The history of knickers: Smartie pants

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
EVERY WOMAN probably owns at least one pair of M&S knickers but, until the end of the 18th century, "decent" women had always gone knickerless.

Drawers were originally worn only by men but, due to changes in fashion, women increasingly adopted them. The early drawers were similar to men's, with back lacing to pull the waist in, the legs gathered into a band below the knee and an opening at the crotch seam from the front to the back.

From the 1850s, drawers became more decorative and denoted class distinction until, by the end of the century, they were part of everyday wear. The Victorians innovated more luxurious underwear using silk, and in 1886 Triumph started making underwear.

The end of the 19th century saw the arrival of "closed" drawers with a side waist opening, and by the turn of the 20th century, "knickers" - the term taken from knickerbockers - had become more colourful. By the 1920s, some women still wore drawers but many found knickers more practical. Wide frilly versions became known as French knickers and the closer fitting Directoire knickers sported elasticated tops and bottoms.

During the Second World War women had to learn to make do, with home- knitted knickers becoming their only option during rationing. The Directoire knickers worn by women in the Armed Services were dubbed "passion killers" due to their unshapely appearance and dull colours.

In the 1950s, Nylon and elastic revolutionised underwear and, as more knickers were machine-manufactured, designs were simplified. Bikini pants became popular in the Sixties when knickers needed to be figure-hugging to fit with the new short skirts and unisex trousers.

Designer knickers were all the rage in the Eighties, epitomised by Calvin Klein's underwear range. A decade on, knickers are getting smaller, with G-strings making up 40 per cent of Knickerbox's sales. Knickers can be sensible or sexy, practical or PVC, with more choice than ever before from lines such as La Perla, Berlei and the purveyors of saucy lingerie, Agent Provocateur.