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A French History of Underwear

May 11, 2015 1 min read

A new pictorial book by French writer Brigitte Govignon traces the history of underwear, revealing that humans went without undergarments for a long period of time. Govignon’s ‘Boxers, Undies and the Rest’ – ‘Caleçons, culottes & compagnie’ in French – follows the evolution of underwear via an examination of paintings, posters, postcards and advertisements throughout history.

For thousands of years, men and women went without briefs and panties, and Govignon’s book even features an 1867 painting by the artist Fragonard that featured a woman wearing nothing under a silk dress.

 However, Roman mosaics showed that athletes wore panties during the 4th century BC. Modern underwear primarily had its origins as a necessary element of sportswear. By 1906, men’s briefs (le slip) were available as sportswear.

Petit Bataue took out a patent for women’s panties (a culotte) in 1918. According to Govignon’s book, these early version of modern underwear may have had an ancestor in the leather or metal pouches worn by the kings and feudal lords of the Middle Ages.