Underwear as Outerwear

With summer officially upon us in Miami it is safe to assume that my wardrobe is being chipped away little by little immensely to bare basics. However for me bare basics are far to dull and do not express me. As a result over the years I have replaced the basic white tank top and denim shorts with more whimsical and delicate alternatives that come from the depths of the lingerie sections of thrift shops and Goodwill's. So when I say I rolled out of bed and went to class I mean I literally rolled out of bed and went to class. In fact the majority of my favorite and most worn items are slip dresses and vintage night shawls, something that 50 years ago you could never even dare consider walking out of your home to get the mail without something else on top of it. 

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That got me thinking about how it was really only recently (recently being around the 1980s) that we began to accept underwear as outerwear. In my thesis research book Adorned in Dreams Elizabeth Wilson discusses this phenomenon in great depth and breaks it down to a sociological perspective that I found extremely intriguing and wanted to share here with you all. On a side note if you are getting tired of my long winded critiques and analytic perspectives on fashion and art then I apologize but recommend you find another blog to start reading. Now getting back to the point: underwear as outerwear, what's it all about?

“There has been a popular, although over-simplified equation between the demise of underwear and the advent of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s. The origins of the ‘freedoms’ of that period were far more complex than this suggests, and sexuality, especially for women, was never ‘liberated’ in this simple way. Both sexual behavior and fashion often expressed confusion and ambivalence." 

"Bra-lessness, for example, was associated both with a feminist rejection of sexual objectification and with the sexual free-for-all of the ‘permissive era’, erect nipples visible through blouses and T-shirts a direction sexual come-on. With ‘girdles’ discarded, for the first time the bottom was visible in two halves instead of a single upholstered cushion. Rubber corsetry, it appears, was rejected both because it was seen as a symbol of enslavement to male standards of beauty and as a form of ‘cheating’, both as an attempt to disguise ‘flab’ and as an unaesthetic garment that turned men off, and akin for some young women to false teeth. Buttocks outlined in tight jeans represented both emancipation and sexuality, both a rejection of male-defined beauty and its acceptance, both honesty and allure.” 

“…Angela Carter points out that ‘however informal, these garments are obviously public dress’—and they are sometimes so worn; camisoles are used as party tops, French knickers are even more daring party wear.....Tights were also simultaneously both outerwear and underwear; as such they anticipated the more recent blurring or even abolition of the distinction between the two. This blurring is one element in the aesthetic of recent fashionable dress.” 

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“…the marketing in the early 1980s by the American designer, Calvin Klein, of a completely different style of ‘underwear for women’…Y-fronts, boxer shorts and boys’ vests…has been explained as the marketing of androgyny interpreted as diluted masculinity…we might make a Freudian point, and speculate whether this androgyny masks the fear of feminine passivity he claimed to have detected beneath the social and psychic structures of gender difference. They also support Angela Carter’s point, for they could be and no doubt are used as outerwear."

"Undergarments may even turn out to have been a brief interlude in the history of fashion, a transition between the distant epochs when cleanliness was a rarity and ‘true’ underwear an impossible concept, and the late twentieth century when it is assumed, however inaccurately, that everyone can afford to be clean, and when at least cleanliness has become one of the conventions of the ‘civilized life’ of which fashion is a part. On the other hand, the distinction between underwear and outerwear reflects the distinction between the public and the private that has become so important a part of modern life, and which was less developed before the eighteenth century.”  

So underwear as outerwear, is it a good thing or a bad thing? That is a rhetorical question clearly but definitely an interesting question to ponder upon as you go to sleep in tomorrow's outfit.