Cavemen and pharaohs alike, the loincloth was the longest-existing style of underwear.




Roman men and women wore shorts called subligaculum.
Women also wore a band of leather or cloth around their chest called a strophium or mamilare.(Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subligaculum )

13th Century


Men begin to wear linen knee-length shorts called braies.  The braies were fitted with a frontal flap called the codpiece. Women wore a nightie like garment called a shift or chemise under their dress.  However women did not usually wear knickers.



16th Century

Corsets became popular causing women to start suffering for fashion, as the lace-up bodice cinched waist and flattened chests.  Stayed popular up to the beginning of the 20th century.

17th Century


Many women wore a frame of wire or whalebone called a farthingale under their dress.  The cheaper version was called a bum roll.  It was a padded roll worn around the waist.  Wealthy women wore silk stockings.



19th Century



At the beginning of this century women still wore a long nightie like garment but was now called a chemise not a shift. Women begin to wear knickers.  At first they are called drawers because they are drawn on. Sometimes they came below the knee or were longer with frills at the bottom called pantalettes.



Only children wore pantalettes.





Elizabeth Miller invented loose trousers to be worn by women.  They were promoted by Amelia Bloomer and became known as bloomers.




Some women begin to wear coloured drawers and petticoats although white is still popular. The Union suit was patented.  It started as a women’s garment, it took off as menswear.  The union suit was a buttoned on-piece garment with long sleeves and pants.  The signature addition was of a buttoned flap on the buttocks that made trips to the toilet a little easier.

union suit from 1902 Sears Roebuck catalog https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_suit




The Jockstrap – developed by CF Bennett (for cyclists) consisted of an elastic waistband with a supportive pouch for the boys and two straps attached to the base of the pouch on either side.  In some variations, the pouch could house an impact-resistant cup for even more protection.





In Britain drawers for women are now called knickers and men’s underwear is called pants.  Men also wear vests or sometime combination, pants and vest in one garment.





Herminie Cadolle, a corsetiere, made history at the Paris Exposition Universelle when she revealed her corset-gorge – a corset for the bust. It was the forerunner of the bustier or long-line bra. That being said – it was still a corset – not a brassiere.




Marie Tucek patented the breast supporter in 1893 – a garment very similar to what we now recognize as the bra. It used shoulder straps and a hook-and-eye closures to support a woman’s breasts in separates fabric pockets. It was by all accounts not overly comfortable to wear, but some daring women chose it in place of the conventional corset.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breast_supporter_-_Marie_Tucek.png



20th Century


In 19th Century women’s underwear was usually open between the legs but in 20th Century closed knickers replaced them.




Some women are so poor they have to make their knickers from sacks used to hold food like flour.





Knickers and stockings are first made of rayon.




The modern bra is invented/patented by Mary Phelps Jacob who uses two handkerchief joined by a ribbon.

Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caresse_Crosby




Knickers became shorter.  Flappers introduced lingerie.  Undergarments became decorative and less modest as they were worn under trendy short dresses.





A Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal along with her husband, formed a company called Maidenform.

producing bras with ‘bust cups’ attached with elastic, breasts were uplifted rather than flattened and the bra – as we now know it took off.




Although corsets were gone, women still wanted a bit of shapewear.  Flattening of the stomach and extending over the thighs, girdles created a small-waisted silhouette without any of the dangerous constrictions of corsets.

Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Girdle_(undergarment)




Y fronts are invented in USA – Chicago’s Coopers Inc





Nylon stockings are first made




Fashionable women wore briefs.  However, in Britain clothes are rationed from 1941-1949.  During World War II women sometimes make their knickers from parachute silk.

Boxer shorts were introduced. Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_shorts




Bullet bra – By the 1940s, bras had to be durable for women working long shifts in factories and on the farm (Land Girls) and the busty sweater girl look came along via Hollywood starlets like Lauren Bacall and Jane Russell. Military inspired bras were fashionable with torpedo and conical shapes abounding.





Bikini briefs – Named after an island in the Pacific Ocean.  Grew to be a popular style as they still are today. Thanks to the development of rayon and spandex intimates became comfortable and cute.





Tights (pantyhose) are invented.





The wonderbra is invented.





Burn the bra movement




The thong is invented.  Firstly became popular in South America.



Miracle Bra – developed by Victoria’s Secret.



21st Century




Spanx – founded in 2000 was introduced originally as a pantyhose company before becoming modern shapewear staples.





Taking cue from Madonna in the 1980s, the line between outerwear and underwear has been blurred.



  1. A Timeline of the History of Underwear by Tim Lambert http://www.localhistories.org/underweartime.html
  2. A Brief Evolution of Underwear by Rebecca Deczynski. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/fashion/tips/a24247/evolution-of-underwear
  3. Saving the Jewels: The History @ SHEATH https://www.realmenrealstyle.com/history-origins-mens-underwear/
  4. A Brief History of the Bra – 1910 to the 1990 @Glamour Daze https://glamourdaze.com/2013/03/a-brief-history-of-the-bra.html