On one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, Marilyn Monroe was standing on a subway grate, and her white dress suddenly was blown up by a passing train revealing her underpants in the movie The Seven Year Itch in 1955. Lingerie was not practical any longer, it was all about glamour, but without showing too much skin.
The 1950s gave birth to the pin-up, and it was a common motif in intimate apparel advertisements. Models like Bettie Page on the posters always were portrayed with a suggestive pose, emphasising the hips and chest. Pin-up gained popularity, and sexy lingerie became socially acceptable and more available. Corselets and bustiers were not hidden any more; they were shown with the added complexity of garters and seamless nylon stockings.
Corselets were strapless and featured underwire cups for breast enhancement, designed to be worn under evening gowns. The Wonderbra was a type of push-up underwire brassiere. Moses Nadler, the founder of the Canadian Lady Corset Company, licensed the trademark and by the 1960s the brand had become known. Other funny enchantments were invented too like the inflatable bra. Women would blow into the connected tube until they'd achieved the desired size. (Bustlines weren't the only things getting a boost, the 'Secret Friend' was introduced in 1958 to enhance backside with some added cushion.)
La Perla was founded by Ada Masotti in 1954, using bright silks embellished with lace trim. Masotti sold her luxury underwear in velvet boxes, like pieces of jewellery as Perla means "pearl" in Italian. They were the mark of a well-dressed woman in the 1950s. The fifties were all about bourgeois beauty and provoking wealth, sophistication and sexiness.
The 60s changed it all. Suddenly it wasn't wealth that counted, but youth and lingerie took a big part in it. There was an entire youth culture that influenced women and lingerie. The matching bra and brief sets were playful and girlish, with plenty of ruffles, frills and bows, dainty florals and soft pastels. Babydolls had ruled the bedroom. Women didn't emphasise their busts anymore because young women are flat-chested. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich introduced a minimalistic bra called the No-Bra, manufactured by Lily of France to promote the braless look at the time of the sexual liberation. It was transparent without metal wiring, and was available only in A and B cups, as it didn't give much support for the breasts. In the 1960s the female silhouette was more liberated. The '60s ushered in an era of freedom and rebellion. Many women of this decade burned their bras as an act of rebelliousness and non-conformity.
The girlish, youthful look was fashionable in the previous decade, modern styles were sleeker and more streamlined, often in silk or lace fabrications. While the vibe of liberation, women became more involved in athleticism and feminism, but they still wanted their lingerie to support their body. The control-top panties helped flatten and smooth the tummy area.
The famous Victoria's Secret was founded in San Francisco in 1977 by Roy Raymond. He started the undergarments-only retailer because he felt uncomfortable shopping for lingerie for his wife in department stores. Working women regain the femininity they have lost behind the office desk. Victoria's Secret made sexy lingerie more of an everyday thing and brought lace thongs and padded satin bras to the local malls on affordable price.
Colours become more sultry and bold, plenty of marabou feathers and boas, neon coloured sportswear for aerobic exercise with ultra-high leg cut. The styles become more provocative and hyper-sexualised. Career women wore a sexy, lacy camisole under the menswear-inspired office suit with giant shoulder pads as a reminder of their femininity. According to the French philosophy, wearing a "pretty little secret" helps to radiate confidence and sex appeal. Classic lingerie styles became popular again, and the one-piece teddy was fashionable sleepwear.
Women's underwear began to reflect an increasing interest and participation in exercise. The toned and muscular body became the cultural ideal for women. The runner Hinda Miller invented the sports bra, made of stretch fabric with no fasteners to be pulled over the head. It shortly became a classic of women's underwear design.
Who doesn't remember Madonna's iconic satin top with the cone-shaped breasts designed by Jean Paul Gaultier? Underwear was no longer unmentionable; the first time we started seeing underwear worn visibly as part of an outfit. Previously panties had to be hidden, but fashion changed it all. In this decade it became common to wear big waist-high pants under the transparent outerwear. In the 1990s, a new trend for thong became popular. Also, boy-style underwear briefs have come into fashion for women.
Corsets became fashionable again but as outerwear this time through the work of the British designer, Vivienne Westwood. By using lycra rather than the original whalebone, the corset could be easily pulled over the head and was no need of laces and hooks. In the 1990s, a lingerie revival was led by Californian companies Victoria's Secret and Frederick's of Hollywood. But the major lingerie bestseller was the simple Egyptian cotton camisole that Nicole Kidman was wearing in Stanley Kubrick's film Eyes Wide Shut (1999). It was made by the Swiss company Hanro.
In 1994, Agent Provocateur's first shop opened in London. Co-founder Joseph Corré, the son of Vivienne Westwood, was motivated to sell whips alongside sexy, retro-inspired lingerie. He has successfully integrated the glamour of 1950s underwear with the catwalk, recreating garments like the classic baby-doll nightie. They have redefined lingerie as a luxury item with sex appeal.
While Wonderbra as a brand has been around since the mid-20th century, the push-up bra as we commonly know it wasn't popular until the '90s. Advertising companies used models like Eva Herzigova with her plumped up cleavage on the billboard ad for Wonderbra. (On the side note, Mark Wahlberg was portrayed in Calvin Klein underwear as a powerfully masculine figure.)
Underwear and outerwear were virtually indistinguishable. Halle Berry was showing off her G-string for photographers on the red carpet. Low-rise jeans and micro-mini skirts were dominating the fashion scene. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, there was some controversy in some southern US states to ban the wearing of trousers so low as to expose the underwear.
The lingerie market had modern technologies and new fabrics that helped innovative products such as seamless bras and moulded T-shirt bras. Designers were putting greater emphasis on delicate fabrics, laces, embroideries and brighter colours. Women had more choice in bra sizes to find the perfect fit. The US's largest lingerie retailer was Victoria's Secret, while the European market was more fragmented between Triumph and French lingerie houses like Chantelle and Aubade.
Reality star Kim Kardashian introduced a new era of lingerie when she started wearing nothing but super-fitted bodycon dresses, often by lingerie brand Wolford. The second trend in lingerie lately is the sporty-chic type. Athletic-inspired boy shorts and sports bras became a favourite among models and style bloggers, just like Calvin Klein underwear displayed over the waistbands of jeans.
In recent years there is a movement towards diversity and body-positivity in the lingerie world. Brands are filling the need for a broader range and nude lingerie sets designed for women of colour. Ashley Graham has made waves in the industry as the first plus-size model to appear on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue. Read about 5 ways to gain success in life.