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Panties or Knickers (British English) are a form of underwear designed to be worn by women and girls in the crotch area below the waist. Typical components include an elastic waistband, a crotch panel to cover the genital area (usually lined with absorbent material such as cotton), a pair of leg openings which, like the waistband, are often made of elastic, and constructed with material that is breathable. While panties were originally designed to cover the entire lower half of the female form, the modern version (since the 1970s) has either no legs or, in some cases, very short ones, and has become progressively more revealing over time.
"Panties" (plural form) is usually used to denote more than one "pair of panties" (singular), whilst "panty" is used in such derivatives as "panty liner" and "panty hose". The term is usually applied only to female underwear, with "underpants" often used as a term for the male counterpart.
Women first wore underwear below the waist during the French Revolution. In the 18th century, a Parisian police ordinance reportedly required women who appeared on stage to wear shorts. However, it is Cancan dancers who are credited with stitching the two leggings together. The invention of spinning machines and cotton gins in the second half of the 18th century facilitated the development of cotton fabrics. Factories subsequently mass produced underwear, and, for the first time, people began to buy rather than make such garments at home. Elizabeth Miller is recognized as the inventor of bloomers, the precursor to panties, and Amelia Bloomer is believed to have popularized bloomers during the mid-19th century.
Catherine de Medici is credited with the invention of panties-style underwear, conceived so that she could fold her legs across the horse's neck without exposing her crotch when riding side-saddle. During this time, women wore full length leggings that were tied at the waist but left the crotch uncovered. Medici's early version, which originated in France in the early 19th century, was known as pantalettes, and it quickly spread to Britain and the US. Pantalettes were produced in two forms: as a one-piece item; or as two separate garments, where each piece was used on a separate leg and became attached at the waist with buttons or laces. The rationale for the open crotch was a perception of improved hygiene.
After the 1920s, women's underwear shortened in accordance with shorter skirt lengths, whilst comfort and durability gave way to fashion and sophistication. In the 1960s, cotton briefs were the most common type of panties amongst girls and younger women. This new generation preferred denim jeans to pencil skirts and wore their briefs in basic cotton; cotton was re-adopted after the silk, rayon and nylons of the older generations became problematic (issues included skin irritation). The miniskirt fashion required panties to be short and for wearers to appear indifferent to the potential for their exposure; it was this culture and attitude that led to the next phase of bikini-style panties.
Panties are divided into various types based on such criteria as amount of rear coverage, width at the sides and height at which they are worn. These categories are not necessarily distinct and usage may vary somewhat among brands:
- Briefs rise to the waist, or just below the navel, and have full coverage in the rear.
- Classic (or full brief) features sides that extend below the hip.
- High-cut (or French cut) is designed with sides that are somewhat narrower.
- Boyleg (or boyshorts) are styled after men's briefs and may have short legs extending below the crotch.
- Control panties (or control briefs) are special and designed to offer support whilst giving a slimmer appearance. This type usually contains a stretch material such as spandex and may extend above the waist.
- Hipsters are similar to briefs, but are worn lower down the body, with the waistband around the hips.
- Bikinis sit at hip level, like the Hipsters, but the fabric of the side sections is narrower. With the string bikini type, the side sections disappear altogether and the waistband consists of only string-like material; also, the rear coverage of the bikini is not as concealing as the design of the brief. Bikini is the most widely worn style amongst women worldwide.
- Tangas provide full rear coverage, but the waistband is reduced to a narrow strip at the sides.
- Thongs have a waistband similar to tangas, but the rear coverage is not as full. The crotch is extended to the back of the wearer and a narrow strip of fabric fits between the buttocks, becoming wider towards the top.
- The G-string is a thong with virtually no rear coverage and the narrow strip at the back extends to the waistband. This type exposes the vast majority of the buttocks.
Panties are made of a variety of materials and fabrics, including satin, silk, PVC, cotton, nylon, mesh, lace, rawhide, leather, latex, lycra, and polyester. Construction typically consists of two pieces (front and rear) that are joined by seams at the crotch and sides; an additional gusset is often in the crotch, with the waistband and leg-openings made from elastic.
In countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, South Africa, and occasionally in other Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand, panties are often referred to as "knickers". In Australia, they are usually called "undies". The term is not generally used in the United States (US) and Canada, where "panties" is usually favored. In the UK, the term "pants" is also used for both men and women's underwear (not to be confused with the North American usage of pants, which refer to what both Americans and the British call "trousers").
See also 
- WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University (13). "panty.". Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Staff (7). "PANTY". The Origin of. TheOriginOf.com. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Kelly Spies (30). "History of Women's Lingerie: All About Panties, Bras and Stockings". Yahoo! VOICES. Yahoo! Inc. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- Parkinson, Ann (2011-09-09). "Women's Panties - LoveToKnow Lingerie". Lingerie.lovetoknow.com. Retrieved 2011-09-13.