Lingerie has evolved a lot since it was first invented, and today’s favourite styles are a world away from the original designs worn throughout history. With various wearable aesthetics, from casual loungewear to feminine fashion pieces, the lingerie industry is now bigger and more varied.
If you’ve ever wondered where the world’s love of lingerie came from, our History of Lingerie guide is perfect for you. Here, we explore the beginnings of women’s lingerie and its evolution over the decades while introducing you to some of the best-loved styles worn throughout history.
When was underwear invented?
While the first official piece of underwear is thought to have been invented in England in the 1700s, loincloths made of linen were believed to be worn in Egypt as early as 3000 BC. They were worn underneath outer garments to protect the skin from cold and wet weather. During the 1700s, however, men’s underwear was typically made from linen and cotton, while women’s underwear was silk and lace. Since then, underwear design has continued to evolve based on style trends and cultural changes.
In the early 1800s, corsets were an essential part of many women’s lingerie collections. As column dresses were worn frequently, they were created with long-line silhouettes to ensure a tighter fit. By the mid-century, their designs had become more hourglass-shaped, creating a cinched-in waist using steel or whalebone structures.
Hoop skirts were also especially popular during this period. Corsets featured a circular wire frame which provided structural support to the heavy, full skirts commonly worn at the time. Their designs continued to evolve in the following years and were toned down when more subtle skirt options emerged.
The 1800s also saw the introduction of metal eyelets, which made it easier for women to tighten their corsets without damaging the garment. These structures are still seen as essential in today’s corset designs.
While corsets were still an important part of 1900s lingerie styles, the new century saw new innovative underwear pieces grow in popularity, including bras, slips and stockings.
In 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob, also known as Caresse Crosby, invented the first bra by sewing together two handkerchiefs and adding a ribbon tie to secure the garment. Four years later, she became the first recipient of a patent for the modern bra.
The Roaring Twenties saw the rise of the ‘flapper’ look, which combined loose, shapeless garments with shorter hemlines to create a boyish, athletic-looking silhouette. Sleek slip dresses and rolled-down stockings were preferred over traditional bloomers, and corsets and girdles were used to flatten the bust and slim the hips instead of accentuating them.
Following the 20s, fashion styles became more feminine, meaning lingerie did too. Undergarments became less constraining and more comfortable for women to wear. They also became more supportive, with garments like the ‘Full Fashion Double Support’ bra available to fuller-busted women. Its extended band provided added support for more comfortable wear.
The 1940s saw a large change in women’s lingerie, as there were supply shortages due to World War II. During this time, women would paint lines down the back of their legs to create the illusion of stocking seams.
One notable change to the lingerie industry was the introduction of the first cup size and band measurements. S.H. and Company created these, which are still considered the industry standard today.
Underwired bras also began to gain popularity after 1946, with the first strapless bras unveiled around this time. In 1947, Frederick Mellinger invented the first push-up bra, followed by the front-hook bra style in 1949.
Glamour became the industry’s go-to aesthetic in the 1950s, with sexy lingerie styles becoming more popular and widely available in stores. This trend continued into the following decade, as the 60s undergarments became more feminine and stylish.
The modern styles of 1970s undergarments began to embrace a more sleek, streamlined silhouette. Fitted underwear and shapewear became commonly worn by women in this era, with lace and silk fabrications continuing to gain popularity. 1977 was a monumental year for the industry, as Roy Raymond founded the first-ever undergarments-only retailer. The retailer – Victoria’s Secret – is still operating today.
The lingerie trends loved throughout the 70s continued into the next decade. However, 1980s lingerie embraced bolder colours to achieve a more eye-catching aesthetic.
The ’90s saw lingerie being worn more visibly instead of only under clothing. It became a fashion statement shown frequently on runways and in high-fashion magazines and styled into smart and casual outfits to add a point of interest. Push-up bras also became more popular during this era.
Underwear as outerwear has become widely accepted during the 21st century. There have also been many evolutions in lingerie designs, with various options now available to women. From beautiful lace lingerie to comfortable loungewear styles such as sports bras and boy shorts, there is an underwear type to suit every preference.
There is also much more diversity and body positivity regarding elements such as underwear models and sizing, allowing lingerie to be accessible to all.
Our range of lingerie
At Camille, we’re proud to offer a variety of lingerie styles for every woman’s shape. Whether you prefer soft, practical pieces or luxurious structured designs to make you feel supported throughout the day, our collection has it all.