An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality

An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality

An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality

An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality


Intimate apparel, a term in use by 1921, has played a crucial role in the development of the "naughty but nice" feminine ideal that emerged in the twentieth century. Jill Fields's engaging, imaginative, and sophisticated history of twentieth-century lingerie tours the world of women's intimate apparel and arrives at nothing less than a sweeping view of twentieth-century women's history via the undergarments they wore. Illustrated throughout and drawing on a wealth of evidence from fashion magazines, trade periodicals, costume artifacts, Hollywood films, and the records of organized labor, An Intimate Affair is a provocative examination of the ways cultural meanings are orchestrated by the "fashion-industrial complex," and the ways in which individuals and groups embrace, reject, or derive meaning from these everyday, yet highly significant, intimate articles of clothing.


Clothes are but a symbol of something hid deep beneath.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando, 1928

I didn’t get much sleep last night
thinking about underwear.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Underwear,” 1961

In February 2005, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 60–34 to ban the intentional display of “below-waist undergarments, intended to cover a person’s intimate parts, in a lewd or indecent manner,” with violators subject to a fifty-dollar fine. Though the bill’s sponsor believed the law was “a vote for character” that would “do something good not only for the state of Virginia, but for this entire country,” the proposal instead attracted widespread ridicule, and within a week, the bill quietly died by unanimous bipartisan vote in a state senate committee. In the interim, opponents to the bill, including representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the unconstitutionality of legislating a “state dress code” and also the likelihood of unequal enforcement of a law that seemed to target the baggytrouser, boxer-short–revealing fashions of young black men, a group already subjected unfairly to greater police scrutiny. However, news reports such as “Show Me Your Thong, Show Me the Money” implied that the bill was also an effort to control the popular fashion among young women of displaying thong underwear worn beneath low-rise jeans. This was certainly the case for a similarly thwarted 2004 Louisiana bill, mocked on The Daily Show as “Thong of the South.” This bill was likely inspired by a 1998 statute passed in the former Louisiana Confederate state capital of Opelousas, where, the police chief claimed, “You won’t find sagging pants.” One state legislator’s aims went further. He hoped that “if we pull up their pants, we can lift their minds while we’re at it.”

These recent proposals were not the first efforts to institute statesponsored fashion police, or to identify clothing as a signifier of morality and mental state. From the sumptuary laws of the early modern era in . . .

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