three major forms. The
first, and simplest, is simply a long strip of material which is passed between
the legs and then around the waist. The ancient Hawaiian malo was of this form,
as are several styles of the Japanese fundoshi. Another form is usually called a
cache-sexe: a triangle of cloth is provided with strings or loops, which are
used to fasten the triangle between the legs and over the genitals. The
alternate form is more skirt-like: a cloth is wrapped around the hips several
times and then fastened with a girdle.
In warmer climates, the loincloth may be the only clothing worn (making it
effectively not an undergarment), as was doubtlessly its origin, but in colder
temperatures, the loincloth often forms the basis of a person's clothing and is
covered by other garments. In most ancient civilizations, this was the only
undergarment available (King Tutankhamun was buried with 145 of them).
Men are said to have worn loincloths in ancient Greece and Rome, though it is
unclear whether Greek women wore undergarments. Mosaics of the Roman period
indicate Roman women (primarily in an athletic context, whilst wearing nothing
else) sometimes wore wrapped breastcloths or brassieres made of soft leather,
along with loincloths and possibly something like panties.
Any cloth used may have been wool, linen or linsey-woolsey blend. Only the upper
classes could have afforded imported silk.
The loincloth continues to be worn by people around the world (it is the
traditional form of undergarment in many Asian societies, for example). In
various, mainly tropical, cultures, the traditional male dress may still
prescribe only a single garment below the waist or even none at all, with
underwear as optional, including the Far eastern Dhoti and Lungi or the Scottish
Middle Ages and Renaissance
In the Middle Ages, western men's underwear became looser fitting. The loincloth
was replaced by loose, trouser-like clothing called braies, which the wearer
stepped into and then laced or tied around the waist and legs at about mid-calf.
Wealthier men often wore chausses as well, which only covered the legs.
By the Renaissance, the chausses became form-fitting like modern Hose, and the
braies became shorter to accommodate longer styles of chausses. However,
chausses and many braies designs were not intended to be covered up by other
clothing, so they are not actually underwear in the strictest sense. Braies were
usually fitted with a flap in the front that buttoned or tied closed. This
codpiece allowed men to urinate without having to remove the braies completely.
Henry VIII of England began padding his own codpiece, which caused a spiraling
trend of larger and larger codpieces that only ended by the end of the 16th
century. There are two possible explanations for Henry VIII's codpiece becoming
larger and larger. It is speculated that he, along with many others in this time
period, may have had the venereal disease syphilis. The large codpiece may have
included a bandage soaked in medication to relieve the symptoms. It would then
be wrapped again to protect the outer clothing. Henry VIII also wanted a healthy
son and may have thought that projecting himself in this way would portray
The modern men's shirt appeared during this era, but it was originally an
undergarment. Men would wear this long shirt under their other clothing and pull
the long piece up from the back and then put their braies on over the shirt. In
this way the shirt acted as underwear. Renaissance noblemen also adopted the
doublet, a vest-like garment tied together in the front and worn under other
This lady wears an informal linen jacket over her rose-pink pair of bodies
(corset), smock, and elaborate petticoat, c. 1600
Medieval women usually wore a close-fitting garment called a chemise in France
or a smock in England (occasionally a shift), sometimes coupled with braies-like
They may have worn petticoats over the shift and under the dress. Quilted
petticoats could be worn during the winter. Elaborately-quilted petticoats might
be displayed by a cut-away dress, in which case they became a skirt rather than
During the 16th century, the farthingale was popular. This was a petticoat
stiffened with reed or willow rods so that it stood out from a woman's body,
like a cone extending from the waist.
Corsets also began to be worn about this time. At first they were called pair of
bodies, which may refer both to a stiffened bodice designed to be seen, and a
bodice stiffened with buckram, reeds, canes, whalebone etc., worn underneath
another, decorative, bodice. These were not the small-waisted, curvy corsets
familiar from the Victorian period, but straight-lined corsets that flattened
There is a myth that Crusaders worried about the fidelity of their wives and
forced them to wear chastity belts. There is no reference, image, or surviving
belt to support this story. In fact most historians of this period are of the
view that chastity belts were worn to prevent sexual assault and that the woman
kept the key.
Enlightenment and Industrial Age
"Tight Lacing, or Fashion Before Ease", a satirical drawing of the early 1770s
The inventions of the spinning jenny machines and the cotton gin in the second
half of the 18th century made cotton fabrics widely available. This allowed
factories to mass-produce underwear, and for the first time, people began buying
undergarments in stores rather than making them at home.
Women's stays of the 18th century were laced behind and drew the shoulders back
to form a high, round bosom and erect posture. With the relaxed country styles
of the end of the century, stays became shorter and were unboned or only lightly
boned, and were now called corsets. Undue binding of a corset sometimes led to a
woman needing to retire to the fainting room. Colored stays were fashionable.
'health corsets' in 1883
As tight waists became fashionable in the 1820s, the corset was again boned and
laced to form the figure. By the 1860s, a tiny ('wasp') waist came to be seen as
a symbol of beauty, and the corsets were stiffened with whalebone or steel to
accomplish this. By the 1880s, the dress reform movement was campaigning against
the pain and damage to internal organs and bones caused by tight lacing. Inez
Gaches-Sarraute invented the Health corset, with a straight-fronted bust made to
help support the muscles of the wearer.
The corset was usually worn over a thin shirt-like garment of cotton or muslin
called a shift. Shift In the latter half of the 19th century, long drawers,
called pantalettes or pantaloons, often accompanied the shift to keep the legs
out of sight as skirts styles got shorter.
As skirts became fuller from the 1830s, women wore a profusion of petticoats to
achieve the fashionable bell shape. By the 1850s, stiffened crinolines and later
hoop skirts allowed ever wider skirts to be worn.
The bustle, a frame or pad worn over the buttocks to enhance their shape, had
been used off and on by women for two centuries, but it reached the height of
its popularity the later 1880s, and went out of fashion for good in the 1890s.
The standard undergarment of the late 19th century for men, women and children
was the union suit, which provided coverage from the wrists to the ankles (this
"second skin" style is more commonly known as long johns today). The union suits
of the era were usually made of knitted material and included a drop flap in the
back to ease visits to the toilet. Drawers for women were not generally worn
until the mid-nineteenth century when the adoption of crinolines made them
necessary for reasons of modesty and warmth.
The jockstrap was invented in 1874 by C. F. Bennett of a Chicago sporting goods
company, Sharp & Smith, to provide comfort and support for bicycle jockeys
riding the cobblestone streets of Boston. In 1897 Bennett's newly-formed Bike
Web Company patented and began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap.
By the early 20th century, the mass-produced undergarment industry was booming,
and competition forced producers to come up with all sorts of innovative and
gimmicky designs to compete. The Hanes company emerged from this boom and
quickly established itself as a top manufacturer of union suits. Textile
technology continued to improve, and the time to make a single union suit
dropped from days to minutes.
Meanwhile, designers of women's undergarments relaxed the corset. The invention
of new, flexible but supportive materials allowed them to remove the whalebone
and steel while still providing support. The emancipation or liberty bodice
offered an alternative to constricting corsets, and in Australia and the United
Kingdom, the liberty bodice became a standard item, for girls as well as women.
Ladies' underwear advertisement, 1913
The increase in the number of underwear manufacturers necessitated the birth of
undergarment advertising. The first underwear print advertisement in the United
States ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1911 and featured oil paintings by
J.C. Leyendecker of the "Kenosha Klosed Krotch". Early underwear advertisements
placed emphasis on durability and comfort; fashion was never a selling point.
By the end of the 1910s, Chalmers Knitting Company split the union suit into
upper and lower sections, effectively inventing the modern undershirt and
drawers. Women wore lacier versions of this basic duo known as the camisole and
In 1913, a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob changed women's fashion
forever when she cobbled the first brassiere together by tying two handkerchiefs
together with ribbon. Jacob's original intention was to cover the whalebone
sticking out of her corset, which was visible through her sheer dress. Jacob
began making brassieres for her family and friends, and word of mouth soon
spread about the garment. By 1914, Jacob had a patent for her design and was
marketing it throughout the United States. Although women had worn
brassiere-like garments years past, Jacob's was the first to be successfully
marketed and widely adopted.
In 1912, the United States had its first professional underwear designer.
Lindsay "Layneau" Boudreaux, an immigrant from France established the short
lived panty company "Layneau". Though her company closed within one year, it had
a significant impact on many levels. Boudreaux showed the world that an American
woman could establish and run a company, and she also caused a revolution in the
underwear industry. Boudreaux is possibly the reason why up-scale underwear and
panty stores exist today.
By the end of the decade, trouser-like "bloomers" (popularized by Amelia Jenks
Bloomer 1818-1894 but invented by Elizabeth Smith Miller) gained popularity with
the so-called Gibson girls who enjoyed more athletic pursuits such as bicycling
and tennis. This new female athleticism helped push the corset out of style, as
well. The other major factor in the corset's demise was the fact that metal was
in short supply in much of the world during World War I. Steel-laced corsets
were dropped in favor of the brassiere.
Meanwhile, the soldiers of World War I were issued button-front shorts as
underwear. The buttons attached to a separate piece of cloth, or yoke, sewn to
the front of the garment, and tightness of fit was adjusted by means of ties on
the sides. This design proved so popular that it began to supplant the union
suit in popularity by the end of the war. Garments of rayon also became widely
available in the post-war period.
In the 1920s, manufacturers shifted emphasis from durability to comfort. Union
suit ads raved about "patented" new designs that reduced the number of buttons
and increased accessibility. Most of these experimental designs had to do with
new ways to hold closed the crotch flap common on most union suits and drawers.
A new woven cotton fabric called nainsook gained popularity in the 1920s for its
durability. Retailers also began selling preshrunk undergarments.
Women's bloomers became much shorter and stockings covered the legs instead. The
shorter bloomers became looser and less supportive as the boyish flapper look
came into fashion. By the end of the decade, they came to be known as step-ins,
very much like modern panties but with wider legs, worn for the increased
flexibility they afforded.
As dancing became a favorite pastime of young flappers, the garter belt was
invented to keep stockings from falling. Nevertheless, the increased sexuality
of the flapper also made underwear sexier than ever before. It was the flappers
who ushered in the era of lingerie.
A Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal further developed the brassiere in this
decade when she introduced modern cup sizes in 1928 for her company, Maidenform.
A man wearing a pair of boxer shorts
Meanwhile, other modern men's underwear was largely an invention of the 1930s.
On January 19, 1935, Coopers Inc. sold the world's first briefs in Chicago. The
company placed a Y-shaped front and overlapping fly on knitted drawers in both
short and long styles. They dubbed the design the "jockey" since it offered a
degree of support that had previously only been available from the jockstrap
(the company itself would later adopt the name Jockey, as well). Jockey briefs
proved so popular that over 30,000 pairs were sold within three months of their
Companies began selling buttonless drawers fitted with an elastic waistband, the
first true boxer shorts (named for their resemblance to the shorts worn by
professional fighters). Scovil Manufacturing also introduced the snap fastener
at this time, which became a popular addition to various kinds of undergarments.
Women of this decade brought the corset back, now called the girdle. The garment
lacked the whalebone and metal supports and usually came with a brassiere (now
usually called a bra) and often garters attached.
During World War II, elastic waistbands and metal snaps gave way once again to
button fasteners due to rubber and metal shortages. Undergarments were harder to
find, as well, since soldiers abroad had priority to get them.
At war's end, Jockey and Hanes remained the industry leader in the United
States, but Cluett, Peabody and Company would make a name for itself when it
introduced a preshrinking process called Sanforization, which came to be
licensed by most major manufacturers.
Meanwhile, some women readopted the corset once again, now called the waspie for
the wasp-shaped waistline it gave the wearer. Many women began wearing the
strapless bra, as well, which gained popularity for its ability to push the
breasts up and enhance cleavage.
1950s and 1960s
Corselette of 1953
In the 1950s, underwear manufacturers began marketing printed and colored
garments. What had once been a simple, white piece of clothing not to be shown
in public suddenly became a fashion statement. The manufacturers also
experimented with rayon and newer fabrics like dacron and nylon. By 1960, men's
underwear was regularly printed in loud patterns or with images ranging from
messages to cartoon characters.
Women's undergarments began to emphasize the breasts instead of the waist in the
1950s. The decade saw the introduction of the bullet bra, which featured pointed
cups. The original Wonderbra and Fredericks of Hollywood's push-up bra finally
hit it big in this decade as well. Meanwhile, women's panties had become even
more colorful and decorative, and by the mid-Sixties were also available in two
smaller, more abbreviated styles called the hip-hugger and the bikini (after the
island of that name), frequently in sheer nylon fabric.
Pantyhose, also called "tights" in British English, which combined panties and
hose into one garment, made their first appearance in 1959, invented by Glen
Raven Mills of North Carolina. The company later introduced seamless pantyhose
in 1965, spurred by the popularity of the miniskirt. By the end of this decade,
the girdle had fallen out of favor as women chose sexier and lighter
1970s till the present day
Woman in camisole, garters and stockings
Underwear as fashion matured in the 1970s and 1980s, and underwear advertisers
forgot about comfort and durability, at least in advertising. Sex appeal became
the main selling point, in swimwear as well, bringing to fruition a trend that
had been building since at least the flapper era (underwear is the last barrier
before nudity, and thus it acts as a sort of gatekeeper to sex).
Tank tops, an undershirt type named after the Tank suit swimwear which dates
from the 1920s, have been popular warm-weather casual wear in the United States
since the 1980s and are regarded as acceptable public casual dress in most
Performers in the 1980s such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper also got into the act,
often wearing undergarments on top of other clothes. Later, in the 1990s, hip
hop stars would popularize a similar style, known as the Sag, which allowed
loosely fitting blue jeans or shorts to droop low, exposing the underwear. In
fact, in the case of Mark Wahlberg, it was his success as underwear model for
Calvin Klein (pioneering in sexy exposure of male flesh) that allowed him a
double launch to showbiz fame as both a white hip hop star and a respectable
Although it was worn for decades by exotic dancers, the g-string first gained
popularity in South America, particularly in Brazil, in the 1980s. It was
originally a style of swimsuit made so that the back of the suit is so thin that
it disappears between the buttocks. By the 1990s, the design had made its way to
most of the Western World, and thong underwear became popular. Today, thong
underwear is one of the fastest selling styles available among women and is even
gaining some popularity among men.
In the 1990s, retailers started selling boxer briefs, which take the longer
shape of boxers but maintain the tightness of briefs. Though marketed as a new
design, these are actually quite similar to the bottom half of the two-part
union suits worn in the 1910s. In 2006, fashion gurus Trinny Woodall and
Susannah Constantine released a new style of underwear, which are made of Nylon
and designed to flatten the tummy or buttocks so that the areas appear slimmer,
therefore acting as both underwear and a slimming mechanism.
Men's underwear, 1990s to the present
Men's underwear styles in the present day have seen a dramatic shift in style
when compared to the evolution of female styles in underwear. While women's
underwear continued to emphasize feminine sexuality, around the late 1980s and
early 1990s; particularly in the United States, men's underwear styles began to
deemphasize sexuality, in favor of baggier and looser styles. This trend also
became evident in swimwear, which grew longer and looser in this period as well
as all other fashions which also became consciously baggier and less form
Mormon Temple garments (two-piece style)
The tzitzis strings of one corner of a tallit. Note how the eight strings are
really four that are folded through the hole on the tallit.
Undergarments can also have religious significance. For example:
* Some members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wear
special undergarments after they have been endowed in a temple to help them
remember the teachings of the temple.
* Many Jews wear a four-cornered garment called a tallit katan, with tzitzit
(fringes) attached at the corners.
* Some Hindus wear a sacred thread, called the Yajñopavītam, underneath their
* One of the five articles of the Sikh faith is underwear called kaccha.
Underwear styles and function
Today, there are many options in underwear available. These include
* boxer style (at or near true waist, leg sections extending to thighs)
* woven boxer (traditional)
* knit boxer (like traditional but with more fabric give)
* boxer brief (also knit; more form-fitting)
* pouch boxer brief (boxer briefs but with pouch for genitals rather than access
* athletic-style (skin-tight, usually with no access pouch or flap; like short
tights; a variation are cycling shorts
* retro style (boxer shorts in a brief style)
* brief style (knit fabric, with access pouch or flap; usually at or near true
waist, leg bands at tops of thighs
* traditional brief (vertical flap)
* double seat brief or double back brief
* diagonal flap brief
* pouch brief
* low-cut/low-rise brief
* bikini brief (usually lower than true waist, often at hips, usually no access
pouch or flap, legs bands at tops of thighs)
* high-side bikini brief
* low-side bikini brief
* string bikini brief (the front and rear sections meet in the crotch with a
shoestring-like thread at the top, with no fabric on the side of the legs)
* g-string type (with a front pouch for the genitals but no rear coverage)
* thong (with a strap securing the pouch at the bottom rear, passing up the
crack between the buttocks to the waistband)
* athletic supporters, also known as jockstraps (with two straps securing the
pouch at the bottom rear, passing through the perineum, around the bases of the
buttocks up to the waistband at the sides) and dance belt
* strapless pouches (with a front pouch and waistband only, no securing straps)
Man in boxer briefs (trunks style)
Women's panties or knickers
There are also many types of long underwear, union suits, and other variations
of men's underwear. Some underpants also have a fly. These usually do not allow
detachment at the waist; elasticity allows them to be taken on and off. Usually
the fly of underpants avoids exposure of the skin just by an overlap of cloth,
without buttons, etc. Such a property may be one of the criteria for boxer
shorts not to be suitable as outer clothing.
Today, there are many specialized types of underwear made for sexual purposes,
such as edible underwear or crotchless panties. Most of these are meant simply
to display the body or genitals in certain ways, while some are intended to
provide genital stimulation as well. Frederick's of Hollywood is an example of a
business centered around manufacturing and selling such underwear.
Not wearing undergarments
Not wearing undergarments under one's outer clothing is also known in American
slang as freeballing for men or freebuffing for females; the terms going
commando and going bareback are also used for both sexes.
This trend shows that a few consider underwear unnecessary for hygiene,
especially for modern people who bathe every day.
In situations where a certain amount of body coverage is required (legally or
socially), people who prefer to go clothes free might enjoy not wearing
undergarments, as that is the closest they can get to nudity. For others, there
may be sexual motives; undergarments are the final physical barrier to sex, and
not wearing them might be arousing.
Cycling shorts and swimwear such as board shorts are usually worn without
underwear. Often the same applies for a kilt; the uniforms of several Scottish
military regiments mandate wearing no underwear with the kilt except at
Underwear exposed above trousers and not wearing it
Marky Mark on front cover of Sky Magazine with signature "sagging" style
Underwear is sometimes partly exposed above the trousers when sitting, bending
over, etc., or permanently. This depends on the style of trousers (see also
sagging, low-rise jeans, hip-hugger), the style of underwear, and the way they
are worn. It may be accidental or deliberate. When women wearing thong underwear
expose themselves in this way, it is sometimes called a "whale tail".
Designers / retailers of underwear
A number of major designer labels are renowned for their underwear collections
including Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana. Likewise specialist underwear brands
are constantly emerging, notably 2(x)ist, California Muscle, and Ginch Gonch.
Specialist retailers of underwear include high street stores La Senza (CAN) and
Victoria’s Secret (USA). Both the aforementioned chains also have internet