The Story of Sexy Lingerie
It is well known that the feminine shape varies a great deal. History tells us that it has always been so! Throughout the ages, what's been fashionable for the shape of the feminine body has gone from one extreme to the other. However, the charming feminine body has always been subject to what happens to be covering it and history shows us that it's been covered in many different ways. Also, different parts of the feminine form have been intensified, obscured, reduced, increased by the style of the current fashionable adornments. We've witnessed some unimaginable extremes, from devices that required a small army to coerce the unlucky fashion victim into, to the flimsiest, most whimsical mere flutter of a garment. Let's take a look back in time at how sexy lingerie has developed and how it got to where it is today.
First of all, let's get some terminology sorted out. Thanks to the world's most amorous language, we now almost always refer to feminine 'underwear' as 'lingerie' - unless we're being derogatory in which case, depending on where you reside, you can fill in the blanks! When we (at least us of the male persuasion) think of lingerie, we think of a flimsy material embellishing the feminine body in a way that gives us a hint of the delights that lie underneath. But the 'first' lingerie, probably from one of the Ancient Greek islands, was far different. These captivating Greek women used a boned corset fitted tightly around the midriff, not for support or even for a 'slimming' effect, but to attract their men by showing their thrusting breasts in a most conspicuous way. Probably not what we would call lingerie today but with much the same desired effect.
As time rolled on, the feminine form took on new 'perfect' shapes dependant on the in thing. As each 'perfect' form emerged, adornments were designed and brought out to embellish and accentuate that desired shape. The culture of the society dictated whether the breasts, the bottom or both would be highlighted and revered. You could argue that nothing much has changed! During Medieval times it was thought that the natural form and shape of a woman should be constricted and that the breasts should be firm and small. This state of affairs was probably fine for those built naturally that way but perhaps not so good for those of a more ample construction. Many different sorts of corset were worn with the single purpose of flattening the breasts and/or the bottom. It has been said that, in order to draw attention to that part of the anatomy that shouldn't draw attention, some women wore tinkling bells around their neck to remind the men folk of the delights that still lay beneath. The 'modern' corset is attributed to Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henri II of France. She enforced a ban on broad waists at court attendance during the 1550s and had a questionable effect on women for the next 350 years. The Renaissance saw another change in the preferred feminine shape.
Women now required cone shaped breasts, flat stomachs and slim waists. In order to realize this look, they also needed to employ maids or family members to dress them because the cinching up of their corsets was done from behind and required much effort. Due to this unnatural method of acquiring 'perfection', Doctors and other notaries made the case that these corsets confined women's bodies so tightly that their internal organs were being damaged and their ribs were being permanently misshapen. Around that time it was common for women to blackout or fall into a swoon. This was usually put down to their delicate nature but, in fact, it was because they simply found it very hard to breathe! There are many accounts of women dying because of fatal punctures to vital organs due to this practice. In the early 18th century the whalebone corset still kept women tightly bound but the artistry that reflected the times was painstakingly incorporated into clothing and the corsets were decorated with charming ribbons, lace and embroidery. A part of this lightening up was the fact that it became fashionable for the breasts to be pushed upwards to the point of almost popping out. Towards the end of the 18th century the corset was being worn by gentry, the burgeoning middle class and even by nuns in convents. It was often proudly displayed by its wearer because it was a visible outer item of clothing at that time. In itself it was an object of beauty and ornamentation and its display was part of social courtesy.
However, as people became more educated and aware, they started to question and critique many things including art, politics and, you guessed it, in thing. Backed up by professional people like doctors, public opinion became such that boned corsets were actually outlawed in many countries. By the early 19th century, a much softer approach to the feminine shape became popular. The in thing still required the support that the old corset had given so it returned with more elaborate methods of construction. Boning was still used in small sections which allowed for better and more comfortable movement. The in thing at the time was for a more separated look for breasts and a corsetiere by the name of M Leroy (who designed the wedding corset for Marie Luise of Austria when she married Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810) designed a model which he called a 'divorce', allegedly because of the 'separation' involved. The most significant aspect of this perhaps, was the fact that women were able to dress and undress themselves due to more elaborate lacing methods. During the 1840s the extremely exaggerated shape for women caused whalebone to make a comeback with huge hoops and crinolines that were covered with all kinds of fabric and fineries. Unfortunately for women, it became the in thing to have waists small enough for a man to put his hands around and the need for even harder waist-cinching became the feminine nightmare of the day. It wasn't long before hoops and crinolines were replaced by the soft 'S' silhouette.
This style still used the corset but added a bustle to the back creating an exaggerated posterior. Once again it was the women who had to suffer for in thing, needing to stand most of the time due to the cumbersome bustle on their posteriors. Obviously men found this appealing because it gave them more opportunities to stare at the sexy women with their large bustles. As more innovation came to in thing design, greater varieties of corsets were brought out. During the morning, a lady could wear a lightly-boned corset for promenading, an elastic corset for riding sidesaddle, a boneless corset for a trip to the beach and a jersey corset for riding her penny farthing. The corsetry industry was in its heyday! Towards the end of the 19th century the corset supported not only the breasts but also the newly developed stocking. Stockings were held up by garters and suspenders which were then attached to the corset. These devices, although a triumph of design, probably added yet another frustrating dimension to the in thing-conscious feminine of the day. By the beginning of the 20th century, corsets were being laced down as far as the knee.