The history of panties starts with the story of bloomers. The original purpose was modesty – covering up as much of the female form as possible. As hens are to the eggs so to bloomers are to panties. Typically it is a divided garment to cover the lower part of women. The first ones were the brainchild of Elizabeth Miller but Amelia Bloomer made it popular during the 1850’s. These were long baggy pants ending at the ankles. It was largely influenced by the East and often came to be called the ‘Syrian’ style. In the late 18th century the bloomers got two other nametags – knickers and knickerbockers. Women wore it during sports events during those days of Victorian modesty. From the 1920’s bloomers began to get short. For a classic visual of bloomers the best bet is to watch the bloomer-dance in the Hollywood classic ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ where the delightful brides prance around bloomers, the ancestors of panties!
The post-war period saw an outburst or outrage of female modesty dominated by the bra-panty culture. Somehow freedom for women and women’s right became mixed up with exposure of the exquisite female form, leaving little to the imagination. Some interpreted it as a hidden fear and doubt about the natural appeal of the female towards the opposite sex, as Nature meant it to be. Hence the urgency to establish and advertise it aggressively! Another explanation is that the post-war period saw a boom in business and advertising. The least amount of material was turned into a costly piece of garment. The gullible public swallowed the bait and the undergarment made its dominating presence felt – often to the point of ridicule and invasion of human decency and privacy.
Today more than a piece of clothing that covers and comforts the panty has become an object of sexuality. But is the operation table, with the spread-eagled human form, the alpha of sensuality? Sex is something far more – deep and sensual – than mere exposure of the beast in the urban jungle.
From the 1920’s the hemline of skirts began to rise and importance came to be given from what peeped out from under it. The original panties were made from silk or artificial silk called rayon. After that nylon came to be use. Skin problems and other related headaches is causing a rethinking and going back to cotton. This is however turning out to be a costly affair.
The panty started its journey with the original purpose of covering the intimate part of a woman even she suddenly fell or jumped about. It spelt freedom from prowling eyes. The panty covers the mysterious deep junction between the legs. Eminent sociologist Margaret Mead says that the maleness and femaleness is inherent and woven into the fabric of our body as well as mind from childhood. It is genetically programmed. Mead points out that when a baby girl falls she spontaneously brings together her hands in front below the stomach. Whereas when a boy falls he spreads his arms across on both sides. Everything in woman is inside. Everything in man is outside.
Apart from the modesty factor the panty protects the woman from infections while she goes about her work in this modern world. The panty material should be able to breathe – otherwise it will itself be a source of trouble. Moreover the panty should be washed daily and should definitely not be shared on grounds of long-term health and hygiene.
The panty culture has developed a language of its own and one of the terms is panty-line or visible-panty-line (VPL). It is the provocative outline of the undergarment teasing through the outer clothing. The Panty-line also came to be known as the bikini-line. Of late there is very little difference between the bikini and the panty. Womankind is somehow holding onto a wisp of cloth to save her modesty and her civilization.
Pantyhose is another name in the panty business. These are sheers of extremely close fittings covering the body from the waist and reaching down to the feet. These resemble stockings and are made from nylon. It made its entry in USA during the 1960’s as an alternative to stockings. It is not necessary to wear any other undergarment below it. In UK these are termed ‘tights’ but with a variation in meaning. It need not be tight fighting but can be made from any stretchable material like spandex. Usually women wear it during physical exercises. In the tropical countries the entry of panties has been fairly recent. Overnight it has led to a market boom. But the panty does not go with the stifling humid sweaty climate of the tropics where the body needs to be aired as long as possible. It has led to a rise in hitherto unknown skin problems – this being a boon for pharmaceutical business.
A whole culture, for good or bad, has come to revolve round the panty. Much to the agony of health addict regular sales of second hand panties are becoming quite common. It is not unknown that even after vigorous washing; items of clothing do not become totally free from germs and vermin. There is a regular auction of panties and other items of undergarments worn by celebrities like Marylyn Monroe. It depends on one’s bent of mind whether to shudder or to cheer at such displays of civilized mankind.
In a recent online news it was reported that at Stansted Airport a 29 year old man hit the headlines as the panty-thief! He was the baggage handler at the airport and admitted to stealing panties. His colleagues saw him searching and removing these delightful items from passenger’s luggage. Three hundred pairs were carefully stored in his home. He was given an 18-month sentence with a fine. The sentence was relatively lenient as the motive was not greed but psychological. Society seems to be beginning to pay for allowing a free hand to greedy manufacturers and their partners – the media gangs.