Underwear are clothes worn under other clothes, often next to the skin. They keep outer clothes from being made dirty by sweat. They also shape the body and provide support for parts of it, and in cold weather help the wearer to keep warm. Underwear can be used to protect the wearer's modesty, as well as to make them look sexy. Special types of underwear have religious importance. Some items of clothing are made to be worn as underwear, while others such as T-shirts and certain types of shorts can be used both as underwear and as outer clothing. If made of suitable fabric, some types of underwear can serve as nightwear or swimsuits.
Items of underwear commonly worn by women today include brassieres (bras) and panties (also known as knickers), while men wear briefs, trunks, boxer shorts or boxer briefs. Items worn by both women and men include T-shirts, sleeveless shirts, bikini underwear, thongs, T-fronts, and G-strings. In countries where the weather is cold, long underwear can be worn to keep warm.
Different words change
There are a number of different words for underwear: 'underclothes', 'underclothing', and 'undergarments' are more formal words.
In casual situations, underwear may be called 'undies'. In Australia, one may hear underwear being called 'Reg Grundys' or 'Reginalds' (rhyming slang for 'undies'), while in the UK the word 'smalls' is sometimes used. Different types of women's undergarments are known together as 'lingerie' (pronounced LAWN-zhur-ray). They may also be called 'intimate clothing' or simply 'intimates'.
Words for the top half of female lingerie: 'bras', obviously. Note the use of 'teddy' for one-piece close-fitting nightwear.
Words for the bottom half of female lingerie: pants (US) versus knickers, drawers, or panties, but never pants! (UK). 'Briefs' is another possibility. 'French knickers' = knickers with frills, looser-fitting. Note the French cache-sex as a prototype 'G-string. Other types of undergarments are spandex shorts common for women who exercise. These shorts are used because it supports the behind and the back for good posture.
An undershirt is an old word for a piece of underwear covering the torso, which has fallen out of usage in the UK, but is still commonly used in North America. Vests is by far the most common term in the UK. Underpants or pants cover the part of the body where the sex organs are, but never drawers. Most common words: are shorts as in boxer shorts for the looser fit. Y-fronts for the tight fit (UK), boxers or briefs used for the same things in Canada and the USA.
These and other words for different types of underwear are set out in the table below. The slang word for a man going without underwear is called free-balling. The slang word for a bulge in a man's underwear is called mooseknuckle.
Underwear is worn for many reasons. They keep outer clothes from being made dirty by sweat. Men's briefs provide support for the male sex organs, and women's brassieres (bras) do the same thing for their breasts. Some people wear corsets to make their torsos a certain shape. For more support and protection when playing sports, people often put on underwear that fits more tightly for extra support. Men may wear jockstraps and trunks (which are a type of boxer shorts). Women may wear sports bras and pelvic protectors. Sports bras lessen the chance of damage to the ligaments of the chest during vigorous exercises such as jogging.
In countries where the weather is cold, underwear is one more layer of clothing that helps the wearer to keep warm. Underwear can be used to keep the wearer modest – for instance, some women wear camisoles and slips (petticoats) under clothes that are see-through. A camisole is an item of clothing without sleeves that covers the top part of a woman's body, while a slip or petticoat is a kind of skirt that is worn underneath an outer skirt. On the other hand, underwear can also be worn to make a person look more sexy. It is possible to buy underwear made specially to excite another person in a sexual way, such as underwear that can be eaten (it is usually made of small sweets stuck together) and underwear with holes cut into them.
Some items of clothing are designed to be worn as underwear, while others such as T-shirts can be used both as underwear and as outer clothing. Whether underwear can be used as outer clothing depends on a number of things, such as how warm it is indoors and outdoors, what other people in society find acceptable, fashion, and what the law allows. Some types of underwear can be used for sleeping in or as swimsuits if they are made of suitable fabric.
Religious uses change
Underwear can also have religious use:
- Judaism. Some types of Jews wear a prayer shawl (a piece of cloth wrapped around the shoulders) called a tallit katan. It has four corners which have tzitzit (fringes) attached to them. Because people who are not Jews do not usually walk about wearing prayer shawls, a Jewish person will often wear a tallit katan beneath a shirt so that it cannot be seen. However, as the shawl is not supposed to touch the skin, an undershirt is worn under it.
- Mormonism. Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) wear special temple garments under their clothes after they have gone through special rituals in a temple. They believe that such clothes help them remember the teachings of the temple (sacred covenants), foster modesty, and also shield and protect the wearer.
- Sikhism. Sikh men and women believe that they should wear the panj kakaar (five articles of faith) to help them remember their faith. One of the articles is a type of underpants called the kacchera, which are similar to boxer shorts.
Types and styles change
The table below sets out types and styles of underwear that are commonly worn.
|Worn by both sexes
|Long johns, long handles
|A two-piece undergarment worn during cold weather It is made up of a shirt with sleeves that goes down to the wrists, and trousers with pant legs down to the ankles.
|A garment without sleeves that is similar to a T-shirt.
|A garment covering a person's torso. It usually has no buttons, pockets or collar, and has long or (mostly) short sleeves. It is worn by pulling it over the head.
|This is usually worn with the waistband lower than the wearer's waist, and often at the hips. The leg bands end at the groin (the top of the legs where they join the torso). Men's bikini briefs normally have no fly (a flap in front for peeing).
|Gee-string, gee string
|This is a type of thong made of a narrow piece of material that covers or holds the sex organs, passes between the buttocks, and is joined to a band around the hips.
|This is a type of thong that has no material around the sides other than the waistband.
|This has a thin strip of material along the center of the garment's rear which sits between the wearer's buttocks and connects the front or pouch to the waistband behind the wearer. Thongs are sometimes worn to reduce lines caused by other types of underwear such as panties (women's underpants) that can be seen through tightly fitting trousers.
|Has a narrow piece of cloth passing between the buttocks and the labia and only widening above the clitoris. It provides no coverage while still maintaining the basic hygienic underwear functions.
|Worn by women
|This usually consists of two cups for the breasts, a center panel, a band running around the torso under the bust, and a shoulder strap for each side.
|Booty shorts, boyleg briefs, boy short panties, boys' cut shorts, boyshorts, shorties
|These are a type of panties with sides that go lower down the hips, rather like men's briefs.
|These usually have an elastic (stretchy) waistband, a part to cover the sex organs which is usually lined with absorbent material such as cotton, and a pair of leg openings which are often also elasticized. They either have very short or no leg sections.
|Worn by men
|These are similar in style to boxer shorts, but are generally shorter and fit the body more tightly like briefs. Trunks are similar to boxer briefs but have no length to cover the legs, which 'rise up' with wear.
|These have an elasticized waistband that is at or near the wearer's waist, while the leg sections are fairly loose and go down to the middle of the thigh. There is usually a fly, either with or without buttons. The waistbands of boxer shorts are usually wider than those of briefs.
Boxer shorts with colourful patterns, pictures of cartoon characters, sports team logos, and slogans are common.
|These have an elasticized waistband at or near the wearer's waist, and leg sections that end at or near the groin.
|Nutcup, athletic supporter, jock, strap, supporter
|This is made up of an elastic waistband with a support pouch for the sex organs and two elastic straps fixed to the base of the pouch and to the left and right sides of the waistband at the hip. In some varieties, the pouch may be fitted with a pocket to hold a cup made of a hard material like plastic to protect the sex organs from injury.
Fashions and trends change
Designers and retailers change
A number of big clothes designers are well known for their underwear collections. Two of these are Calvin Klein and Dolce & Gabbana. There are also companies that make only underwear, such as 2(x)ist, Agent Provocateur, C-IN2, GapBody, Gilly Hicks, Ginch Gonch, La Senza, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Lord, and Victoria's Secret.
Exposed underwear change
Although most of the time underwear is kept hidden under other clothes, sometimes it is partly exposed for fashion reasons or to make other people feel sexually excited when they see it. A woman may, for instance, allow the top of her bra to peek out from under her collar, or wear a see-through blouse over it. Some men wear T-shirts underneath partly- or fully-unbuttoned shirts.
A common style among young men is to allow their trousers to sag or droop down below their waists. This fashion is called "sagging". When a person allows his trousers to sag, the waistband or a larger part of his underpants can be seen. A woman wearing trousers which expose the upper back portion of her thong underwear is said to show a "whale tail".
Not wearing underpants change
Not wearing underpants under one's outer clothing is known in American slang as "freeballing" for men or "freebuffing" for women. The term "going commando" is also used at times, for both sexes. Certain types of clothes, such as cycling shorts and kilts, are meant to be worn or are traditionally worn without underpants.
- Morgan, Taralee. "Lesbian lingo: slang terminology in English and Spanish spoken by lesbian communities in the United States." (2017).
- "About Tzizit". JewishBazaar.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-01.
- "Preparing to enter the Holy Temple". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
-  40 Different types of Underwear
- "Go commando". Word Spy. 2001-04-09. Archived from the original on 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2008-04-03.