Mysteries and Wonders in History
When did women start to put on panties?
by June Adams
August 16, 2003
You probably say, “No, I don’t think so, ’cause looks too modern.”
In fact, a diazoma is a loincloth and a strophion is a bra-like breast band. Those pieces of garment were indeed worn by the ancient Greek women as I show you the evidence later.
The “dia” is a prefix meaning “passing through”. And a zoma means band or passageway. So, a diazoma also means a band walkway or circular passageway used in an ancient theater. A zoma alone could mean a loincloth.
The word strophion comes from the Greek word strephein meaning to wind, turn, or twist. A simple strophion had no straps. You can find the strapless variety in a number of Roman paintings or mosaics as shown below:
Hall of the Girls at Exercise (Detail: three girls)
loincloth—the first undergarment
The loincloth becomes the simplest form of underwear, and it was probably the first undergarment worn by human beings. A loincloth may take three major forms.
The first consists of a long, triangular piece of fabric with strings or strips of cloth sewn to the corners. The strings are tied around the waist, and the cloth is brought up between the legs and tucked into or otherwise fastened to the resulting band.
The other form appears more skirt-like. A cloth is wrapped around the hips several times and then fastened with a girdle. In warmer climates, the loincloth may be the only clothing worn (making it effectively not an undergarment), but in colder temperatures, the loincloth often forms the basis of a person’s clothing and is covered by other garments.
The third form consists of a single long strip of cloth just like the one called “roku shaku” or six feet in Japan, because it streches out about six feet. This one is first wrapped around the hips, and then brought up between the legs and, finally, tucked into the resulting band.
In most ancient civilizations, the loincloth remained the only undergarment available. In fact, King Tutankhamun was buried with 145 of them. The loincloth continues to be worn by people around the world. It was indeed the traditional form of undergarment in many Asian societies.
Women in ancient societies also wore loincloths. As shown above, ancient Greek and Roman women often wore straps of cloth across the breasts to support and hide them, and many Roman women wore legless panty-like garments around the hips and crotch.
The Bikini Style
Like so many other cultural aspects of Western Civilisation, the invention of a bra and panties traces back to the ancient Greeks. Our evidence is, however, surprisingly sparse. Ancient writers rarely mentioned bras and panties even in erotic literature, and ancient painters and sculptors presented the female form as either fully clothed or completely nude.
The Attic vase-painting of Brauronian arktos or Atalanta at right shows a girl stripped for athletics down to their diazoma and strophion.
Unless girls did some exercise, they seemed to wear only a simple form of tunic called chiton without any undergarment. The painting by Degas below illustrates what the Spartan girls wore in those ancient days when girls took a coed Spartan gym class.
Spartan girls challenging boys by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
However, the Spartan girls appeared a bit different from other Greek women, who showed more prudishness. In ancient Greece, the people were sufficiently used to the sight of nakedess, but the costume of the Spartan girls in the above picture was ridiculed as the boys called them “thigh-showers”, “those with bare thighs”, and “gals dressed in Doric fashion”. Like the Spartan girls, the Doric women bared a great part of their body.
Dorians or Doric people:
Their name was mythologically derived from Dorus, son of Hellen. Originating in the northwestern mountainous region of Epirus and Southwestern Macedonia, they migrated through central Greece and into the Peloponnesus probably between 1100 and 950 B.C., defeating and displacing the Achaeans.
They rapidly extended their influence to Crete and established colonies in Italy, Sicily, and Asia Minor. Sparta and Crete are generally considered as having had the most typical form of Dorian rule in the sense that the invaders maintained their separate societies and subjected and enslaved the conquered population.
The arrival of the Dorians marked the disruption of the earlier Greek culture and the beginning of a period of decline. Although the cultural level of the Dorians was below that of the Achaeans, the Dorians did contribute to the culture of Greece in drama, poetry, sculpture, and especially in the huge stone buildings that marked the beginning of the Doric style of architecture.
In gymnastic and bodily exercises, Spartan girls put off this single piece of clothing and appeared completely naked.
Revival of Panties
It is during the Renaissance when French women first put on panties. It was the fashion brought by Catherine de Medici who got married to the French prince from the Medici family in Italy, and who eventually bacame the queen of King Henry II.
Proud of her shapely legs, she came up with a new way of riding called “Amazon style” in place of the uncouth sidesaddling that the pompous ladies preferred. With her left foot on the stirrup and her right folded leg placed on the front of the saddle, she rode a horse in a more stylish way.
While she rode in this manner, her shapely legs were seen on and off from within her skirt. In their delight, the men glued their eyes on Catherine’s curvaceous legs without giving even a thought on their hunting.
This Amazon style became an instant fad and the ladies of the royal court came to imitate it.
However, the ladies came across one big problem. Since the women had not yet put on panties, once their skirts were flared up, they became stark-naked below the waist. So, naturally, when a skirt gets turned up on horseback-riding, what should not be seen could be seen.
Therefore, the women started to put on caleçon as the so-called panties. The caleçon had been men’s underpants so far. Nonetheless, the caleçon spread out at once as a new fashion like a wild fire among the ladies of the court.
Deprived of a great pleasure in a “peep show”, however, the men became disappointed and argued seriously whether to admit putting on panties for a month.
The Underwear in Modern Times
In modern society, female underwear has become both a practical part of everyday dress and a subject of fascination to the male viewer. The bra, in particular, becomes the quintessentially female garment and carries layers of meaning associated with the part of the anatomy it covers. The breast both symbolizes maternal nourishment and provides a focus for erotic interest.
In the 1960s feminists used to burn their bras as a symbol of emancipation from male control. In the 1990s, however, the notorious “Hello boys” advert for Wonderbra played on the idea of reclaiming the garment as a symbol of women’s empowerment.
While demonstrating its potential for reflecting broader social trends, the bra as well as panties will stay with the women—probably, forever.
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