Why Do We Say – A Pair of Panties? What Exactly is it a Pair of?

Hi to everyone this lovely day! The weather is great in California—and I hope you can also say the same wherever you call home! I apologize for the extended absence—but I’ve been busy finishing-up (and publishing!) my first e-book. You can find a link to it on the tab above labeled “Vicki’s Bookshelf”—which will soon be hosting it’s own blog all about the writing life.

But—that’s not what this is about. While I was writing the book, I happened to use the phrase “pair of underwear”, and then couldn’t help but ask—“What is it a pair of, anyway?” It isn’t as if I’m putting on two of them.

Underwear overall is kind of a puzzler—clearly the name is pretty self-explanatory—but the fact is, your Mother is usually the only one who calls it underwear (as in—be sure you put on a pair of clean underwear—what if you end up at the hospital or something? Do you want everyone to know you have on dirty underwear?). Of course—that also begs the question—exactly how would they know that? Maybe it would have been better if Mom had emphasized the thorough use of toilet paper to avoid anyone knowing whether or not you had on clean underwear.  Something to think about.

But back to the general term—whether it’s “underwear” or the more popular “panties”, it’s still often referred to as a “pair”. Of course, it goes by other names as well—which aren’t linked with the term “pair” at all, like lingerie—which is basically the French word for underwear. If you have fancy underwear it’s lingerie, because whatever you say in French always sounds fancier. If it’s just the plain old kind—it’s “drawers”, apparently because they used to be drawn on (as in pulled up over the legs), and from there to pantalettes. Those are the long ,white, lace-trimmed original “leggings” females in general wore under those really heavy skirts and petticoats in the 1800’s.

I imagine it was a pretty short word-hop from pantalettes to panties—as the pantalettes got shorter to match the rising hemlines of the skirts so did the word for the piece of clothing underneath them. But guess what? This is where the term ”pair” came from! Apparently those pantalettes were actually just a pair of legs sewn together—and open at the bottom. My reaction to that today? Well—if you have to go potty and are forced to deal with all those skirts and petticoats, then I guess I can see the logic to that kind of design. On the other hand, imagine the women riding sidesaddle with one leg hooked around the saddle horn and the other dangling in the stirrup, with the breeze blowing up those skirts they use to wear. Ewww!

I wonder what the women back then would think of our panties? Bikini cut, full cut, hi-cut—or how about a thong? But then that probably would have puzzled a lot of them if you had mentioned a “thong”, since it was taken from the British word “thwong” which means a strip of leather.

Now there’s a mental picture for the women of the 19th century to dwell on. With that mental picture in their heads I would bet their next thought would be: “this is progress?”

… and that’s where this ends. There will be no blog on the origin of “boxers” or “tidy-whitey’s”, so everyone can relax!

Enjoy the beautiful weather—and we’ll talk again next week!-  Vicki


About Vicki Lee

Hi! I'm Vicki, and I'm a writer and an author. I write articles, blogs and author e-books both my own and as a ghostwriter. I'm a regular contributor to Squidoo (under VickiLeesBookshelf), and currently feature my own books on this blog site. I have over 20 years of management experience, which I'm currently incorporating into a professional series of books for first-time managers and supervisors, as well as working on my first fiction series ( mystery, set about 150 years ago in San Franciso).
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4 Responses to Why Do We Say – A Pair of Panties? What Exactly is it a Pair of?

  1. karen says:

    I beleive it should be tighty whities.

  2. Angela says:

    PLEASE tell me you are kidding about the ‘drawn on/plain old white’ line. Also, there are several errors in your ‘About Vicki Lee’ box.

    • Vicki Lee says:

      Actually– I’m not kidding.. I thought they were called “drawers” because maybe they had draw strings, or you had to “draw” them up over your legs– or maybe because they were stored in dresser drawers.. but no– research lead to “because they were drawn on”.. go figure! Thanks for the “head’s-up” about the errors.. I’m off to fix them.. :-)

    • Vicki Lee says:

      Hey Angela– I was updating the profile, but your comment got me to thinking.. I went back to my source and looked at it, and although it did say ” called drawers because they were drawn on”, and it did mention decorations.. I think I was taking that a bit too literally.. I think it was the reason I initially thought– as in “drawn up”– as opposed to drawn on.. although that really wasn’t the main idea of the post– still, I think you made a good catch, and I changed it to, well if not accurate, at least it makes more sense to me.. thanks again! :-) Vicki

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