By Etta B. Richards
What kind of undies did you wear as a child?
I don't remember what I wore as underwear until age 12, seventh grade, in 1930. 1 wore bloomers, sewn by my mother on her pedal-operated sewing machine. White cotton bloomers that came down almost to my knees.
All the girls in my class wore bloomers. What the boys wore I didn't know and didn't care.
In the same year my breasts began to blossom as did those of most of the girls *in the class. We weren't thrilled about this. We didn't need new parts and they were kind of in the way. We asked our mothers for 'bandeaux' which actually flattened rather than uplifted the new appurtenances.
We also wore homemade 'underskirts' made of heavy white cotton.
In my seventh grade class students were frequently called upon to make current event or book reports in front of the class. One morning I noticed that elastic in my bloomer legs seemed to be limp and worn out. While I stood before the class making a report I heard giggling and with horror realized those bloomers were slipping down, and down, below my dress! As usual when embarrassed I felt my face turning red, brighter and brighter, but I did conclude the report.
Years later one boy who had been in that class said he would always remember my blushes during that year, the 'bloom of youth,' he called it. (How about 'bloomer of youth'?)
My mother wore about the same undies as I did, but at some point during the 1930s I realized that many women wore corsets, very heavy cotton, elastized, covering the body from breasts down over buttocks, whether they needed them or not. For plump and overweight women these indeed helped to smooth out and disguise lumps and bumps and could even make them look slimmer.
But many wore them, like my mother, who had a well-proportioned firm body, probably because of a desire to be like other women she knew. It was the style. In high-school underpants were made of heavy rayon, usually pink or peach color, length much shorter than those old bloomer legs. Brassieres (not bras) were heavy cotton. Rayon stockings were held up by garter belts, cotton belts with front and back garters to hold up the stockings, worn underneath the pants.
In college underpants became shorter, still rayon, and were now called panties. By Junior year panties were even shorter, no elastic for legs.
Panty raids were sometimes staged in the spring, spring fever time, and groups of young men raided through dormitories and sororities collecting as many panties as
possible from clotheslines. (No dryers back then.)
Also around this time all of a sudden there were the girdles, light-weight, elasticized, with garters front and back to hold up silk hosiery. Panties were worn on top of these. Next came panty girdles, which did away with panties temporarily. They also had garters attached. Very few co-eds needed this flesh control to disguise and smooth tummies, hips and buttocks, but it was the style and we all wore them.
My sister Janet, still in high school and involved in sports, felt constrained to follow the crowd and wear a girdle, but she did so under protest. She railed against the 'rock crusher' she wore at the time.
People who feel a need continue to wear girdles today. Now, however, different names are used, such as 'shapewear' and one especially brilliant euphemism 'body enhancers.'
I can't think of any more real changes until after WWII. In 1946 nylon clothing such as hosiery, panties, nightgowns, blouses, shirts and other articles of clothing became available in the stores. Public acceptance was immediate
Underskirts had long ago become 'slips,' and at some point in the late 1950s these gradually became half-slips, the theory being that full slips hid bosoms and half-slips were more appeal more to the opposite sex. Panties became even shorter -- bikini type --and some of the bras were padded to add a little to the bra size.
Surely the greatest improvement in women's wear in the entire 20th century was the advent of panty hose in the late 1960s. We welcomed them with great delight. Freedom from garters! Hurray!
Seventies, eighties and nineties rolled on by with no earth-shaking new changes.
Slowly but surely lingerie became sexier and sexier, reflecting attitudinal changes in the general population. Today, body parts such as breasts are no longer thought of as unmentionable but as bodily appendages just like arms, legs, hands, feet.
In this year 2003 there is one notable new change and by now you're aware of it thong.
Etta lives and writes in Houston, Texas