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.

Wearing underwear as outerwear is a fashion trend popularized by celebrities, sports and media. It began as a practical and comfortable variation of clothing, such as the T-shirt and the bikini, but would later become fashion statements that would be controversial and accused of being provocative. 21st century versions include the display of thongs and bras in women's clothing, and the display of underpants under low-slung pants in men. Wearing underwear as outerwear has historical antecedents in the display of undergarments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[1]


It is unclear when this officially began as a fashion trend, however, Chanel unveiled womenswear made from jersey in the 1920s, a fabric that was usually used for undergarments.[2] Notoriously, another notable edition was the invention of the T-shirt, which became popular outerwear after the Second World War.[3] Short-sleeve shirts were originally intended to be a comfortable alternative to Victorian undergarments but teenagers began to wear them as outerwear, due in part to James Dean and Marlon Brando's characters frequently wearing them in the movies Rebel Without a Cause and the A Streetcar Named Desire respectively.[3][4] Swimwear, such as the bikini, have a history in originally being used as underwear pre-Renaissance,[5] and slip dresses were first 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.[6]

Madonna on stage during the Blond Ambition World Tour (1990)

In entertainment, underwear-like outfits are often the uniform for wrestlers and circus performers; former DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz revealed that this was the reason why superheroes like Superman wore underpants on top of their outfits.[7] Madonna has been credited for making lingerie a popular outfit for female music artists on stage (e.g. Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Katy Perry)[8] when Jean-Paul Gaultier designed corsets ("an emblematic symbol of fashion in the early 90s"),[9] a cone bra and girdle for her Blonde Ambition Tour costumes.[10][11] For men, sagging is often credited to have began from rap and hip hop artists in the 1990s,[12] as well as skateboarders.[13]

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. This re-appropriation allowed a symbol historically associated with female oppression, to become reconceived as a symbol of sexual empowerment in fashion.[14] Outside of underwear fetishism, the corset made an appearance in evening gowns and wedding dresses.[15]


The T-shirt would eventually become a part of sportswear fashion with unique designs from many fashion brands.[3] Sports bras were first invented in 1975, and women have been wearing them under other clothing since then,[16] but in 1999, Brandi Chastain scored the fifth kick in the penalty shootout to give the United States the win over China in the final game of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final, and she spontaneously whipped off her jersey in celebration, exposing her sports bra. Her act is regarded by some as a historical event that boosted the wearing sports bras on their own.[16][17] From that point forward, sports bras have increasingly been worn as outerwear.[18]

Cultural reception[edit]

Office colleagues in Mexico City participating in 2015's No Pants Subway Ride.

Society often portrays the public in underwear as surrealist and comedic: 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. Another such event is Undie Run, where people run on the street wearing only their underwear.

The popularity of low-rise pants in the 21st century led to the unintentional trend of the whale tail among young women who aspired to wear something "rump-flattering",[19] whereas sagging among young men and teenage boys became extremely controversial to the point of American towns demanding that it should be banned for indecency.[20][21] However, the whale tail trend ended by the end of the 2000s and led to a rise in high-waisted clothing.[22]

Menswear never experienced a similar backlash, and men who wore high-waisted were ridiculed for wearing Dad jeans;[23] underwear companies took note on men's preference of wearing their trousers at the hips because low-rise pants sat lower than underwear and caused non-sagging men to expose their underwear waistband,[24] so they exploited it through designing waistbands with bright colors and larger logos.[25] Calvin Klein Underwear chief creative designer Bob Mazzoli explained in 2009, "Instead of a functional component, the waistband is a marketing platform and a canvas for real design [...] Seeing somebody with jeans that fall just below the waist to the point where the underwear shows is part of our cultural vernacular [and] it's something we consider in the design process." 2(x)ist's creative director Jason Scarlatti added: "It’s bragging rights for the customer. It says, ‘I paid good money for this.’"[25] Jockey underwear, credited as one of the first underwear brands to print its logo on waistbands, unveiled an advertizing campaign in 2013 that featured models holding up their shirts to show the Jockey waistband exposed above their jeans and shorts.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lisa Jardine (24 October 2008). "Underwear as outerwear". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  2. ^ "From Marlon Brando to Kendall Jenner, 27 of the Best Classic White T-Shirts Ever". Vogue. 2015-05-20. Archived from the original on 2020-07-07.
  3. ^ a b c monty (2018-09-05). "History of the T-Shirt | Men's T-Shirt Style Ideas | Burton". Burton. Archived from the original on 2020-07-07.
  4. ^ "A Streetcar Named Desire – AMC filmsite". Filmsite.org. 1947-12-03. Archived from the original on 2012-08-02. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  5. ^ Stephanie Pedersen (2004). Bra. David & Charles. p. 8. ISBN 0-7153-2067-X.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Hiskey, Daven (26 December 2013). "Why Superheroes Wear their Underwear on the Outside". Today I Found Out.
  8. ^ Alice Fisher (29 November 2009). "Underwear as outerwear". The Observer. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  9. ^ San Martin, Macarena (2011). Fashion Details: 1,000 Ideas from Neckline to Waistline, Pockets to Pleats. page 6. Rockport Publishers. ISBN 978-1-5925-3716-7.
  10. ^ Dana, Rebecca (June 15, 2010). "Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Madonna: Dueling Cone Bras". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 2020-07-07.
  11. ^ Steele, Valarie. “The Hard Body A Muscular Corset.” The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2001. 143-176. Print
  12. ^ Koppel, Niko (August 30, 2007). "Are Your Jeans Sagging? Go Directly to Jail". New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  13. ^ "Teens' Sagging Jeans Not Just for 'Gangstas.'", Jennifer Skordas, Salt Lake Tribune. 15 October 1995 (p. B1).
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Crane, Diana. “Postmodernism and the Avant-Garde: Stylistic Change in Fashion Design.” Modernism/Modernity, 4, (1997), 123-140.
  16. ^ a b Komar, Marlen. "The Surprising Feminist History Of The Sports Bra Will Make You Seriously Angry". Bustle. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  17. ^ Roberts, Jacob (2017). "Women's work". Distillations. 3 (1): 6–11. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  18. ^ Krucoff, Carol (9 August 1999). "Sports Bras Are a Bust for Some". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 6 April 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2009.
  19. ^ "Celebrities Are Showing Off Butt Cleavage - ABC News". ABC News. 2002-07-25. Retrieved 6 January 2006.
  20. ^ Siddique, Haroon (June 14, 2007). "US town bans saggy pants". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved June 15, 2007.
  21. ^ Schneiderman, R.M. (May 17, 2010). "Ad Campaign Asks Queens Bus Riders to Pull Up Their Pants". The Wall Street Journal. Metropolis (blog). Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  22. ^ Kczynski, Alex (2004-09-12). "Now You See It, Now You Don't". New York Times. Fashion & Style. Retrieved 2008-10-30. Certainly, American clothing designers are now embracing a more modest look, their focus shifting from low-slung jeans and exposed midriffs to high-waisted trousers and cardigans.
  23. ^ Associated Press (2009-07-21). "Obama: No apologies for 'dad jeans'". Chicago Sun Times. Archived from the original on 2010-03-02. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  24. ^ "Underwear shows more than you think: Underwear Matters - AskMen". AskMen. Archived from the original on 2020-07-04. Men tend not to wear their trousers around their waists anymore, especially when it comes to jeans. Low-rise jeans are made to sit on your hips and this leaves the waistband of your underwear exposed. Your underwear is more visible than you think; the slight bend over or lift of your arms can show the world what you're rocking down there.
  25. ^ a b "Underwear Waistbands: A Peekaboo Fashion Trend - WWD". WWD. 2009-04-09.
  26. ^ "Are You Ready to Show You're Jockey?". 2013-05-17. Archived from the original on 2013-11-28. Ever noticed guys with low-riding jeans deliberately showing their briefs’ waistband? Not the peeking type? Well, Jockey is. And they’ve turned this into a campaign. Jockey, inventor of the men’s Y-Front briefs and the first to use a branded waistband, launched their “Show You’re Jockey” campaign last Wednesday, May 15 at the Society Lounge in Makati City. The worldwide campaign will feature men and women of different nationalities revealing their Jockey underwear.

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