A Timeline of Women’s Underwear

By Tim Lambert

Early Women’s Underwear

4th century BC

Greek women wear a form of bra called an apodesme

1st century AD

Roman women wear a form of bra called an strophium of mamilare. They also wear a loincloth or shorts called a subligaculum.

Late 16th century

Women wear corsets made of whalebone. They wear a frame of wire or whalebone under their dress called a farthingale.

18th Century

Women do not usually wear panties. Their only underwear is a long linen garment like a nightie worn under a dress called a chemise or shift.

The 19th Century

c 1800

Women begin to wear drawers (so-called because they are drawn on). They consist of a pair of separate legs joined at the waist. So we say a pair of knickers or panties.


Amelia Bloomer advocates loose trousers for women called bloomers. Later women’s underwear are sometimes called bloomers.

Some women begin to wear colored drawers


The word knickers is used to describe women’s underwear in Britain


Poor women in Britain make knickers from flour bags

Modern Women’s Underwear


The word panties is used to describe women’s underwear in the USA. However the word panties never catches on in Britain.


Rayon (artificial silk) is used to make stockings


Mary Phelps Jacob invents the modern bra

The 1920s

Panties become shorter, down to mid-thigh rather than down to the knee


Nylon is invented


Nylon stockings are first sold

The 1940s

Panties become still shorter and briefs are fashionable. During the Second World War women in Britain use parachute silk to make knickers.


Frederick Mellinger introduces the padded bra


Frederick Mellinger introduces the push-up bra


Frederick Mellinger introduces the push-up bra


Gertrude Moran known as Gorgeous Gussie plays tennis at Wimbledon with frilly panties


Tights (called pantyhose in the USA) are introduced by Allen Gant


The wonderbra is invented in Canada by Louise Poirier


The thong is introduced in the USA

The 1990s

Thongs become fashionable in Britain