100 Years of Knickers: A brief history

For centuries, women didn’t wear knickers, and it wasn’t until 1918 that these garments were cut and sewn in a way that we know them today.

Here, Eurovet, the organisers behind Salon International de la Lingerie, provides a brief history of knickers.

In 18th century England, young women wore ‘lingerie trousers’ during their gymnastic sessions in order to retain their dignity and it was only under the Second British Empire (after 1783) that it became obligatory for women to wear this garment due to the size of the crinoline, which tended to rise up.

Story continues below

At the end of the 19th century, undergarments, known as drawers then, were wide and pleated at the waist with a large, buttoned belt. They featured frills or lace and were always open between the legs. They really were a pair of knickers.

Over the years, drawers became shorter and shorter in line with fashion trends and the opening was finally sewn up.

In 1918, Pierre Valton, the French director of underwear brand Petit Bateau, decided to develop knickers as we know them today – very simple, in cotton and with an elasticated waist. This marked the birth of the Petit Bateau knickers, which are still popular today.

The revolution marched on and small knickers became increasingly popular in the 1920s.

In 1959, following the invention of Lycra, the lingerie industry boomed. Yet, knickers became truly iconic in 1955, when in the film Seven Year Itch, Marilyn Monroe’s white dress was blown upwards by a passing train, revealing her Hanro undergarments.

Ever since, stylists across the world have worked with knickers in all shapes and all colours.