Over the years, panties have evolved from being simple insulators to the comfortable, form-fitting, sometimes even flattering panties that we know today. So how exactly did we get there? Who invented panties?
The short answer is, a lot of people, from early Egyptians to Amelia Bloomer herself. Since clothing disintegrates over time, it’s a bit difficult to trace it back to its exact origins.
Worry not; I’ve researched much about this particular piece of clothing to bring you the facts. Let’s take a trip down memory lane!
Table of Contents
Early Uses of Panties
Knickers, undies, undergarments, bloomers, or simply panties have quite a long history. While there isn’t an exact record of who used them first, several early civilizations have been found using an iteration of the panties.
During these time periods, the purpose of panties—or undergarments in general—was for warmth during cold weather. It was also to keep bodily fluids from ruining their clothes and dresses.
One of the earliest recorded use of undergarments or underwear can be traced as far back as 4,400 B.C. in Egypt.
The Badari Civilization was among the first to make use of undergarment-looking pieces that they called loincloths. (1)
However, because of Egypt’s harsh weather conditions, it was difficult to wear anything else but a loincloth. This is why they were also used as outer garments.
Some early Egyptians also wore linen cloth underneath their leather loincloths—as seen in ancient Egyptian artwork. They wore linen under the leather loincloths to protect themselves from hard use. (2)
The ancient Romans used what was called a subligaculum or subligar. (3) It was made out of either linen or leather and worn with the strophium or breast-cloth—hence the term leather bikini. (4)
The subligaculum and strophium were usually worn under Roman tunics and togas. Wearing nothing but these undergarments commonly meant that you belonged to a lower social group.
Medieval women wore what was called a chemise in France and a shift in England. It’s a smock—a knee-length shirt—made of fine white linen that women wore under their dresses. (5)
These smocks don’t look a lot like the panties we know today, but it was the only form of underwear during the 1800s. (6)
Now that we know about the early history of panties, let’s move on to the more modern-looking panties. As we move closer to the 21st Century, you’ll notice that aside from protection and hygiene, panties also serve the purpose of maintaining modesty and comfort.
Early 19th Century Panties
By 1908, the term ‘panties’ was officially used as the word for underwear specifically made for females. (7)
Ever wondered why people usually say “a pair of panties”? That’s because they came in actual pairs during the early 19th Century: two separate legs that were either stitched together at the waist or left open. (8)
At this point, panties—or drawers as they were called—started to stray away from the plain white linen design with the addition of lace and bands. Women’s underwear began looking more distinct compared to men’s.
Amelia Bloomer and Bloomers
In 1849, a women’s rights activist named Amelia Bloomer developed a new form of dress called bloomers. (9) These looked like more feminine versions of men’s loose trousers but with tighter ankles.
Bloomers became a famous alternative to 19th-century dresses. These dresses usually offered almost no comfort to women and restricted a lot of their movement.
Even though they do look more like pants for women, they belong in the underwear type since they were still worn underneath short-cut dresses. These bloomers served as a gateway for the development of the panties we know today.
Panties in the 20th Century
At the start of the 1920s, panties started to become shorter and shorter. People also started exploring different materials for it, like nylon and artificial silk, instead of the usual cotton.
The length of panties continued to shorten as the 1950s rolled in. People started using elastic waistbands for their panties around this time as well. (10)
During the 1960s, panties with matching bras were popularized, along with bikini-style and disposable panties. (11)
In 1981, the thong was introduced and became widely used during the 1990s. The thong looks very similar to bikini-style panties but with a narrow back part.
The Panties We Know Today
The panties we know today still come in different shapes, colors, sizes, and styles. The development of panties allowed us to enjoy the myriad of styles it comes in.
During the 21st century, we also saw a rise in the popularity of panties that closely resembled briefs for men. These boy-style panties typically had high waistbands that peeked out of the top of the pants.
Lingerie is a term often used to categorize women’s undergarments with a more flattering style. The style of lingerie has been around for ages, but it was usually associated with the hypersexualization of women.
Women are reviving this trend and claiming it for themselves. They’ve made lingeries empowering as well as functional. (12)
The Final Takeaway
How people of our past used panties tell a story of how they lived their lives. The history of panties—although quite hazy—shows us how clothing developed through time and the roles it played in society.
However, clothing, unlike bones and tools, doesn’t fossilize. That’s why it can be challenging to pinpoint who invented the panties exactly. What we can do is attribute it to the civilizations and people that came before us.
- The Badarian Civilisation and Predynastic Remains Near Badari. British School of Archaeology, Egypt (Book)
- Underwear: The Fashion History. Alison Carter. London (Book)