10 Fascinating Underwear Trends Over The Past 100 Years

Fashion always reflects cultural norms and cultural transitions. For example, just think about the correlation between women wearing skirts to wearing pants and women’s liberation movements. That’s not a coincidence! But while most of us can accept that when it comes to flares and tube tops, most of us have no idea that our undies reflect the same patterns!

We’ve dissected the history of bras before, but we’ve never explored the apparel of the neither regions. Whether you call them underwear, panties or knickers, it’s time to get a brief (haha, see what I did there?) education on the history and trends of undies over the past 100 years. By the end you might be ready for a revival of some by-gone underwear styles.

Early 1900s: The First Open Crotch Undies

Okay, it might not be the sexy crotchless panties you're thinking of, but hey, it was the late 1800s and early 1900s. The bagginess of its design helped keep the opening discreet while the split helped ladies out when they needed to go to the bathroom. It's a lot easier to do your business when you don't have to take off all of your ruffles and corsets and layers, right?

Photo source: Pinterest

1920s: Cami Knickers

Corsets were slowly going out of style by the '20s, leaving boyish, waif-like figures in vogue. This meant undergarments that helped maintain a slick, bulk-free silohutte. Enter cami knickers, full body undergarments that were an immediate favorite of flappers and other young women who were ready to abandon the old, frumpy, and far longer underwear of their mothers' generation.

Photo source: Pinterest

1930s-1940s: Practical Panties

By the 30s, underwear developed the shape that we're more familiar with today: short and cut close to the body. In the 1940s, cotton and nylon panties were most popular and many adds touted how flattering they were under snugger skirts and shorter hemlines. These undies were also a lot easier to move around in, an important factor since it became more common for women to work outside of the home. It's a lot easier to work long hours at a factor when your underwear isn't getting in the way!

Photo source: Pinterest

1950s: Girdles And Garters

While girdles became popular in the late '40s, they really took off by the '50s. They helped achieve an hourglass silhouette that was all the rage during this era. Girdles were often hooked onto garters that helped hold up stockings, too.

Photo source: Pinterest

1960s: Playful Undies Abound

From teddies to pastels, underwear in the '60s are marked by girlish playfulness; this absolutely reflected the popularization of youth culture at the time. High waist cuts were popular throughout the decade. By the late '60s into the early '70s, one of the biggest underwear trends for women and girls were undies that displayed the day of the week on the front or rear.

Photo source: Pinterest

1970s: Low Ridding And Glamour

As low-rise hip huggers became popular, so did low-rise undies. The playfulness that began in the '60s was still around, especially for teenagers; but young adult women and up eventually grew out of that style and into more glamorous underwear marked by silk and lace. That decadence definitely coincided with the excess of the disco era

Photo source: Pinterest

1980s: Bodysuits And High Cut Silhouettes

Bodysuits were at their peak in the '80s, popularized by over the top fashion icons like Cher and aerobic inspired apparel. Also popular: Ultra high cut panties. Covered up hip bones? Forget about it. the bikini line got a whole lot bigger in the '80s.

Photo source: Pinterest

1990s: Minimalism

Minimalist fashion was ultra popular in the '90s. Just look back to the heroin chic aesthetic of Calvin Klein's infamous underwear ads at the time, especially the ones featuring a young Kate Moss. Underwear was just as basic with emphasis on thin straps around the waist. By the late '90s, lingerie company Victoria's Secret blew up, its ads often popularizing hipster cut panties...with a little more color than the gritty Calvin Klein ads.

Photo source: Pinterest

2000s: The Thong Era And Suggestive Slogans

In 2000, Sisquo released "Thong Song" which set the tone for underwear for the entirety of the early to mid '00s. Low-rise jeans were back in style, going hand in hand with the visible thong trend. At the same time, a bit of an anti thong movement was brewing in the form of boy shorts style underwear. Whether thongs or boy cut undies were being worn, they likely had some sort of suggestive message on them. The '00s loved sexually explicit slogans on apparel and undies weren't any different.

Photo source: Pinterest/Degrassi

2010s: Shapewear And Diversity

Shapewear rules the underwear world at the moment. Case in point, Spanx, which are pretty much a household name by now. Other than undies that give us smoother shapes (or fake butts), there's a big push for diversity in the underwear world, too. How? Well, check out the company Nubian Skin which offers undies in nude tones for a variety of colors, not just white folks.

Photo source: Spanx/Nubian Skin

Which decade had the cutest underwear? Which had the ugliest? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!


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