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Underwear: Then And Now Essay

1176 words - 5 pages

While we have been wearing undergarments for as long as we've had clothes to go on top of them, the forms that they have taken vary across time periods. Today, as in the early 19th century, undergarments have the essential purpose of shaping the female form for a better “look” in our clothing; however, there are many key differences. There are secondary purpose differences, differences in the way they support our breasts, vast changes in the department of “underpants”, and finally, differences in the way that we view the subject in general.
In the early 1800s, undergarments were worn to help keep the outer clothing clean in a time before the washing machine and regular bathing. The layer ...view middle of the document...

Using whale bones to maintain their shape and lacing up the back, the tightest fit and change to natural body shape was possible. In addition, it was used to hold the breasts up and keep them in place, while also molding them for the outer garment fashions. Usually this meant that the breasts were either pressed flat, or pushed up into what is described as the “half-moon” position.(Steele and Gau 291) While they made a comeback as outerwear in the late twentieth century, early twenty-first, they are by no means common, or anything like the corsets of history. (Cumming 55) Today, women almost everywhere use the bra, or brassiere, for breast support. While there are as many types of bras as there are outfits or activities they tend to share a few of the same parts: the cups, which actually hold the breasts, the band, which encircles the torso under and between the cups and provide support, and the straps, which go over the shoulder and provide stability, are in virtually every bra pattern in one form or another. (“Brassiere” 88) Below the waist, there isn't such a sense of similarity between us and our Romantic era counterparts.
At the beginning of the 19th century, underpants were just beginning to catch on as a ladies garment. That's right, practically every historical figure known to the world prior to 1800 was not wearing underpants, kings, queens, presidents and first ladies included! Underpants, then called “drawers”, hit the scene in the early 1800s as a ladies garment. Unlike what we think of as underpants today, the drawers of the time were nothing more than two tubes of fabric around the legs with a drawstring that tied at the waist. (Sanborn) At the time they would have been considered risque, but because they resembled a pair of men's trousers rather than the fact that they were crotchless. Today our underpants, or panties, have kept the “around the waist bit” but sometimes, as in the case of thongs or “g-strings”, don't have much else to them. Almost all other styles of underpants cover the area between the legs as well as the buttocks and are part of a societal norm. A pair of panties sans crotch would be considered very risque for the modern lady. Obviously our ideas have changed quite a bit on the subject of underwear.
The phrase “unmentionables” is one that has been used for quite awhile to describe undergarments and is still occasionally used today by some older or more modest people. Despite the fact that prior to the turn of...

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