The text below is the excerpt of the book The Story of Lingerie, written by Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher, published by Parkstone International.
During the development of western clothing, lingerie and corsetry have had a fundamental role. It allows one to structure one’s shape, modify the figure and change following the flights of fashion. Underwear itself follows constantly changes with the latest fashion. It is designed using shapes, materials and colours which correspond to the tastes of the time: even if we can say that women’s underwear is created in the image of fashion, it is not actually that simple, and shapes, types of undergarments, and the choice of materials and colours very often have a social context.
A woman wears underwear that varies according to her circumstances. From the beginning to the end of her life a woman experiences physical change and changes in her social status, and her underwear reflects this.
It becomes emblematic of the times and of each woman’s role in her society and class. In addition to this, throughout life, daily activities require different underwear, such as for sport, a day’s work or the evening. The most tantalising underwear is, of course, for love. Sophisticated underwear with the purpose of seduction had, and continues to have, a symbolic role in western Judeo-Christian society. Whether idolised or demonised, women’s underwear symbolises taboos and sexual prohibitions lead to numerous fantasies, erotic ideas and even to fetishism.
Underlying the existence of these fashion objects and erotic dreams is the world of business and industry, whose origins go back in history to linen maids, corset makers and hosiers. The sale and distribution of women’s underwear is a well-organised and rapidly expanding machine, dealing with such diverse retailers as chic lingerie outlets, mail-order catalogues and sex shops, where every woman can find what she desires. Advertising is aimed at attracting both men and women with lace, satin and embroidery modelled on voluptuous models.
The world of women’s underwear, whether hidden or on display, is a rich one. Underwear was originally designed for hygienic reasons and to enhance intimate parts of a woman’s body, but it is now aimed at much more than provoking desire. In particular, during its development over the years, it has shown the progressive liberation of the female body as well as her position in patriarchal western society…
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