From Academic Kids

A pair of men's briefs
A pair of men's briefs

Undergarments, also called "underwear," "lingerie" (undergarments for women), or sometimes "intimate clothing," are clothes worn next to the skin, usually under other clothes.

Some clothing is specifically underwear, while 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 skin just by an overlap of cloth, without buttons, etc.

Wearing and changing underwear permits outer garments to be worn repeatedly without needing to be cleaned.

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.

Undergarments can also have religious significance, as in the special temple garment worn by followers of the LDS Church (Mormons). Some Jews use clothing that should neither touch the skin, nor be used as outer clothing: tallit katan or tallet ketannah or tzitzit ("Every Jewish boy and man is supposed to wear Tzitzis every day. If this is not possible, try and wear it every time you go to synagogue. Tzitzis is an undergarment." [1] (http://jewishbazaar.com/BAZAAR/TzizitInfo.HTM)).

Underpants are also called pants in British English.

Women's underpants are also called knickers (British English) or panties (American English).

The two major types of men's underpants are boxer shorts (shorts-length and loose) and briefs (smaller and tighter).



Ancient History

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), 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). The loincloth continues to be worn by people around the world (it is the traditional form of undergarment in many Asian societies, for example).

Men are said to have worn loincloths in ancient Greece and Rome.

It is not clear whether or not Greek women wore undergarments. Roman women sometimes wore wrapped breastcloths or brassieres made of soft leather. They also seem to have worn loincloths and possibly something like panties. Decorative frescoes survive showing semi-nude women cavorting in breastwraps and loincloths [2] (http://www.villaivlilla.com/underwear-w.htm).

Any cloth used may have been wool, linen, or linsey-woolsey blend. Only the upper classes could have afforded imported silk.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Male Undergarments

In the Middle Ages, 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.

The modern men's shirt appeared during this era, but it was originally an undergarment. Renaissance noblemen also adopted the doublet, a vest-like garment tied together in the front and worn under other clothing.

Female Undergarments

Medieval women usually wore a close-fitting garment called a shift, smock, or chemise, sometimes coupled with braies-like leg wrappings.

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 an undergarment.

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 the bust.

There is an urban legend that Crusaders worried about the fidelity of their wives forced them to wear chastity belts. There is no reference, image, or surviving belt to support this story.

Enlightenment and Industrial Age

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. The standard undergarment of the 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.

In the 18th century, women began wearing stays [[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_corset_periods#Stays.2C_1550.3F_to_about_1890)], a type of undergarment that wraps around the torso from behind and ties closed in the front. These stays were often stiffened in the 1750s and 1760s, when they became known as the corset. Different colors became available (though linings remained white). The corset remained popular with aristocratic women well into the 19th century, when the design was modified to fit much more tightly. A tiny waist came to be seen as a symbol of beauty, and the corsets were laced with whalebone or steel to accomplish this. This caused great pain to most women, and some even suffered damage to internal organs and bones as a result. These later corsets did not wrap around the breasts as their predecessors had. Breasts were thrust outward by many corset designs, but were otherwise allowed to hang loose.

The corset was usually worn over a thin shirt-like garment of cotton or muslin called a shift. In the latter half of the 19th Century, long drawers called pantalets or pantaloons often accompanied the shift to keep the legs out of sight as skirts styles got shorter.

The other major female undergarment of this period was the Crinoline petticoat. This underskirt served a similar purpose to the farthingales of the Renaissance, only the petticoat kept skirts full by means of stiff fabrics and numerous layers rather than hoops. It also differed in that it was fairly inexpensive, and therefore commoners and aristocrats alike could afford to wear it (though wealthy women could usually afford petticoats of finer material and of more elaborate design).

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 1880, and went out of fashion for good in the 1890s.


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 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 drawers.

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.

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.


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 introduction.

Meanwhile, other 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, 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

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. Fredericks of Hollywood's push-up bra finally hit it big in this decade as well.

Panty hose, 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 panty hose in the 1965, spurred by the popularity of the miniskirt.

Present day

Underwear as fashion matured in the 1970s and 1980s, and underwear advertisers forgot about comfort and durability, at least in advertising. Sex became the main selling point, 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). 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.

Although it was worn for decades by exotic dancers, the thong 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 into 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.

Underwear in Non-Western Cultures


Today, there are many options in underwear available to men. 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 flap)
    • athletic-style (skin-tight, usually with no access pouch or flap; like short tights; a variety also is bike shorts)
  • 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)
    • 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 but not at the waistband, 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 around the bases of the buttocks up to the waistband at the sides)
    • strapless pouches (with a front pouch and waistband only, no securing straps)

There are also many types of long underwear, union suits, and other variations of men's underwear.

Today, there are many other specialized types of underwear made for sexual purposes. 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 Undergarment

Not wearing undergarment under one's outer clothing is known in American slang as freeballing (or freebuffing for females); going commando is also used for both sexes [4] (http://www.wordspy.com/words/gocommando.asp).

This trend shows that not everybody considers underwear essential for hygiene, especially for modern people who bathe every day.

There may be sexual motives: with underwear as the final barrier to sex, not wearing it at all is a powerful turn-on for many people.

Without sexual connotation, it may be preferred by some nudists in situations where a certain amount of body coverage is required, as the state that comes closest to nudity.


Being in public wearing nothing but underwear.

Wearing just underwear in public is considered an intermediate form between being socially acceptably dressed and being nude. People are often arrested if found wearing only their underwear. Some prisons issue inmates specially dyed underwear, which often helps in catching escapees, who might strip off their prison jumpsuit and walk off a job site wearing only their underwear. Police response to underwearing depends on context. For example, in a public fountain that has been specifically designed for waterplay, it is often acceptable to run through it wearing only underwear, because of the recognized spontaneity of such activities on a hot day (people can't be expected to carry a bathingsuit with them everywhere they go). Thus cooling off in a fountain or lake is considered acceptable underwearing, because the underwearing serves a necessary purpose. Deliberate acts of underwearing are often done as a form of protest (e.g. "I'd rather be caught in my underwear than be caught wearing fur"). In such cases, the underwearers are usually thought of kindly, and often end up getting off once the matters work their way though the court system. It is thus mainly the inconvenience of arrest that keeps underwearing under wraps. In other cases, corporations have used underwearing as a form of sensationalism for advertising. For example, freshpair.com had a number of models parading around New York's Times Square wearing nothing but their underwear. None of the models were arrested. Some feel that cops turning a "blind eye" to this activity is biased toward commerce (i.e. underwearers are OK as long as their cause is commerce, and not performance art or protest). Charges filed, pending arrest for underwearing are typically "disorderly conduct" rather than public indecency.

Of course a person is not underwearing when wearing only shirts and shorts that are designed to function as both underwear and outerwear.

As a hyperbole, and since there is no other word for underwearing, (i.e. nude, naked, and stripped usually refer to being completely naked), sometimes people who are wearing only underwear are referred to as naked. For example, the "Naked Cowboy" is a celebrity who often wears only underwear, boots, and a cowboy hat.

Historically T-shirts were originally considered underwear. Thus at one time, it was unacceptable to be seen in public in a T-shirt. People were required to wear at least two shirts in public: an outershirt, and an undershirt. More recently, T-shirts were re-interpreted as outerwear, and it is now acceptable to wear only one shirt in public.

These social constraints apply only to mixed-gendered spaces. For example, it is acceptable for a person to be with other people of the same gender when they are in a changeroom or other space that has been specifically designated for changing clothes. Some gay bars have started a tradition of having a weekly underwear night where men can check their pants.

It is acceptable and very common to wear just underwear in a private place. Some people, especially men, chose to sleep in their underwear, instead of pajamas. The animated cartoon character Homer Simpson is often depicted sitting on his couch in his briefs drinking beer.

Related topics

Further reading

  • The History of Underclothes by C. Willett Cunnington & Phillis Cunnington, 1951, Dover

External links

da:Undertøj de:Unterwäsche eo:Subvesto ja:下着 nl:Ondergoed


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