Lingerie Legislation

Jill Fields, author of An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie and Sexuality sounds off on state regulation of dress as a means of social control, which includes this lovely (if brief) lingerie history lesson:

In the supposedly sexually repressed Victorian era, women could not avoid — and some surely enjoyed — displaying their ruffled drawers under their swaying hoop skirts. Similarly, the rustling of silk petticoats was an everyday, yet suggestive, event. In the 1920s, lingerie scenes in movies became commonplace. Joan Crawford in 1928’s Our Dancing Daughters went further, ripping off her skirt to dance more freely in the “step-ins” — underpants similar to today’s shorts — she wore beneath her flapper fringe. In the 1930s, body-hugging bias slips were often indistinguishable from the slinky dresses worn with or, as in Jean Harlow’s case, without them.

As consumer culture took off, bold ads and retail displays put underwear on newspaper pages and in shop windows. We also “see” underwear on a daily basis, even if worn in ways that wouldn’t trigger arrest and fine in Louisiana: lace-trimmed camisoles, corset tops and the unavoidable thong. And in some cases, even what you don’t see directly, you’re well aware is there: Consider, for example, push-up bras or the infamous visible panty line. In this light, the recent anti-underwear statutes do appear discriminatory.

Several decades ago, my leggy teenage sister wore “hot pants” to Friday night services at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif . A congregant complained. Rabbi Harold Schulweis later told us he had replied, “You should look into her eyes, not at what she’s wearing.”

I just adore history lessons involving lingerie.

As for my opinion on the matter of illegal lingerie, well, aside from being down-right silly isn’t the policing for infractions more distracting and improper than the supposed offenses?

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