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History of Lingerie Fabrics and Styles

History of Lingerie Fabrics and Lingerie Styles

Lingerie’s unique history traces back to 3000 BC in Egypt.  Figurines throughout ancient times suggested different types of undergarments were worn even then.  The word Lingerie originated from the French word “linge” meaning “linen” and was not frequently used until the late 1850’s.  The soft linen’s during the Middle Ages were worn by nobility for the sheer purpose of modesty, hygiene and warmth.  At that time they were bulky, uncomfortable and designed to flatten breasts while contouring the body in a female silhouette.  While in the 16th Century a chemise, petticoats and corsets were designed to accentuate the female form, mainly to tease and entice men. It was considered scandalous in those days to even mention the word undergarments. 

In the 18th century the design became carefree and feminine.  It was tailored with artwork, embroidery and various fabrics like, silk, lace, and sheer linens all designed for elegance with intricate details.  As the years went by, gone was the stiff boned corset and in came the start of a new corset design to support better movement and allowed for easier removal.  However this new corset still manipulated the shape of the female body to enhance the breast, bottom, and tiny waist.

The beginning of the 20th Century is when “Lingerie” truly evolved.  An American, Mary Phelps-Jacobs, patented her first brassiere lingerie design called the Caresse-Crosby.  She sold her idea to Warner’s who first introduced the sizing for brassieres A, B & C in late 1935.  The corset had changed to a shorter and softer material and allowed the breasts to have a more natural shape.

As the styles and designs of lingerie changed over the years, so have the fabrics they used.  Advancement of manmade fabrics, the dawn of Lastex, has helped to advance the uses of lingerie.  Not only did women want comfort or support they also desired to look beautiful and sensuous.  The use of “Tulle” which was first introduced in France between 1700 -1800 for wedding gowns, veils and evening wear was designed to embellish the garment.  The fine hexagonal knitted mesh material is durable and flexible.  Its use is lingerie gives a sheer supportive fabric to add embroidered trim. Most tulle manufactured today is made by bobbinet designed by John Heathcoat in England 1807. 

Embroidery is a combination of intricate needlework in which images and artwork are created to enhance lingerie. Handcrafted techniques passed down from our forefathers are still used and appreciated by many.  The most common technique today is computerized embroidery machines. They have been invented to allow mass production and precise detail.  Whether handmade or machine produced, Embroidery offers lingerie a classical and elegant feminine look and is usually added to embellish tulle, satin and silk fabrics.

One fabric that has been prized for its luxurious feel since the 5th Century is “Satin” its main use in lingerie is due to its smooth, buttery texture.  The back of the fabric has a dull matte, while the front has a glossy surface.  It originated in China and has been described as a heavy silk also known as samite.  Satin has little stretch for a snug, supportive fit on the body.  There are many satin weaves but silk satin fabric is mainly used for women’s bras, panties, and nightgowns. Part of China’s silk trade made it possible for satin to be created while being cost effective.

The very fine lustrous fiber produced from a silkworm is called silk.  It was made into thread and fabric, this fabric was exported to foreign countries in great amounts however the secrets of the silk industry was kept hidden by the Chinese for generations.  Eventually other countries began to tap into the silk industry and produced their own markets, such as, Italy, France and England, however Italian silk and its brilliant colors, long remained one of the most prized and expensive fabrics. 

With the development of various fabrics new styles of trim and adornments were developed like Guipure and Chantilly Lace.  Guipure lace is made with brides of fine wires spun around with silk and cotton threads and then created to make a very heavy lace pattern.  It gives lingerie like bras, panties, negligee’s elaborate trimmings on the straps, bodice, and hips. Chantilly Lace is light airy and delicate, a crocheted lace with an airy, wispy feel.  It has scalloped edging that can be added for trim or designed to be an overlay on satin, silk or linen.

At the turn of the 21st Century lingerie has evolved due to modern technology and fabrics that have helped manufacture seamless bras, spandex panties, microfiber molded contour bras with breathable, comfortable materials and daring romantic colors have taken the industry up a notch.  Computers have helped designers to create intricate artwork that would be otherwise impossible by hand.  The Lingerie industry has become a billion dollar enterprise and is expected to only become larger.  Women’s Lingerie has changed dramatically over the centuries, conforming to each generation and its styles.  It should be no surprise that lingerie has a lovemaking charm for both men and women that will outlast the test of time.

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