Lingerie is something most women own. In fact, about 75 percent of all women have worn some sexy négligée out at least once in their lives. Some break theirs out often. For others, it’s something reserved for a special occasion — or perhaps once or twice in a lifetime.

Outside of a personal context, however, few people spend much time thinking about lingerie. It’s just something in the background of day-to-day life that rarely gets discussed beyond romantic conversations or girlfriends chatting over wine.

One thing is for sure: Lingerie has been with us for a long time. There is a storied, interesting history that spans centuries, from before the American Revolution through the Roaring ’20s, up to the rise of Victoria’s Secret and ahead to modern fashion trends.

To break it all down, here’s a brief history of the evolution of lingerie through the ages.

Old-World Traditions

While it’s impossible to know exactly when underwear became commonplace across various cultures, we can date the start of lingerie as a concept to France in the 1700s. The term itself is French for “undergarments” and refers to lighter fabrics in which well-to-do women ceremonially dressed themselves during elaborate, hours-long rituals attended by friends and onlookers. This helped popularize the modern notion that ladies’ undergarments should be stylish and sexy. For these women, they were no longer utilitarian. Instead, they wanted to look great in beautiful wears adorned with lace, silk and ribbons.

Body-Contorting Luxury

Through the ages, women continued wearing various forms of corsets and body-contorting garments under their dresses. While these were generally not to be seen, they did become more and more fashionable over time — especially for the upper class. Buying and possessing the finest corsets was a display of wealth. With intricate designs and in-demand functionality, women would search for the best options that came with — to the degree possible — the most comfort.

Modern Beginnings

By the turn of the century, norms were changing. Women would soon be wearing much more comfortable undergarments in the early 1900s with different goals in mind. Corsets became smaller or disappeared altogether from many women’s closets. Constriction was out, freedom was in. These softer, comfortable fabrics were still often geared around modesty and hygiene — not showing off — but the Flappers and female empowerment movement brought change to fashion. Liberated women were strutting their stuff with shorter hemlines, stockings and garters for the world to see, and such trends ushered in new ideas about how women wanted to see themselves in the mirror.

Sheer Comfort

Sheer nightgowns at home and silky slips beneath dresses soon became the norm. Strapless “corselets” and single-piece bustiers would appear. The move toward a more natural silhouette was in full swing, and women no longer had any desire to cram their figures into old-style garments. This would soon be reflected in pinup magazines. Now, everyone was seeing images of women in loose-fitting, suggestive wears, and even the modern-looking two-piece sets that dominate the market today.

Global Dominance

More innovation and trends would come and go over time. But as soon as Victoria’s Secret hit the scene in 1977, the world would never be the same. While many more influences continued shaping the view of what lingerie could be, this ideal seen in catalogs would become the mainstream view of what women desired. 

Lacy, luxurious sex appeal has reigned ever since. Some prefer more structured support, others like natural contours. But see-through, suggestiveness and sexuality became the new norm all across a worldwide market that brought in fortunes for the biggest brands. 

One other wrinkle has continued to show up as well: Underwear as outerwear. Now, more than ever, women are happy to show off some of their best “bedroom clothes” beneath blouses, blazers and jackets. And why not? When it looks this great, people should see it!

Lingerie Evolution: From Humble Beginnings to Modern Market Giant

Lingerie has evolved, adapted and changed greatly over the past few centuries. Really, the modern conception is quite different from its stranger beginnings. But one thing has always remained the same: It looks great and can provide a whole lot of enjoyment.

So, whether you’re trying to harken back to French nobles of centuries ago or recreate some 1920s nostalgia, remember how this all got started the next time you buy some sexy lingerie for yourself. No matter the era or occasion, putting on some great lingerie is one of the best ways any woman can look and feel her best!