Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Do you remember what your Mum hung on the washing line? Was she the kind of gal to wear knickers or cotton-tails? If you're like me, you probably have your own "brief history of briefs"!
Remember when you could fit into anything? There was a time, not too long ago, when it was trendy to wear a G-string, that was so pretty you'd have it on display above the waistband of your tight jeans, despite how uncomfortable it was to wear. Were you into that? Would you get away with it now?
Obviously, rhetorical questions!!
I don't think there has ever been a time that it was acceptable to have your underwear on display at work. Yet, plenty of people get away with it.... Do you remember that strange phase of men wearing their brand-name under-dacks with loose-fitting jeans, just to show off the fact that they had something with a trendy label? The undies weren't even attractive; they just had names like Calvin Klein on the waistband.
I once had a colleague, who was stunningly gorgeous, whom I paid to interview and assess participants in a study. The recruitment approach was quite flexible - we'd invite people with a particular diagnosis to come in for their 2 hours, and we'd ask if their spouses might like to also attend as part of the control group. So, we'd often have an older gentleman as the main participant (in the clinical group), and his wife might sit in the room behind him during the interview in case he forgot anything.
The stunningly gorgeous woman was an excellent researcher, and would have immaculate hair and makeup - absolutely flawless. She was the kind of young woman that could turn heads, of any sexual persuasion. I remember that she had a favourite top which she liked to wear with her tight jeans. The fabric was a soft chiffon that showed her lacey bra. This was not acceptable attire for the context. The participants were in a position of power imbalance - the researcher was the one in power over them, and they didn't feel like they could speak up, and ask her to cover her fabulous décolletage. Worse, she'd sit with her legs under the table, knees as far apart as possible, so that the gentlemen could only position their own knees between hers.
She never did either of these things to make anyone uncomfortable, and she'd be mortified to know that this was the outcome.
We're getting to a point, nowadays, when we can't say anything about this sort of situation because the person who is showing off their lingerie (regardless of gender) might feel that they are being harassed.
I suppose, if we feel offended, we need to speak up; but with kindness and respect. And before we walk out the door each day, maybe we need to think about all the other people we might encounter, who have different sensibilities to our own.
But, back to pants!
I was inspired by a program on ABC recently, called Further Back in Time for Dinner. The family had gone from almost-full-length coverings to swim at the beach in the 1910s, to shorter undies which accommodated the sexy flapper dresses of the Roaring Twenties. Those dresses were glorious, but I digress. It didn't take long for the fashions to change, and the knickers to become a little scandalously scantilous. Yeah, I think I made up that word.
This morning, I wondered why people started wearing undies, and was taken aback to read on one website that apparently, they only appeared in the Renaissance. Imagine, falling off your horse, with everything on display! Or, being thought of as risqué, because you were wearing pantaloons at the time! Imagine, too, that an internet search would yield vastly different results ... another site provided a more in-depth read, which spanned many more centuries and stories from across the globe ...
It's a strange time we live in, now, though. I see plenty of people covering up and not putting their undies on display. This, despite the fact that there are some lingerie stores which have in-your-face larger-than-life posters of incredibly under-dressed women in their front windows. Does anyone else wonder where to look when going to the shopping centres and malls? Do parents have to answer probing questions from their kids, as they walk past the advertisements that leave nothing to a grownup's imagination?
A friend of mine came over from Europe many years ago, to settle here in Australia. Not a stranger to the German penchant for nudist holidays, he didn't know where to look when walking down Hunter Street in Newcastle during Summer. The girls would walk around in skimpy bikinis, and he didn't want to seem like a dirty old man (he was, after all, 30ish!). My mother would have had something to say about how inappropriate, impolite, and disrespectful it was for those girls to walk around so skimpily clad; that wouldn't just be because of the time in which she lived, it was because she understood that it gave other people nowhere to look without seeming prudish or perverted.
But, back to my initial idea for this post (sorry, I keep thinking of people being offended by too much skin).
That brief history of briefs might include the good old loin cloth to start with, and drawers (which were two separate legs into which you stepped, and then drew them together with a string at the waist). Were they the first crotchless undies? There was a time when the medical profession actually argued for and against women wearing undies (and whether or not those undies should be crotchless)! It might include pantaloons, which to my mind would have doubled for pyjama pants. I mustn't forget long johns; cosy and warm, you could keep them on under your trousers to go outside in the snow and collect firewood.
But a brief history of nanna-pants ... well, I wonder if every woman gets to a point when she thinks, "To hell with pretty lingerie, I just want to be comfortable"? Would the history be one's personal underwear story? My Mum actually designed a pair of (what she called ) step-ins. They were tighter than underpants, and they were designed to suck in your tummy and hold your pantyhose up. She sent them to a manufacturer, who said they weren't interested. Then, they went behind her back and made them anyway (without credit to Mum). There are plenty of versions on the market nowadays .... To think, my Mum also designed my training pants when I was potty-training! Here I am modelling them in the chookyard, before my brother locked me in and gave me nightmares.
Have I forgotten any others? Bloomers, named after Amelia Bloomer (an activist for women's rights and editor of the first American women's newspaper, The Lily), were an answer to the horrendous fashion of the mid-1800s. An editorial was written by a man who had opposed women's suffrage, but seemed to have a way to free women physically from the heavy skirts they wore - pantaloons (or Turkish pants) under a single shorter skirt. As Amelia Bloomer took him to task for not supporting women's suffrage, and then followed up with wearing her own version of his idea, the pants took on. I can't say it was a great time for fashion, aesthetically, but it was a move in a good direction. Sadly, though, wearers of bloomers and the new short skirts were heavily criticised.
That brings me around to a theme that has spoken up in this post. What do we do, when we're offended by what someone else wears? Do we speak up? Do we ask them to cover up a little more? Do we look the other way, or do we stare? Do we bully them?
It also makes me think of the people who are under-dressed, by our standards. I think that everyone, regardless of what we wear, wants to be seen. We all want to be acknowledged as human, as valuable, as stylish, and as integral to our collective community. I appreciate that there are some who don't want to be looked at (especially if they have experienced a trauma involving abuse). And no-one wants to be stared at or ogled.
So, it makes me think about both sides of the story. I can't assume what one person wants to achieve by wearing something provocative, but there is no doubt that wearing your undies on display is provocative! It's as provocative as wearing a burka, hijab, niqab, or gaon. But am I going to refuse a woman the right to cover her head, for whatever reason?
I look back to the mid-1800s, when it wasn't just fashionable to wear those constricting corsets, slips and heavy skirts. It was more than fashion - it was deemed essential to being respectable. Women who wore bloomers were bullied (often by other women) into going back to wearing long skirts.
Even the idea of women wearing trousers has had it's detractors, and that continues to this day! As ridiculous as I think anti-trousers wowsers might be, I have to realise that fashions (and the acceptability of certain garments) will always change.
Men are starting to wear dresses and skirts, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to; so women should be equally free to wear trousers.
It then stands, that if we're able to wear a skimpy bikini at the beach, why then, can't we wear our undies where people can see them?
One day might come ... when I will affirm my right to wear my nanna-pants ... on display!! Ah, I will have gone full-circle by then, I suppose!
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