Lingerie is a category of women’s clothing including at least undergarments, sleepwear and lightweight robes. The specific choice of the word often is motivated by an intention to imply the garments are alluring, fashionable or both.
Lingerie is made of lightweight, stretchy, smooth, sheer or decorative fabrics such as silk, satin, Lycra, charmeuse, chiffon or (especially and traditionally) lace. These fabrics can be made of natural fibres like silk or cotton or of synthetic fibres like polyester or nylon.
The word lingerie is a word taken directly from the French language, meaning undergarments, and used exclusively for more lightweight items of female undergarments. The French word in its original form derives from the old French word linge, meaning ‘linen’. So faire le linge, comes to mean “do the laundry”. In French the word lingerie applies to all undergarments for either sex. In English it means women’s underwear or nightclothes. Lingerie as a word was first used to refer to underwear and bras in 1922. Informal usage suggests visually appealing or even erotic clothing. Although most lingerie is designed to be worn by women, some manufactures now design lingerie for men.
The concept of lingerie is a visually appealing undergarment that was developed during the late nineteenth century. Lady Duff-Gordon of Lucile was a pioneer in developing lingerie that freed women from more restrictive corsets. Through the first half of the 20th century, women wore underwear for three primary reasons: to alter their outward shape (first with corsets and later with girdles or brassieres), for hygienic reasons and for modesty. Before the invention of crinoline, women’s underwear was often very large and bulky.
During the late 19th century, corsets became smaller, less bulky and more constricting and were gradually supplanted by the brassiere, first patented in the 20th century by Mary Phelps Jacob. When the First World War broke out, women found themselves filling in men’s work roles, creating a demand for more practical undergarments. Manufacturers began to use lighter and more breathable fabrics. In 1935 brassières were updated with padded cups to flatter small breasts and three years later underwire bras were introduced that gave a protruding bustline. There was also a return to a small waist achieved with girdles. The 1940s woman was thin, but had curvaceous hips and breasts that were pointy and shapely. In the 1960s the female silhouette was liberated along with social mores. The look was adolescent breasts, slim hips and extreme thinness. André Courrèges was the first to make a fashion statement out of the youth culture when his 1965 collection presented androgynous figures and the image of a modern woman comfortable with her own body.
As the 20th century progressed, underwear became smaller and more form fitting. In the 1960s, lingerie manufacturers such as Frederick’s of Hollywood begin to glamorise lingerie. The lingerie industry expanded in the 21st century with designs that doubled as outerwear. The French refer to this as ‘dessous-dessus,’ meaning something akin to innerwear as outerwear.