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Innerwear: A History

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Innerwear is no more a basic need, but a concept known as intimate wear that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Know the history and journey of this most essential garment in your wardrobe.

Keeping your wardrobe up-to-date with latest lingerie trends is not only a matter of comfort and fit but also a style statement. However, it was not the same around 2000 years ago, when the concept of fancy and comfortable innerwear for men or women was unheard of. Kaupina, known as the first Indian G-string, was the only inner as well as outerwear for men. In fact, only a few know that it is still the same in certain parts of the country.

It is believed that in 2000 BC at Crete, a Greek island, the first bra was home-stitched. It resembled a corset and was loved by the women. In 1800 BC, Minoan women used boned bodices and, apparently, the first bra and panty set was made in the 4th century in Sicily.

The shift in innerwear for Indian consumers took place during the Muslim invasion as their conservative belief compelled men and women to adopt innerwear in their lifestyle. That’s how the kaupina evolved as present-day kaccha. This piece of inner garment also has religion significance as in around 1699 the kaccha became one of the five K’s of the Khalsa Sikh.

Boxers are one of the most popular innerwear types among men but not many are aware of the fact that the British Raj brought boxers into India. During that time, many adopted boxers with elastic bands as men’s innerwear, while a few stuck to the traditional langot.

Furthermore, Bollywood was also behind the strengthening of innerwear concept in India. The credit to make the kaccha popular goes to Dada Khondke and Shakti Kapoor who wore them comically in Hindi movies.

The most important evolution in underwear was the Y-fronts, such as the Frenchie snug fits. The wide reach of television took it across the country making it one of the most popular innerwear for men.

Tracing back the origin of women’s lingerie, it was found that half-sleeved tight bodice or kanchuka figures have mention in Indian literature. In medieval ages, women wore close-fitting garments called chemise or smock. During the 16th century, the farthingale gained traction. It was later worn with a roll of stiffened material called bum roll. In the same era, the trend of corsets became popular. However, the scenario soon changed as for the first time, people began buying undergarments from stores rather making them at home.

Since the late 19th century, brassieres started replacing corset. By the early 20th century, undergarments more closely resembling contemporary bras had hit the market. Yet, large-scale commercial production did not occur until the 1930s.

The standard undergarment of the late 19th century for men, women and children was the union suit, which provided coverage from the wrists to the ankles (this ‘second skin’ style is more commonly known as long johns today).

By the early 20th century, the mass-produced undergarment industry was booming and competition forced producers to come up with wider variety and innovation to survive. A US-based company Hanes, founded in 1901, quickly established itself as a top manufacturer of union suits.

The soft, short bra replaced the boned bra in 1913 by Mary Phelps. Today, the underwire takes prime position in lingerie trends. The padded bra apparently first appeared in 1940 and by 1950 it was the strapless bra that made news worldwide. The launch of the Lycra bra in 1959 by Warner and Dupont, of course, gave unbelievable comfort and fit to women’s innerwear.

Meanwhile, the first movement in the innerwear industry in India took place when Associated Apparels introduced the ‘maidenform bras’; Jockey’s men’s underwear; and Jantzen swimwear in 1962. Later, in 1970 the company discontinued foreign tie-ups and changed the names to Libertina for lingerie and Liberty for men’s underwear. From 1980 to 1990, they focused on undergarments and the two brands emerged as major players in the Indian innerwear market.

The international brand Lovable entered India in 1966 through a licensing deal and became a huge success. Along with it entered Daisy Dee, a subsidiary of Lovable, followed by Feelings. Lately, Vanity Fair, which came up in the year 2004, has found many takers.

In 1971, Maxwell Industries launched VIP innerwear for men. It became highly popular due to its advertising strategy of featuring a Bollywood actor in its ad campaigns. The brand launched Petals, a spandex moulded cup bra with floral motifs, which was well accepted. However, it was later discontinued. On the other hand, in order to compete with international brands, VIP launched Frenchie X innerwear range for men.

Thanks to American brands such as Frederick’s of Hollywood and Victoria’s Secrets, lingerie in the 1980s turned into a seductive piece of clothing. At the end of the Renaissance period in Spain, the corset turned into a strait jacket. In the 18th century, corsets were rich garments made in damask satin or brocade with embroidery, ribbons and laces to disguise the whalebone. However, fashion has often been a source of discomfort and physical problems for women. In the 1770s, doctors launched a crusade against corsets labelling them as health hazard for women as they caused fainting spell.

Now, in the 21st century, spandex is the new age corset. It is a feather line innerwear with tremendous shaping powers and is available in half-suit or bodysuit styles. It is said that innerwear is so beautiful but kept hidden until designer Azzedine Alaia, the King of Cling, showed innerwear on the ramp with his creations in the 1980s teamed with blouses and jackets.

In 1985, Rupa & Co. emerged in the innerwear market offering innerwear range across all categories, including men, women and kids that made them one of the biggest manufacturers and sellers of innerwear in India. The success of Rupa was followed by many other domestic brands such as Amul, Lux Cozi, and Dollar in men’s category; while brands such as Neva, Bodycare, Softy, Lady Care, Little Lacy, Red Rose, Sonari, Feather Line, etc. surfaced as key players in the lingerie market.

Jockey re-entered the Indian market in the ’90s, this time in partnership with Page Industries. With the turn of the century, many more international brands entered India. Enamor joined hands with Gokaldas Exports in 2003. Triumph that now has presence in 52 cities, entered in 2002. In 2006–07, several brands got into the Indian innerwear market such as La Senza, La Perla, Amante, Undercolors by UCB, Fruit of the Loom, Calvin Klein, etc.

There are almost 1,000 innerwear brands present in the Indian market but only 200 are nationally active. These regional manufacturers cater to markets near their production. With stiff competition from international brands, domestic brands have pulled up their socks and have become more quality conscious. They are working harder in their branding, promotion, packaging and innovation to remain viable in the market. Countries such as Sri Lanka, Turkey and Bangladesh are the major producers in this segment.

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