by Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher
Preface by Chantal Thomass 7
Underwear and fashion 15
Lingerie, corsetry and hosiery 17
How underwear began to allow the silhouette evolve 25
From Ancient Greece to modern woman: what have they been wearing under their clothes? 43
Underwear and Society 89
Stages of life 91
Caring for linen 103
A woman’s private life and clothing 109
Contradictory arguments about trousers for women and the corset 127
Sports underwear 133
Eroticism, seduction and fetishism 141
The eroticism of women’s underwear 143
Seductive and sexy underwear 157
Fetishism and women’s underwear, from private clubs to the catwalk 185
Lingerie manufacturing 201
The current lingerie market 207
Underwear on top 231
Technical and general terms
Terms specific to underwear
Lingerie is very directly and strongly linked to a women’s intimacy. For centuries, men have always believed that lingerie was created with the objective of seduction. There is no question that this aim exists. However, by choosing to put on pretty, seductive underwear, all women develop a slightly self-centred, even narcissistic, behaviour and attitude. In fact, lingerie contributes to a woman’s sense of ease with her body and, in this way, she accepts and loves her body better, becoming more confident and showing real assurance. The reason for this is very simple. Surprisingly, even though nobody can see her underwear, it really accentuates a woman’s figure and can sometimes shape her body to satisfaction.
Lingerie has too often been treated as an element of seduction. Men themselves created this phenomenon: a woman clad only in her underwear seems infinitely more sensual and sexual than a woman entirely in the nude. One could associate underwear with high heels. The latter have an effect on how a woman walks, making her more attractive, seductive and provocative. When combined with stockings, high heels have a certain charge, and an undeniable fetishist quality, as much for women as for men.
The perception and appreciation of the female form has undergone many radical changes. We could compare, for example, our early 21st century perception, to the 1960s and 1970s. In the sixties, when a woman got married, and even more so when she became a mother, her body was no longer meant to be seductive. Today this attitude is completely outdated and obsolete. In fact, women feel the need to be attractive at all ages, both before and after marriage, and even during their later years. This can be illustrated by the fact that, these days, a grandmother can be a beautiful woman and wish to dress to her best advantage in alluring underwear which enhances her figure. This revolution in customs concerning underwear is linked directly to innovation and technical considerations in the design of undergarments, and is subject to historical events. The history of lingerie deserves to be studied here.
Lingerie, as opposed to the world of fashion, is a state of mind. A woman can love lingerie and wish to enhance her figure from the age of 15 to 75! Ready-to-wear fashion is a completely different universe from that of underwear. Clothes are always aimed at a distinct age group: fashion for a 15 year old girl is different from that of a woman of 30. Underwear, meanwhile, is much more a question of attitude and how a woman feels: a larger woman can be happy with her body, accepting herself as she is, and wish to enhance her figure with beautiful underwear. So lingerie should meet all aspirations and suit every kind of woman. As a designer, my work is focused in this direction. In order to design underwear which satisfies many types of woman, I like to observe those around me: my daughter, my assistants and women whom I encounter in the street. I can also be inspired by behaviour I have noticed in films.
Apart from my entourage, which plays an important role in suggesting new pieces to me, materials also inspire my designs. Textiles are essential. Since lingerie is closest to the female body and in intimate contact, the fabric and lace have to be soft, but this is not the only criterion. Today lingerie has to be comfortable and practical. In fact, although only 30 years ago French women (as opposed to Americans, for example) did not baulk at wearing and hand-washing very fragile undergarments, often lacetrimmed, sometimes needing ironing, today this would no longer be acceptable. Lingerie must be able to withstand machine -washing, be non-iron, and combine comfort (essential) and beauty in each piece.
We cannot overlook the development of different textiles in the design and manufacture of underwear. Going beyond materials, colour also plays an important part in lingerie. Black and white are always extremely flattering to the skin. Black (more particularly) can also diminish the defects that we all have. Warm colours (pink, red, raspberry) also help enhance the figure. On the other hand, lingerie in cool colours is harder to work with. Green and blue are beautiful, but are too often reminiscent of swimwear.
Lingerie should be associated with pleasure for a woman. The element of seduction remains, especially with certain undergarments: some of them are fascinating and inevitably inspire attraction. Stockings and suspenders make a woman extremely attractive, even bewitching. Bustiers, waspies and brassieres can be worn under a transparent shirt. The effect of this is bound to be equivocal, ambivalent and extremely fascinating when seen by others, and very flattering for the woman dressed this way.
I can distinguish two types of lingerie. On the one hand, the underwear that one wants to show off (particularly waspies, suspenders and stockings) and on the other hand, underwear just for the woman herself. This last category should be nice to look at but also comfortable. With regard to tights, for example, I particularly like to make attractive, lovely tights so that they can be worn everyday and so that they can maintain, in spite of what they are, an air of seduction when they are removed in the presence of one’s lover.
The essence and attitude of lingerie is all in suggestion. Three terms can be applied to lingerie today: elegance, seduction and comfort. These three ideas have to be combined when designing underwear, and any vulgarity has to be ruled out. To avoid this, underwear has to be humorous and fresh. The world of lingerie affects everybody: women, who are wearing this underwear, as well as men, who believe women were wearing it merely to seduce them. The story of lingerie, as well as its history, deserves some attention.