Underwear as outerwear

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Singers such as Britney Spears (left) and Oscar Loya (right) have popularized underwear as outerwear, by wearing them during stage performances. Britney Spears is also wearing latex corset in this image.
A woman jogs on a U.S. beach wearing sports bra and bikini underwear. These are now worn as casuals or athleisure by women in the West.

Wearing underwear as outerwear is a fashion trend. Current examples include the display of thongs and bras in women's clothing, and the display of underpants under low-slung pants in men. As of 2009, the visible wearing of corsets had become fashionable, popularized by stage performers such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna.

The idea of underwear as outerwear is part of the deconstruction of trends that has taken place in the 20th and 21st century. Part of the popularity of this trend was brought about by a couple of contemporary lingerie brands such as VPL, The Lake and Stars and alt-fashion lingerie designer Stephanie Paterek (of Love Cage NYC and NYC Sex Trash), and with that concept being heralded by the days modern intimates designers as part of an effort to grab at the elusive ring of crossing over categories. These two brands in particular have been successful in straddling the line between underwear as outerwear by marketing to a contemporary customer who this look appeals to.

From high fashion to mainstream, the popularity of this trend has been fueled by celebrities who actually do wear lingerie and intimate apparel as clothing. This is nothing new, as Madonna began the trend in the 1980s by wearing her cone bra and girdles over her clothing. But it has been picked up in everyday environments as depicted on shows like Sex and the City, in which a corset, bustier, or bra peeking through becomes an accepted norm. In addition some performers particularly Madonna, Lil' Kim, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Lady Gaga perform with underwear or lingerie only, which can be credited with popularizing coverage of this fashion trend in the news and press. This celebrity driven trend is then picked up by fashion magazines and fashion blogs as the "underwear as outerwear" trend and promoted as a mainstream style.[1][2][3]

The wearing of underwear as outerwear has historical antecedents in the display of undergarments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[4]

Slip dresses, an example of this trend, first became widely worn in the last decade of the 20th century, when they were made from layered chiffon, polyester satins and charmeuse, and often trimmed with lace.[5]

The corset[edit]

Madonna on stage during the Blonde Ambition Tour (1990)

Although the corset had not been a part of mainstream fashion since the early 1900s, it continued to exist in the fetish and pornographic cultures used for S&M role-play. The sexual liberation movement of 1968 began the re-appropriation of the corset as a symbol of rebellion and "sexual perversity" by young women associated with London’s punk and Goth subcultures. In this context the corset became an item of fashionable outerwear instead of an undergarment. Avant-garde fashion soon began to adopt this trend, with designers such as Vivienne Westwood using the corset in their designs, thus giving corsets in fashion a second life.[6] Women no longer felt the need to wear corsets, but now had the choice to do so. This re-appropriation allowed a symbol historically associated with female oppression, to become reconceived as a symbol of sexual empowerment in fashion.[7]

However, although the punks and Goths pioneered the transformation of the meaning of the corset, pop singer Madonna played an instrumental role in popularizing it.[6] Most famously debuted in her Blonde Ambition Tour of 1990–91, the iconic pink satin cone breasted corset worn by Madonna and designed by French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, has had a profound influence on fashion, especially in the trend of underwear as outerwear. Gaultier, a designer famous for emphasizing sexuality through the use of fetishized garments, was one of the first to make the corset an integral part of his work.[6]

Many high fashion designers have adopted this contemporary corset trend in clothing items including evening gowns and wedding dresses.[8] With sexual attitudes and behaviors within society becoming much freer, the visible corset has become a socially acceptable form of erotic display.

Public events[edit]

Office colleagues waiting for the subway train in Mexico City, 2015. They are participating in No Pants Subway Ride.

No Pants Day is an annual event held in various Western countries, where people publicly wear only underwear and leave their legs exposed. No Pants Subway Ride is a similar event to promote public wearing of underwear on subway trains.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Claudia Croft (December 20, 2009). "Underwear is the new outerwear". Times Online. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  2. ^ Alice Fisher (29 November 2009). "Underwear as outerwear". The Observer. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  3. ^ Jess Carter-Morely (16 January 2010). "How to dress: Don't get your knickers in a twist". Guardian Online. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  4. ^ Lisa Jardine (24 October 2008). "Underwear as outerwear". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  5. ^ Amy T. Peterson & Ann T. Kellogg, ed. (2008). The Greenwood encyclopedia of clothing through American history 1900 to the present. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 229. ISBN 9780313358555.
  6. ^ a b c Steele, Valarie. “The Hard Body A Muscular Corset.” The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2001. 143-176. Print
  7. ^ Wilkins, Amy (June 2004). ""So Full of Myself as a Chick": Goth Women, Sexual Independence, and Gender Egalitarianism". Gender and Society. 18 (3): 328–49. doi:10.1177/0891243204264421. JSTOR 4149405.
  8. ^ Crane, Diana. “Postmodernism and the Avant-Garde: Stylistic Change in Fashion Design.” Modernism/Modernity, 4, (1997), 123-140.

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