The Advance of Ladies Underwear As an Indicator of Social Progress

The Advance of Ladies Underwear As an Indicator of Social Progress

Social status for women in America was one of submission in the years from 1800 until at least 1920, when women finally gained the right to vote in the United States. After that, they discovered that the mantle of patriarchal discrimination would require another four decades of struggle to lift. Throughout the transformation of the role women play in American society, ladies underwear changed in step with the times.

Beginning with the fashion in vogue for women in 1800, there are several things to point out. First the women truly look beautiful in elegant dresses made famous through the magic of Hollywood. What is generally left out of the films is the severity of the uncomfortable undergarments tying the women into the shape the dresses accentuate. A women wore a device replete with whale bones and strong laces that were tightened around their body to attain the impossibly symmetric shape expected at the time.

Women wore dresses almost exclusively in that time frame, and the style was floor length and layered which gave a full and lovely effect, but as a practical matter was simply heavy and unwieldy. In order to help keep the dress from sagging, the crinoline was worn. This undergarment was also a functional device that was made of steel to keep the skirt portion of the dress shaped into the proper bell shape expected at the time. This was later modified so the rear portion was exaggerated in an attempt to mirror the feminine shape.

Real change in undergarments for women began in the 1900s. There were recognized health risks for women who wore such constricting garments as the corset, but there was nothing to replace it with until 1930 when the capability to produce elongated elastic fibers was developed. This paved the way for a serious renovation of the corset. They remained a skintight fit, but they were no longer so incredibly restrictive, and actually emphasized the shape of a woman.

The invention of the brassiere spelled doom for the corset, but it did not really mean any greater comfort for ladies. In its original design, the brassiere did not enhance or emphasize the bust, but instead was a device intended to flatten it in a most decidedly unfeminine way. Still it was an improvement over the draconian style enforced by the corset. Ironically, this era saw the reemergence of the impossibly tiny waist as the fashion style.

In the wild and crazy decade of the 60s, the US in general experienced a tumultuous period of social change. Civil rights, rages against an unpopular war, and the notion that women should be afforded the same rights in the workplace as men highlight the news. World War II had thrust women into the workplace, but the return of the men pushed them back into the shadows. As a symbol of their dedication to freedom and emancipation from male dominance, many women burned bras, while men burned their draft cards, it was a time of turmoil.

The 1960s also the development of the Lycra fiber, while not a fabric, its addition to fabric in varying proportion allowed for an inherent elasticity. The fiber can be stretched to seven times its length and then return to its original state when tension is released. It allowed for the development of more comfortable fabrics which made the brassier much more comfortable. This era also saw the appearance of the first tights and the mini-skirt.

Ladies underwear has gone through quit a journey of evolution, just as girls and women have to find their place in American society. For being half of the population, it has taken them an inordinately long time to attain the vestige of fairness. In the end, women decided that their undergarments would be light, attractive and comfortable in the style of bikini bottoms and thongs, styles that would have made their predecessors blush, and then likely try them on.