Overview

A teddy is a one-piece undergarment which combines a camisole and panty. Some teddies are designed to slip off the shoulders, and other teddies are designed to open at the crotch. There are a large variety of teddy styles available today, from traditional loose teddies, to teddies which have taken the design to an extreme and resemble harnesses, to everything in between. Due to their design, teddies are a very flattering garment for many figures and are what most people picture when they think of lingerie. Most teddies are designed and worn for their visual appeal, but some modern teddies are designed for more practical purposes including body control and sleepwear.

Teddies in the Early 1900s

Teddies in the early 1900s were designed more as a practical undergarment than as the sexy lingerie item they would later become. Most teddies from this period were made of simple materials such as cotton, and they were often unornamented or simply ornamented with lace and/or ribbons.

Teddies from this period tended to include coverage for the upper thigh area, and often resembled a short dress. The example below shows an American teddy from the early 1900s, between approximately 1905 and 1910.

Figure 1

Teddies in the Early 1900s

American white cotton teddy from the early 1900s. This teddy looks like a camisole/short dress, but it has a piece that attaches beneath the crotch making it technically a teddy.

Teddies in the 1920s and 1930s

By the 1920s, teddies had become recognized for their visual appeal and designers were starting to design teddies to focus on their sexy visual aspect rather than just their practical role as an undergarment.

Teddies from this period started incorporating fancier materials and design and became more polished and refined. Silk teddies started becoming popular for their elegant look and sumptuous feel, and teddies started including more elaborate decorations.

The decorative materials used in teddies from this period were the same as in teddies from the early 1900s (generally lace and/or ribbons), but larger amounts of decorative materials were used and the decorations were more elaborate and extensive, covering a significant portion of the entire garment in some cases.

Teddies from this period still used the loose, almost dress-like silhouette from the early 1900s, but the design was beginning to be streamlined with narrower shoulder straps, less upper thigh coverage and a more tailored fit. This loose style continued to be popular through the art deco period, after which the teddy declined in popularity until coming back into the public eye in the 1980s.

Several examples of teddies from the 1920s and 1930s are shown below.

Figure 2

Teddies in the Early 1900s

American teddy from the 1920s. Silk charmeuse with cotton lace trim and ribbon shoulder straps.From the Phoenix Art Museum Collection.

Figure 3

Teddies in the Early 1900s

American teddy from the 1920s made of pink silk with lace trim and silk ribbon straps.

Figure 4

Teddies in the Early 1900s

American teddy from the 1930s made of peach silk with lace trim and silk ribbon straps.

Teddies in the 1980s

In the 1980s, people of both sexes became interested in stylish undergarments that reflected those worn by celebrities in advertisements and on television. After a significant decline in popularity over the previous few decades, the teddy came back into vogue again with new styles, materials and colors.

The 1980s teddy no longer used the baggy silhouette popular up through the art deco period. Instead, standard teddies from this period used fitted cuts that hugged the figure. Teddies with upper leg coverage were no longer standard, though some teddies from this period included extra coverage for the upper leg through skirt-like additions to the bottom of the garment, and other teddies were essentially a camisole/tap pants combination that included leggings.

Instead of using cotton and silk as the main material like teddies from earlier decades, teddies in the 1980s used spandex as their main material. Spandex provided a durable material with many different textures and colors for designers to create new styles from. It also provided a noticeable level of support and body shaping on its own, to further increase the wearers appearance and appeal.

One of the defining characteristics of teddies from the 1980s is their use of new, bold colors that reflected larger clothing and undergarment trends in the popular culture of the time. For example, Michael J. Fox was sporting lilac Calvin Klein briefs in the popular Back to the Future movie series, and Oakland Raiders star Howie Long was the spokesperson for a popular advertising campaign for Hanes briefs. Popular soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty were also outfitting many of their characters with silk charmeuse and satin blouses in bold jewel tones. These dramatic colors were used in many teddies from the 1980s in place of the more subdued and pastel colors used earlier in the century.

The teddy was so popular during this time period that many popular characters in television shows and movies wore them. Teddies in television or the movies were often of the camisole/tap pants type, so they included a top and leggings. For example, Cybill Shepherd wore this style of teddy in Moonlighting. Teddies were also popular as a foundation undergarment during the 1980s. An example of a teddy from the 1980s is shown below.

Figure 5

Teddies in the Early 1900s

American spandex teddy from the 1980s with skirt and lace trim.

Teddies Today

After its 1980s heyday, the teddy faded out of popularity again until the early 2000s. Today the teddy is back with more styles, variety and roles than ever before. There are two main categories of teddy today: teddies designed for practical purposes, and teddies designed for visual and sex appeal.

Modern teddies are almost all form-fitting, and they resemble modern womens swimsuits more than they resemble the teddies of earlier decades.

Popular practical teddy styles of today:

Examples of modern teddies:

The example below shows a modern body shaper teddy. This body shaper is made of Lycra for firm body control. The front and back include reinforced material to mold those areas, with thinner material on the sides.

Figure 6

Teddies in the Early 1900s

Modern body shaper teddy made out of taupe Lycra.

The example below shows a modern standard or traditional teddy. This teddy is made of black lace and has a snap closure in the crotch.

Figure 7

Teddies in the Early 1900s

Modern standard/traditional teddy made of black lace.


Resources:
Short Overview of Lingerie Changes in the 20th Century
Detailed Culture and Fashion Guide Covering the Middle Ages to the Early 1900's
Official Government Cost of Living Estimates from 1937 (Including Lingerie)
Article Explaining the Changes in Victorian Women's Fashion from the 1870's to 1900
Additional Recommended Reading