On Monday, June 18, 2018, the West Linn Historical Society presented guest author, Amber Keyser, as she read from and discussed her book “Underneath It All: A History of Women’s Underwear.”
Did you know that the world’s first bra dates to the twelfth century? Or that wearing an 18th century crinoline was like having a giant birdcage strapped around your waist? Did you know that women during WWI donated the steel stays from their corsets to build battleships?
For most of human history, the garments women wore under their clothes were hidden. The earliest underwear provided warmth and protection, but soon, women’s undergarments became complex structures designed to shape their bodies to fit the fashion ideals of the time. When wide hips were in style, they wore wicker panniers under their skirts. When narrow waists were popular, women laced into corsets that cinched their ribs and took their breath away.
In the modern era, undergarments are out in the open. From the designer corsets Madonna wore on stage to Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement on Instagram, lingerie is part of everyday wear, high fashion, fine art, and innovative technological advances. This feminist exploration of women’s underwear—with a nod to codpieces, tighty-whities, and boxer shorts along the way—reveals the intimate role lingerie plays in defining women’s bodies, sexuality, gender identity, and body image. It is a story of control and restraint but also female empowerment and self-expression. You will never look at underwear the same way again.
This event was not recorded.