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The Not-so-sexy History of Undies

Loincloths to Lycra

Amanda Cotterill

Roman bather
in apodesm
and zona.

Today, sexy panties range from bikinis to boy shorts to thongs and g-strings. Most women own a collection of sexy panties as a part of their basic wardrobes. However, today's panties are a relatively modern invention. Provided here is a guide to sexy undies through the ages.


The loincloth is believed to have been the earliest form of clothing. In warmer climates, the loincloth was often worn as the only garment. In colder temperatures, however, the loincloth was generally worn as a protective under layer beneath heavier clothing. Both men and women wore loincloths, and the sole purpose is believed to have been comfort and protection, not sex appeal. Sexy panties had not yet been conceived.

Classical Period

The Greeks and Romans wore a loose t-tunic style garment under their peplos or chitons that was called the tunica intima. This tunic was often sleeveless. Underneath the tunic, women wore a bandeux of wool called a apodesm to secure their breasts and a girdle or zona of wool that was used to tuck and tie another sash between her legs. Until she was married the zona was tied in way that symbolized her chastity, and thus the first concept of a chastity belt arose.

A 14th C. field worker has tucked up
his tunic so you can see his braise and
his turned down hosen. –from The Very
Rich Hours of the Duke du Berry


In the Middle Ages, both men and women wore a type of short pants called braies with leggings known as chausses or hosen. Again, the purpose was functional, not sexual. These leggings covered the feet and were made of woven, not knitted, fabric cut on the bias. They were held up with garters tied around the small of the leg just under the knee. In hot weather the chausses could be worn rolled down over the garters exposing the legs from knee to thigh. The rest of the time they were worn pulled over the thighs and tied to a waist cord.

14th C. woman in
chemise and kirtle

The most common medieval women's undergarment was the chemise, a long gown usually made of linen or wool with long loose-fitting sleeves. During the Gothic age when dresses had very narrow sleeves, the chemise was made without sleeves. Over the chemise a tight, front-laced vest called a "pair of bodies" or bodice secured the breasts and provided a foundation for the fashionable outer garments. When the bodice had an attached skirt, it was called a kirtle. The bodice was the forerunner of the corset and the modern girdle. In the Middle Ages "girdle" simply meant belt.

Chastity belts are often associated with the Crusades, but this appears to be largely a mythological connection. Chastity belts appeared during the Renaissance, but were often worn by women trying to guard against sexual assault rather than those with jealous husbands.

The Age of Corsetry

Elizabethan Corset

During the Renaissance, the straight, boyish look of the medieval period gave way to styles that enhanced the woman's figure. During this time, women wore layers of clothing, but underpants were generally not part of the ensemble.

Marie Antoniette

The Elizabethan styles gave way to more elaborate fashion in the French court of Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette. The bodice of the corset was still basically conical but the hips flared out to the sides so much that the doorways in the palace had to be widened. Structures called panniers were worn under the skirts to give them shape and to show off the marvelous skirt decoration.

The Regency

During the Regency period fashion reflected the desire of the people to be free from excess and ostentaion. The simplicity of ancient Rome was imitated with sheer draped fabrics and classic lines. Corsets were minimized, panniers were bannished, and hose were knitted of light beige wool or silk so that they the women appeared to be wearing nothing underneath.

The 19th century

Fashionable 19th C.
lady in bloomers.

The corset came back into fashion durning the Victorian Age and was crueler than ever. Since a curvasious figure was in fashion, the waist had to be cinched tightly in a boned corset, and women often swooned from lack of oxygen to the brain! Corsets were worn from childhood in order to keep the waist as slim as a little girl's and the hips and buttocks were exaggerated with crinolines and bustles. The size of the bustled skirts got so big that to balance the sillouette women wore hats often as large as unbrellas. Pantaloons and the shorter pantalettes, which were long breeches made of white linen with a frill at the cuff, became popular during the 19th century to protect against chafing under crinolines and provide modesty. The crotch was not sewn together and each leg was put on separately and buttoned together at the waist. Although pantaloons were not designed to be sexy panties, some sex appeal was inherent.


In many ways, bloomers could be considered the precursor to modern sexy panties. Popularized by young athletic women in the early 1900s, bloomers were available in both underwear and outerwear versions. They generally fastened just below the knee like knickers or at the ankles and were an evolution of earlier pantaloons. At first they were called Turkish pants but eventually were dubbed "bloomers" after feminist author Amelia Bloomer who was a great advocate of this fashion.

Flapper of the 1920s

The 1920s

The 1920s ushered in the age of the sex, alcohol, and jazz music. Flapper, which was English slang for teenage girl, described the generation of liberated young women who were outspoken, liberal, and bucked societal norms. The modern age of lingerie can be traced to the flappers of the 1920s. It was at this time that sexy panties were truly born. The flappers tossed out the stiff Victorian corset in favor of bras that were first made of a bit of ribbon and two pocket handkerchiefs and sheer silk stocking, worn with sexy silk underwear. Well, sexy by the standard of the day, they were waist high and covered the top of the thigh and had to buttoned or closed with a drawstring. Elastic was not available until after World War II!

The 1930s to Today

Styles have, of course, changed over the years. Along with changing fashions, the idea of what is sexy has also changed dramatically. Through the 1930s and 1940s, practicality was still highly emphasized. In the '50s, a playful sexuality emerged. The invention of Lycra and Spandex revolutionized the girdle industry, and inexpensive nylon stockings replaced silk stockings.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s allowed women to wholeheartedly embrace their sexuality. During and after the sexual revolution, sexy panties became available in a wide range of styles. Today, bikinis, tap pants, thongs and g-strings come in every color imaginable with matching bras, and teddies.

Whatever your shape or size you will always be able to find sexy panties to suit. Just choose something that you are comfortable in and you will be fine.

About the Author

Amanda Cotterill has been involved in the sexy lingerie uk market for many years. This article outlines the benefits of women wearing fantasy lingerie as if that needed much explaining!

(Additional text by Gael Stirler.)

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