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Mon January 14, 2008
Commentary from Joan Carris
New Bern, NC –
If you wish to make a child laugh, say underwear. If you're saying this in a school, 2nd and 3rd graders will howl with glee. The word underpants is even funnier, which writer Dav Pilkey knew when he wrote Adventures of Captain Underpants, a wildly successful book series for kids seven to ten. Children learning to read work twice as hard if a Captain Underpants book waits for them on the bedside table. For sure, underwear has a fascination all its own.
Its history is just as interesting. Let us contemplate the brassiere. In ancient Minoan art are pictures of female athletes wearing smallish garments that look a lot like the sports bra that soccer star Brandi Chastain revealed when she ripped off her teeshirt and bowed down on the field. However, between Ms. Chastain and those 7th century Minoan athletes are the Dark Ages of Under-clothing the unmentionables that no cultured person ever dared to mention.
For centuries, euphemisms have flourished to clothe this verboten topic in respectability. Among females, acceptable words included foundation garment a nicely sanitized phrase meaning corset, a device that had whalebone stays to squash any unwanted bulges; waspie, a killer type of corset; and intimate clothing a diabolically clever phrase. My favorite, though, is the word smallclothes, which could refer to male or female unmentionables. Do you see how we're not saying anything specific here?
In the late 1800's women wore the liberty bodice, which was a shaped, sleeveless bodice, usually with suspenders, that covered the territory but was not a dictatorial garment like the corset.
Male underwear was called flannels or woolens terms most likely from cold, damp countries like England and Scotland along with breeches and britches; union suits; skivvies; knickers; and lately, tighty-whiteys. In the 1990s, some irreverent soul asked then-President Clinton whether he wore boxers or briefs, an unthinkable question until recently.
Times change, of course. Now the scantiest female underwear appears on seductive models in store windows. But for the most part, men's underwear is discreetly packaged in plastic and kept on department store shelves. Men's underwear is boring, I guess, although I have seen a few Calvin Klein ads .
Well, anyway, back in the revolutionary 1960's, women burned bras in public and bragged about going bra-less. The idea was to live life unfettered like men in other words unrestrained by their undergarments. It worked for a while; then women saw that everything north of the waist had gone south. Lo! a solution appeared called the underwire bra a managerial, dictatorial garment if ever I saw one. So even though underwear has sprung forth into the light leaving the dark ages behind this latest creation does not feel like progress.