It is believed that people first began using underwear for functional reasons. For men, it helped to hold the genitalia in place and prevent some types of injuries. For women, it contributed to female hygiene by providing items to hold absorbent materials that caught menstrual blood and prevented it staining their outer clothing. This helped to prevent many beautiful garments being ruined.
For a time, the ideal female shape was considered to be a large bosom, a waist that was eighteen inches or less around, and large hips. Because it was virtually impossible to achieve this shape naturally, women began to wear corsets that used bone or metal stays to support the breasts while constricting the waist forcefully through a series of laces. In other regions, young girls were required to bind their chests to inhibit the growth of their breasts and give them a more androgynous shape.
Corsets have seen a re-emergence in recent years. However, they lost favor for a long period of time because it was determined that they were the direct cause of many miscarriages as well as causing serious permanent damage to the internal organs of women who wore them for extended periods of time. Around the mid-twentieth century, women used girdles to help push up the breasts and flatten their tummies. These articles were not as cruelly confining as the corset, but helped create what were at that time considered to be ideal curves for a woman.
It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that the overall attitude of society toward the female body and sex began to change away a puritanical prudishness. Undergarments were usually plain and utilitarian in nature up to this point, and were referred to as unmentionables when spoken of at all. There was even a stretch of time where the primary function of underwear was to hide the female form and obscure women’s natural curviness.
Attitudes underwent some drastic changes in the 1960s to ’70s. Women began to expose more skin in public and some of them to view undergarments as items created by men to either hide their bodies or objectify them. During this time, clothing designers began to create undergarments that complemented their outerwear designs and some items were designed specifically to enhance the female body when viewed wearing nothing else.
A very fine line exists between what is considered too much exposure and not enough these days. It is, however, a widely held belief that a woman is sexier when some things are left to the male imagination than if she is totally nude. However, some items have been invented specifically because they do not produce underwear lines when worn with today’s more form fitting fashions.
There are many more options available to women when choosing underwear today. Different materials and styles abound that serve different functions. For example, a sports bra that holds the breasts down and pushes them in next to the body might be best when working out, while a lacy piece that pushes the breasts up and makes them look larger may be the choice when dressing to go out in the evening. Normal daily wear will likely fall somewhere in between.