There is an interesting story behind the worldwide popular lingerie brand, Victoria’s Secret. The large scale international company of today actually started out with a small underwear store founded by a man who always felt embarrassed of having to buy his wife’s underwear at a department store for everyone to see. Purchasing underwear was something he felt was humiliating and something he wanted to keep as a secret. Now, thoughts have changed. Underwear, which is meant to be worn underneath our clothes, is now being intentionally revealed to the public eye as a fashion trend through sheer clothes or see-through material. Although this is a rising trend, not everyone agrees to this flow of thought. What about you?
No one walks around in public wearing just their undergarments. Underwear indicates that there is always something to wear under. Meaning to say that underwear are supposed to be hidden underneath the outer clothing. However, it is said that these days, underwear are being treated and used as an outer garment. Women have started to become conscious about underwear patterns and colors, even though no one but themselves are to see what they put on. Vivid colors, like neon yellow or bright pink, and wild patterns, like leopard prints or zebra stripes, are being popularized by the average women. Another example of this phenomenon is the popular summer style, lingerie look and seethrough look. A lingerie look is wearing clothes that resemble underwear, but aren’t really underwear. See-through clothes are commonly seen on the streets as well. From knitted tops to sheer skirts, women fondly wear all kinds of see-through clothes where people can slightly see the vague shape and color of their underwear. Nowadays, someone with a bra strap poking a little bit out of their sleeves or a thin part of their waist line riding above their jeans is completely normal. However, long ago, people would scowl at a lady if she had a bit of underwear exposed. How were the underwear of the past different from the underwear of the present that made this sort of change?
The Coming Out of Underwear
The first concept ever of underwear emerged from the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and became conscious about their private parts. After taking a bite out of the fruit, they quickly hid their sexual parts with fig leaves. This was the first form and purpose of underwear; garments to hide each individual’s private parts. Like the example above, underwear of the past focused mainly on its practicality and of what kind of functions it fulfilled. During the Joseon Dynasty, there were around 10 different kinds of underwear worn inside a single Hanbok1 (from Soksokgot, which served as the most inner undergarment, to Nureumbaji, which made the skirt a more fuller shape2). In the western countries, women used to wear corsets and petticoats to make their waists more thin and their hips fuller. Although undergarments served for the purpose of making a more feminine body shape, they were still focused on the functions, and weren’t fashion items themselves. Other than supporting the body shapes, underwear were also used for hygenic reasons, for additional warmth, or even for religious purposes. Practicality was emphasized, but they were no more than that. In the past, underwear were also called “unmentionables.”3 They were something to be embarrassed about and hidden well. The ‘coming out’ of underwear happened slowly. In the 1960s, the first underwear advertisements were illustrated rather than modeled by a real person. Live underwear models first appeared in the 80s, but they had to use foreigners, because most of the Korean celebrities were afraid that their public image would become tainted if they modeled for an underwear company.4 Although the society was still wary about the subject of undergarments, the transition from underwear being a simple piece of underwear to a luxurious fashion item was steadily taking place. Manufacturers started to print loud messages or patterns onto the garments. Women’s panties became more colorful and decorative, and the designs became saucier as well. As we enter the 21st century, people are now starting to treat underwear as an outer garment, and the see-through fashion trends have simultaneously proceeded. Yu Areum, Department of English ’11, says, “It’s nice to wear see-through clothes on a hot summer day, and I also find them very fashionable. They catch my eye each time I enter a clothes shop.” A staff member of the MLB underwear corporation stated, “As more and more customers are starting to wear undergarments like outer clothing, low-cut bras that give more volume or bright-colored underwear that add to the classiness of the entire outfit when exposed have become more popular.”5 Some experts attribute this trend to the precedents who started off this change: Madonna, Britney Spears, and James Dean, to name a few.6 As all fashion trends go, there are underlying explanations as to why it has happened
Picture the world famous models Jang Yoonju and Han Hyejin. One of the main reasons that they have been singled out to become international successes is because of their strong Asian features. They’re pointy eyes and sharp chins act as their strengths and are what makes them original and different from the other models. In the past, the beauty of a person’s face was evaluated according to how western their features were. However, as we can see with the Korean models above, the society today approves of the individuality of faces, since everyone has so many different eyes, noses and lips. While the standards of a beautiful face have ceased to exist, the standards for a beautiful body remain similar; some generations round, some generations thin. Since there isn’t much to vary from a body shape, there is less individuality to look for in a woman’s body. Thus, the beauty of a woman has started to focus on the body, and this leads to the first explanation for why underwear has become a form of an outer garment. The standards for a beautiful body is more clear than the standards for a beautiful face, so women are taking all sorts of measures to form a better body line. We are living in a reality where fat women are perceived as someone with no sense of self-care. As the importance of a beautiful body has risen, the value of underwear as a tool that can make our body look more beautiful has increased as well. Showing glimpses of undergarments is the same as showing glimpses of their body. As the standards of beauty have started to focus on the body, more and more people utilize their underwear to show off their bodies. While the desire of women to expose more of their body is increasing, the society is also on the supporting side of this desire. The mass perceives the body of a woman differently than before, and thuscontributes to the new underwear fashion trend. This phenomenon first erupted amongst men. It was the hip hop culture for men to wear their jeans a mile below their hips. It was the males who first started to show off which underwear brands they wore, by revealing just an inch or two of the waistline where the brand name was printed. In the past, women were trapped in the stereotypes of having to be gentle, quiet and polite. Possessing a glamorous figure was considered shallow and of low class. If it was the right choice to hide a women’s body a few decades ago, it’s the wrong choice today. A women revealing parts of her body is now an act of self-confidence and this fits well with the modern female image. This change in the societal atmosphere is another trigger of the underwear fashion look.
This trend can also be explained by the desire to reveal more of one’s body for the purpose of maintaining their sex identity. Sex identity, or gender identity, indicates the sense of their own gender, how sure they are a male or a female. Today, we live in a world where one can easily lose their innate sex identity. The traditional gender roles have changed since the industrial revolution.7 Before, females had to be passive social beings, and had to refrain from having any sexual feelings.8 Today, the dividing line between gender roles are starting to fade away. With more and more working moms in our society, men learn how to cook and women learn how to pay the taxes. The popularization of the concept of homosexuality and bisexuality is another factor that helps to confuse one’s gender identity. Professor Kim, head of the Body Culture Research Center in Konkuk University states that “With the changes in the traditional gender roles and the appearances of more and more homosexuals and bisexuals, the modern society is turning to showing off their bodies which do not change, in order tosearch for their gender identities.”9 By a form of psychological motive, people are hoping to stabilize their insecure sex identities by holding on to their physical features and obsessing about them. Thus, women utilize their underwear to show off their bodies and emphasize their femininity. The use of underwear as an outer garment can’t be explained directly by this mental tendency, yet we can’t ignore it completely and must admit it as an underlying contributing factor. The outerization of women’s underwear is not a sign of exhibitionism, which is a symptom where you want to show parts of your skin to get people’s attention, but a sign of changes in the gender roles andpoints. It embodies the turning history of women and their social activities. This fashion trend is supported by many social explanations, but is it supported by the entire society?
Wonder Woman Coming Soon?
Revealing bits of underwear to the public eye may be a rising trend, but it is yet to be a fully arrived trend. The older generation, still possessing the ideas of their own era, look at this underwear fashion with disdainHowever, it is not only them that disagree. As a matter of fact, while most of the young generation do not despise this fashion trend, neither does anyone think of it as a positive fashion. Kim Jisoo, Hannam University ’11, thinks “Underwear is meant to be worn underneath our clothes. I sometimes think that the people who intentionally show their underwear have no respect for the on-lookers.” Sung Soim, a student attending a university in China says, “I don’t like wearing see-through clothing, because I’m not so confident about my body.” Lee Sunhwa, a student attending a university in Daejeon says, “I don’t hate seethrough clothes, but I would feel uncomfortable wearing it to certain places, like when meeting some adults.” Song, Chungbuk University ’11 says, “I don’t like wearing see-through clothes, or fashion styles that reveal a part of my underwear. I would feel very unpleasant if men looked at my underwear and had impure thoughts.” Sohn, a male student currently attending Inha University states his honest view. “I wouldn’t like it if a close friend or girlfriend would expose their underwear. It would make them look very bawdy and I would want to protect them from any adulterous eyes. However, as a common male, I like the theme and look.” Contrary to expectations, the majority of the young generation aren’t 100% favorable towards this emerging vogue. The exposure of underwear is still not common. However, women still spend lots of time and money on choosing their underwear, even though it’s not to be displayed. Women actually are in a better mood on days when their bras and panties match. Underwear is the piece of clothing that is the most closest to the body. It’s sometimes even called “a second skin.” To women, underwear is not a single piece of triangular cloth, but a medium that expresses the wearers’ preferences, portrays the change of the female position and overall embraces the long history of women. Whether you wear your underwear under or over your outfit, it always remains significant by itself. The outerization of underwear is not yet a complete trend, but it is in progression and no female is excluded from this phenomenon. Picture Wonder Woman, one of the most famous heroines, with her confident minimal outfit. Will we someday live to see walking Wonder Women on the streets?
1 Kang Eunyoung, “The Variations of Underwear,” Hankookilbo, November 24, 2010
2 ‘Soksokgot,’ ‘Nureunbaji,’ Doopedia
3 no info of reporter, “Medieval Lingerie,” Euronews, July 30, 2012
4 Kang Hyeran, “Underwear Advertisement,” Joongangilbo, August 8, 2011
5 Yoon Jihee, “Underwear You Want to Show! Now, Underwear is a Fashion too!!,” KIDMOMNEWS, August 24, 2011
6 Steele, Valerie, “Encyclopedia of clothing and fashion,” Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, p121
7 Marvin Harris, “Our Kind,” Mineumsa, 1995, p253
8 Yanghee, “Female Leader and Female Leadership,” Samsung Economics Research Center, 2006, p80
9 Jun Minjung, “I Take Off My Clothes, I Talk Through My Body”, Etodaynews, May 13, 2012