Bridget Jones’s Diary launched us to many issues about mid-90s British tradition. Smug marrieds. The Hay weight loss plan. A “ladette” mindset in which ladies don’t have intercourse, they “shag”. Yet 25 years after it was first printed – and in a neat, Valentine’s Day twist – it’s the “large mummy pants” which have endured.
A current reissue of the novel options about 60 pairs, drawn in gold, on its cowl. The unique featured a lady staring sadly out of a window. It’s a playful redesign, however 25 years on, one which reduces this fairytale of middle-class post-feminism to her underwear. Because what the alphabet is to the English language, Bridget Jones is to giant knickers.
Now it’s taken a world pandemic – and the undeniable fact that we are all spending Valentine’s Day at house – to get extra British folks pondering like Bridget. The measurement of our knickers waxes and wanes, however these days they’ve waxed. The world buying platform Lyst famous that searches for “comfy” and “high-waisted” underwear went up 46% in December, whereas searches for “full briefs” on the M&S web site have risen in lockdown. Agent Provocateur, which does what it says on the field, has had a 35% improve of gross sales in high-waisted knickers over the final six months.
At the greater finish of issues, manufacturers (and celebrities) that championed a form of luxe inclusivity, resembling Kim Kardashian West’s Skims or Rihanna’s now-closed Fenty line, capitalised on the cultural, then fiscal, demise of Victoria’s Secret’s low-slung barely there thongs with giant, tight, even-textured knickers that not solely accentuated hips and bums, however demanded them.
Before Bridget Jones, nobody had actually heard of management pants. That’s to not say they didn’t exist. Modern shapewear – the tummy-tucking underwear designed to bequeath its wearer an android-like smoothness – has been obtainable on the excessive road since the early 90s. But it wasn’t till 2000 that Spanx launched its Footless Pantyhose, the gold customary of contemporary shapewear – in impact a pair of management tights with the legs scissored off. These paved the method for Power Panties, a compact model of the similar factor, which might turn out to be the most pervasive merchandise of clothes on the pink carpet.
Now, in fact, giant, tummy-sucking pants are worn by everybody from Jacinda Arden (two pairs directly) to Robert De Niro in The Irishman and each Kardashian, Jenner or Karen in between. It could even clarify why some celebrities’ knickers have migrated outdoors with out trigger for alarm. Memorable examples embrace Lady Gaga at the Met Gala in 2019, Davina McCall on The Masked Singer and a number of other fashions in the Valentino spring/summer time 2021 present whose (giant) pants had been seen beneath a sheer costume. It’s unlikely these had been Spanx, however frankly, what’s the distinction? A big pair of knickers by some other title would loom simply as giant.
Serena Rees based Agent Provocateur in 1994, two years earlier than the e book got here out. The model is understood for promoting consciously anachronistic undergarments, but except for the odd occasion that “needs” a factor, Rees has at all times leant in direction of an even bigger form: “My history of a being a big knicker fan started back in my club days when we would go out in a fab big knicker with a fishnet and a great sweater (great vintage finds), when I was working for Vivienne Westwood in the early 90s,” she says. Rees maintains that Agent Provocateur was at all times alleged to be about “cool big knickers”. Launching her new model, Les Girls Les Boys, she targeted on big knickers there too, albeit ones with a relatively gender-neutral minimize. The shift paid off – in 2020, gross sales went up 400% yr on yr. “It was a reflection on changing times,” she says, “but I was also guided by the next generation’s way of thinking.”
The function of underwear – referred to as “drawers” once they turned the norm in the 19th century – was to be hygienic, heat, and modest. But it was additionally about silhouette, says the style historian Susanna Cordner, who labored on the V&A’s Undressed: a Brief History of Underwear. “The difference between the structural garments of the past and the shapewear we buy today is that there was an understanding in the case of, say, a Victorian woman in a bell-shaped silhouette, that hidden elements like corsets and crinolines were used to achieve that figure,” she says. You couldn’t see the drawers, however you knew they had been there. The resurgence of big knickers “could be seen as the wearer prioritising their own experience over external pressures,” she says.
It was not the e book however the 2001 movie adaptation starring Renée Zellweger that put the outsized, comically unsexy knickers entrance and centre. As ever in advertising, it’s the picture that counts, and the picture that has caught to Bridget Jones is big pants. The boring reality is at all times much less interesting than the popular culture fable. Still this shapewear-related replace not solely recognised that some ladies wore them, however that many had been even getting laid in them.