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7 Things Historical Women Wore Under Their Skirts

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Wikimedia Commons

Underwear historians the world over were shaken to their foundation garments last year when what appears to be a 15th century bra and underpants were discovered under the floorboards of an Austrian castle. Bras and underpants had no business existing in that place during that time. It is true that Western-style underwear was starting to evolve in that century—and before that clothes were mostly for not freezing to death and few people had time to fuss with dainties—but historically it was heavy duty stuff, stays, corsets, and thick full body chemises (nightgowns). The existence of that displaced lingerie is baffling. But the undergarments we have thorough historic records of are pretty baffling, too. Here is a brief history of some of the fantastic appurtenances women wore under their skirts.

1. Pantalets with Open Crotch

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Crotchless panties are not a new thing. They are only a salacious version of what had been the style of women’s underwear for centuries. Whatever form of pantalets, pantalettes, drawers, or pantaloons a woman wore, they were usually open from the thigh up. This was for a variety of reasons. Bunching up all the yardage in even the humblest dress of centuries past to try and get a comfortable position over the chamber pot left no hands to pull (or “draw,” thus the term “drawers”) down underwear. Plus it was considered healthy and hygienic; a lady’s bits needed proper ventilation. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century buttons began to appear on the crotch of drawers, giving ladies the option to close up shop if they wished.

2. Panniers

Wikimedia Commons

Fashion has never been about practicality. Panniers (or side hoops, or hoop petticoat, or wide damn dress thingy) were all the rage around Marie Antoinette’s era, in the 18th century. It was a support structure a woman wore around her waist to make her dress spread out flat and wide. A very wealthy lady would be one too wide to walk through her own doors. The term likely comes from a similar French word, paniers, which refers to wicker baskets slung on either side of a donkey.

3. Dimity pocket

Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Women have always felt a need to haul junk with them when they go places. By the 1800s, handbags were coming into fashion. Before that there were dimity pockets. “All old ladies wore these pockets & carried their keys in them," wrote the granddaughter of John Adams in a note describing the one belonging to her grandma. Plain ones like these were worn under the skirt, likely accessible through a discreet slit in the folds of the fabric. Shortly after women thought to cut out the middleman and began sewing the pocket directly into the skirt.

4. Cage Crinoline

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

For a brief, beautiful time in the early 1800s, there was a sort of Greek revival, and dresses became loose, and sweetly simple (think Jane Austen). But freedom of movement and properly expanding lungs can’t stay fashionable forever. Regency style faded into Victorian, and once again a woman’s underpinnings required the infrastructure to rival a corbel arch bridge. The cage crinoline, rings of steel attached together with string, help distribute the immense weight of the ever expanding gowns around the wearer’s waist. They also allowed a woman to move her legs more freely without getting tangled in petticoats and underskirts. This, paired again with the trusty corset, prepared women for the industrial age by encouraging them to sit very still on stools and not waste precious air talking.

5. The Bustle

Wikimedia Commons

Does this dress make my butt look big? No? Well I’ll have to do something about that. As the 19th century wore on, the Scarlett O’Hara bell-shaped crinolines began to shrink. But the sexy hourglass silhouette was still something women wanted to show off. The corset kept the top half of the body appropriately squeezed, but how is a lady supposed to flaunt the junk in her trunk under all that fabric? The bustle, which came in many forms, kept her ornately draped bottom from dragging or wilting during the day.

6. Menstrual Belts


Etsy

I know. But buck up, you can handle this. The evolution of how women tended to that particular sanitation issue is a fascinating one, and it is something women wore under their skirts. Well...at least after the 1800s. Before that, historians aren’t positive, because it wasn’t the sort of thing that got written down—but their best guess is that most women wore nothing. I know. I know. If it comforts you, know that women menstruated less back in the day, because they were pregnant more often and under-nourished. Moving on.

Before the joyous revolution of the 1970s which brought us sticky adhesives to keep pads in place, more creativity was called for. The menstrual belt. A belt around the waist with dangling buckles, to which could be connected a strap, which held in place a pad the size of a phone book (technology was not as absorbent back in the day). Women ruled empires, walked across continents, and wrote classic novels while latched into those things.

7. Briefs

Courtesy of Meta Efficient

According to the Museum of Menstruation, women’s underwear as we know it today (close fitting briefs), didn’t exist until the 1930s. Of course there was the pair in the Austrian floorboards, but it is safe to assume that, tucked away as they were, they did not influence 20th century fashions. The first mention of “briefs” (so brief! Barely pantaloons at all!) the museum could find was in the Sears Roebuck catalog of 1935, where special mention was made that they were “every day” briefs. This harkens back to the nuanced world of menstruation containment. Before women wore fitted underpants every day, they wore them only monthly, to keep pads in place. Some historians believe the menstrual brief was designed based on diapers, which in turn inspired the prototype of all modern women’s underwear.  

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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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iStock

Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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Adidas, Mari Orr
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Adidas Collaborates With Artists to Create Sneakers for All 50 States
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Adidas, Mari Orr

For a recent project from Adidas and Refinery29, artists were given a women’s running shoe to use as their blank canvas. Their only prompt: Design the sneaker to represent one of the American states. The results are as varied and colorful as the nation itself.

As Adweek reports, the initiative, dubbed BOOST the Nation, takes an all-American look at Adidas’s UltraBOOST X footwear line. Refinery29 selected several artists—all women—to put their regional stamp on the plain white shoe. Some have been decorated with state flora. For instance, the Florida sneaker sports a tropical frond and the shoe for North Carolina is embellished with Venus flytraps. Food is also a popular theme: Wisconsin cheese, Maine lobster, and Tennessee barbecue have all been incorporated into sneaker designs.

Each sneaker is one-of-a kind and only available through auction. All proceeds raised will go directly to Women Win, an organization dedicated to bringing sports to adolescent girls around the world. The auction runs through Tuesday, July 11, with current bids ranging from $110 to $2000. Check out the artists’ handiwork that's for sale below.

Sneaker designed to look like a peach.
Georgia

Checkered running shoe.
Indiana

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Yellow running shoe with cracker tag.
Wisconsin

Sneaker designed to look like a mountain.
South Dakota
Adidas, Mari Orr

Sneaker decorated with wheat.
Oklahoma

Adidas, Jen Mussari

Sneaker embellished with fake roses and leaves.
Kentucky

Pink running shoe with lobster claw.
Maine

[h/t Adweek]

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