How Has Underwear Shaped Women’s Lives?

women’s undergarments

While often an uncomfortable truth, women’s undergarments play a huge role in history. Although often unseen, these garments are truly representative of the role that women played in society during that time.

Corsets and Bloomers

Corsets were tightly tied undergarments that featured stiff boning and sought to give women an exaggerated hourglass figure, which was the ideal during the Edwardian and Victorian Era. Worn under dresses that were structured in their own right, these items made it difficult for women to move. This made them a symbol of status, following the school of thought that a very wealthy woman had servants who could do difficult tasks on her behalf.

Bloomers were a slightly more practical undergarment that also was popular during this era. These frilly, voluminous undergarments were worn under floor length dresses, and reached either just below the knee or all the way to the ankle. They show that women were meant to be covered from head to toe in public at all times. Dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris were considered scandalous for performing dance moves that gave glimpses of their bloomers.


In the 1920s, women’s clothing became far less restrictive and modest, making their undergarments increasingly comfortable and easier to wear. While corsets still existed during this time period, they more closely resembled long-line bras that we wear today.

Dresses were shorter and made of finer fabric during this time, making the slip a must-have item for women. This gave an extra layer of lining to their dresses and made the undergarments they wore underneath less visible. Slips were made of a satiny material and often featured lace accents, not unlike slips we still see today.

Bras, Underwear, and Girdles

In the 1940s, women’s undergarments started to more closely resemble what they look like in the modern day. World War II made metal scarce, making women’s undergarments more comfortable in general.

During this time, a girdle was a very popular undergarment that had a high-waist fit and was meant to smooth a woman’s figure. Women during this era wanted to look feminine but in a practical way, which was increasingly important as they entered the workforce. The undergarments worn during this time period show that women during this decade were taking the first steps towards greater independence.