Dress and Undress: A History of Women's Underwear is an answer to all your questions about underthings from 3000 BC to the present. Taking the approach that fashion trends are dictated by their foundations, i.e. underwear, Elizabeth Ewing details the evolution of drawers, petticoats, and corsets. The book is full of illustrations, photographs, and even era-specific advertisements. The organized scope of this work is easy to follow, informative, and engaging.
Social mores, dominant cultures, and religion laid some of the first contingencies placed on fashion. Waists were the one of the first parts of the body to be controlled and constrained. The Greeks introduced the concept of the girdle into the Western World, though that was merely the beginning of a centuries-long fashion trend that was followed by ladies to excessive degrees. The introduction of the corset is a historically unforgettable phenomenon that has not only shaped the waists of the ladies who subscribed to its gut-squeezing confinement, but has formed an indelible imprint upon how the fashion of the Middle Ages through Victorian times is viewed in aesthetic and sociological contexts.
The text centers not only on corsets, but also their partners in crime: hoops, crinolines, bustles, petticoats--as well as materials, fabrics, physiological and psychological effects, and even the dangers of wearing such inhibiting textile structures. The information is richly researched, full of anecdotes, evidence, and literary references to give the reader a broad understanding of the impacts of underwear fashion on women--and women on underwear fashion.
The idea of underwear today is a relatively new concept--that is, lingerie for comfort or luxury. Radical changes to the underwear industry have been made in the last century alone. Ewing does an excellent job of explaining why this is--and she gives women everywhere a reason to be thankful that they have.