Ever wonder why black lingerie carries such a suggestion of naughtiness, unbridled sexuality and even potential deviance? If you read about the history of undergarments, you might be surprised to learn the interesting story of the use of this alluring and somewhat decadent color for your intimate fashions.
For many centuries, women’s undergarments were normally white. In fact, as the 19th century turned to the 20th, the newly arising undergarment industry that mass-produced intimate apparel was called “white goods manufacturing.” Women made up 95 percent of the workforce in this business, at a time when unmarried single women were the vast majority of working females outside the home. This workforce would have been uncommonly virginal, as sexuality outside of marriage was still largely taboo.
Keep in mind that western culture valued white for its associations with purity and wholesomeness. White represented good; black represented bad. This combination of factors resulted in a tendency to produce all-white undergarments: white women’s lingerie represented virginal bodies, moral and physical cleanliness, as well as femininity.
At the same time, the western world had been in the grip of racism for a long time. Since black represented that which was bad, it was a short step for black women’s bodies to be linked to deviant behaviors and abnormal sexual appetites. In the 1800’s, medical texts and scientific literature represented black women’s sexuality as animalistic and lustful. Whiteness and white bodies, on the other hand, were associated with sexual purity and upstanding morality. So, while black may have been more practical for a whole host of reasons, white remained the color of choice for undergarments.
As the 20th century brought new opportunities to females everywhere, white women began wearing black lingerie as an early gesture to signify their liberation from the strictures of convention. Corsets gave way to brassieres; bloomers gave way to panties. Undergarments were designed to enhance and display the female body to its best advantage, while allowing more freedom of movement.
Parallel to the liberation of women from all manner of restrictions came the liberation of fashion colors. Black was no longer relegated to funerals and mourning and moved into more common use for clothing. As the century moved forward, black fabrics worked their way solidly into both everyday items and high fashion pieces for women.
So why wear black lingerie? Fashion trends towards black in clothing may have fully opened the door to black undergarments; we’ve all had moments when we like the idea of matching our bras and panties with our outer ensemble, ensuring that nothing underneath would show through. However, we have to keep in mind the times when black lingerie first arose.
Black lingerie started to become common in the 1950’s when the advertising and marketing to women was still dominated by white fashion models. The overwhelmingly racist fashion industry of the times probably liked the appeal of black undergarments against a white body. However, the fashion industry and the whole western world would change radically over the next half-century. Black lingerie has grown in popularity until women of all skin tones, including those of African-American descent, now wear the figure-flattering color themselves.
Today, women enjoy black lingerie for a wide variety of reasons. Certainly, it must appeal to pragmatists who understand that harsh cleansing of intimate garments will shorten their lifespan. Black’s ability to resist stains is unparalleled by any other color, which has likely contributed to its popularity. In fact, black lingerie today is as common in daily wear and use as it is in the bedroom.
Women have moved away from the historical meaning and associations attached to black undergarments – but not completely. There is still a time and a place when a black bra and panty has that naughty, sexual feel – and thank heavens for that!