Underwear – the history of
Underwear has ancient roots, we can say that the use of underwear began in Egypt around 1550 B.C. ; in fact, the first evidence found of undergarments is relatet to this period. The Egyptians, even though they produced wool and cotton, prefered to use linen, for their undergarments because to them linen had a religious significance. With this fiber, they created a very lightweight and transparent fabric, which they wore close to the body. The poor men’s garment was called pano; in fact it was a kind of loincloth, made by a simple rectangle of fabric wrapped around the hips. Instead, the upper class, for example pharaons, princes and military commanders used to wear a different garment called schentis. The principal charateristic of this garment was the detailed pleating.
In the following centuries, the Sumerian and Babylonian Assyrian cultures (1100 to 600 B. C.) used to wear just a simple tunic called Kandis; this was worn directly against the skin without any other sub layer. We have to wait until the fifth century B.C before we find anything resembling underwear as we know it today. The Persians, in fact used anaxyrides, which were close fitting along the legs and often worn together with a bodice which covered the arms, over these garments they wore a tunic.
From the Romans to the Middle Ages
The Roman civilazation summarizes all of the previos cultures. Their garments consisted of tunics and capes, but here are the beginnings of garments that we can define as underwear. The Romans wore an inner or undertunic called a subucula and also a subligaculum, this garment could be considered the first version of our modern day slip or boxers; it was basically a loincloth, it consisited of a piece of fabric which passed between the thighs and was fastened at the waist with string. It was worn by both men and woman and in particular it was part of the dress of gladiators and athletes.
When the Roman Empire divided into two parts, the Western empire with Rome as its capital and the Eastern empire with its capital Byzantium (Constantinopole) we witnessed the fall of the first and the flourishing of the second for more that a millennium. In this period the Byzantium garments , which were in fact similar to the romans but richer in their decoration, were fashionable, underwear played a minor role with a type of longjohns and the subligaculum worn under tunics.
The Middle Ages
Towards the end on the eighth century, half way through the middles ages, their was an historical turning point, The Holy Roman Empire was restored thanks to the French King Charlemagne: the Latin and the German populations were united. But in Italy this created the first political divide; there were many territorities dominated by the Lombards and the Byzantines; due to the fact that they resisted the Barbaric invasion, they considered themselves against Charlemagne. In this period there are traces of the use of subligaculum and longjohns by the Lombards. The longjohns evolved and by now were tighter and often with a sole under the foot to fulfill the function of footwear. The Goths (originally from East Germany) were the first to use nightshirts and garments which covered the genital area.
In the XVI century people began to use garments which we can recognise as underwear; Catherine de’ Medici started to use an article of clothing which we can consider to be the first knickers. These were worn under dresses and remained in fashion for about 100 years. Towards the end of XVII century as they became unpopular with the general public as they were now considered prostitutes clothing.
Underwear as we know it
It is only in the XIX century, that the story of underwear really begins; knickers once again became a part of women wardrobe. These knickers were a type of longjohns and they were known as tubes of decency and it was forbidden to name them in public. Subsequently the women’s underwear began to be decorated with lace and embroidery and high quality fabrics were used. At the end of this century, knickers became shorter and shorter and more erotic. We can see an example of this in the famous Can can dance, where the dancers show them to the public.
From about 1920, knickers became smaller and smaller and the first bra was created; Men wore boxers made in cotton fabric; around 1940 the first men’s slip were created. In the 1960’s we can see the concept of modern underwear; and big industrial production started. The underwear became fashionable and trendy, often somthing to be shown; we can consider it a fashion under the dress.