In 2015 most women would turn their noses up at the suggestion of wearing firm vintage inspired foundations. There are many reasons for this; such firm foundations are no longer seen as necessary, they are seen as outdated and unfashionable garments, modern fashions don’t always require the sculpting qualities of shapewear, many women are attracted to comfort, it’s not expected of women to wear foundations, the list goes on. Underwear has of course evolved, just as outerwear has, but how have we gone from steel boned corsets, to boned girdles to elasticated girdles to… what we know in 2015 as lingerie? True, we do still have access to modern made shapewear, but I’m not referring to the niche designers who make reproduction vintage foundations, I’m talking about the stretchy shapewear easily found in department stores. Up until the 1970s, the mainstream customer was looking for firm foundations that would hold up their stockings, nip their waists and hold in their tummies. Nowadays, underwear has completely different objectives.
Let’s take a look at the main characteristics of modern underwear:
Despite the need for strong straps on under-garments to keep stockings or breast in place, they seem to be replaced by decoratively thin straps. Although theses straps still can fulfil their requirements, they are a lot less robust than they were decades ago. What makes designers create lingerie in such a way? Is it that thick straps are now seen as matronly? Does delicate lingerie suit the taste of the modern consumer? Are we less concerned with the function of lingerie and simply want to wear something pretty? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would love to hear from people who wear this style of lingerie.
Underwear as outerwear
Women would have previously never dreamed of showing off their underpinnings! Skirts were worn below the knee and welt well above the knee to prevent a flash of stocking top. Necklines were usually quite high, as it was the fashion, but it also prevented ladies from showing the top of their bra or bra straps. It was not done to leave the house without foundations, but at the same time, other people didn’t need to see them, they just needed to see the shape that this underwear created.
One of the current trends is to show off part of the underwear. For example, the new harness style bras have extra straps over the cleavage that are designed to be shown off above low cut tops. Many designers, even Dita, have incorporated their underwear into their outerwear to create pretty flashes of lace of straps. Corsets are often worn as outerwear, rather than as underwear, something that I myself have on occasion done.
Desire for cleavage
As I previously mentioned, ladies used to wear tops and dresses with a very high neckline, negating the need for cleavage inducing bras. Bras had very high cups that covered quite a lot of their cleavage and chest, something that is not seen as beautiful these days. So many women now strive for the perfect cleavage, to the point where some even wear two bras at once for extra lift.
Melon shaped bra cups
The engineering of bras used to be completely different to modern bras. Under-wiring came in quite late, meaning that in order to lift and support a woman’s bust, the cups had to be put together with several pieces, notably the three piece cup bras, still available in department stores now. The three-piece design formed a slight point to the breast. Earlier bras were circular stitched, these were the famous bullet bras. As such, women boasted point breasts, now famously known as the ‘sweater girl’ look.
Nowadays, pointy breasts are met with confused stares and questions such as, ‘why are you boobs that shape?’. The reason for the confusion is that most bras worn by the mainstream population wear bras with cups shaped like melons, they are very round and smooth. The t-shirt bra with foam cups is extremely popular and most bras are a variation of this style.
There has been a recent increase in designers creating lingerie that, as far as I can tell has no real purpose, other than to decorate the body. I guess this comes from the previously mentioned desire to show off underwear when fully dressed. This harness style lingerie is either paired with other underwear, or without (usually for photoshoots or the bedroom).
Modern shapewear seems to have fully embraced the invention of stretch fabric. It is no longer built with boning, non-stretch fabric, laces, busks or anything of the sort, just stretch-fabric. The colours are usually beige, white or black and they feature no pretty details, they are purely functional. The issue that I have with these pieces of shapewear is that, well… They simply do not work. The other detail that I have noticed in 95% of photos of models wearing this style of shapewear, is that all the models are very slim, meaning that the consumer cannot really determine whether these garments will control and compress their problem areas effectively.
Which leads me on to lingerie models. Despite the growing popularity of plus-sized models, or even models that are slightly curvier that catwalk models (which I love by the way), the majority of models used in lingerie adverts are very slender and toned. The reason for this is that designers undoubtably feel that their garments will look better on this body type. In my opinion this is because their lingerie will not look good on a larger frame. As everything is so small and delicate, it will not flatter someone with a body such as mine. The thin straps would make someone like me look like a piece roast beef, and that’s not something that’s going to sell their products.
I would love to see more practical underwear that is designed with larger bodies in mind, that is pretty and flattering.
Women have in the past adopted various forms of underwear to create the desired shape of the time. During Elizabethan times, the most beautiful shape was a conical torso, which was created by wearing a conical shaped corset. During the 1920s women strived for a boyish shape. The 1950s saw women wearing fashions that required a nipped waist. At no point in time were women expected to simply have that body type naturally, men and women were fully aware of the tools that women used to achieve those shapes.
What I find shocking about modern fashions and underwear is that women are simply expected to have naturally ‘perfect’ bodies to fit into the garments that are offer. While I think exercise is a great thing, and the fact that everyone is encouraged to work out to maintain a healthy body is fantastic, it’s the use of plastic surgery to achieve the ideal body that really bothers me. There is so much pressure the get a pert bottom, a flat tummy, or to have model-like legs, that a lot of women have become dissatisfied with their own bodies.
Several people have said to me that women in the 1940s and 1950s were all slim and had great bodies, honestly they didn’t. They just wore firm foundations, and there were of course plump women back then as well! On the flip side, the modern day diet is very different to how it would have been back then and as a consequence, we are slightly larger than our ancestors.
until about the 1970s, women’s fashion revolved a lot around tailored suits and dresses. This style required foundations, especially when Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ came into fashion (a nipped waist was a must with this style). However, the fabrics were thicker and they were form fitting.
Modern high-street fashion is often made of stretchy or flowy fabric, and/or the silhouettes of the garments do not require any sculpting underwear; think baggy, flowy tops and dresses. This gives women the freedom to be able to wear very simple underwear.
What do you think about modern underwear? Do you think it’s good that it’s less restrictive? or do you think there should be better options for women who want to effectively ‘shape’ their bodies for a particular outfit?