Why Is It Called a Pair of Underwear – The Exciting Backstory


Unless you have an unusual taste in fashion or you love going commando, then you likely have several pairs of underwear. More than once, you might have wondered why your underwear is called a pair even when it is just a single piece of clothing.

Why is it called a pair of underwear? The term a pair of underwear comes from the fashion style in the early 19th century. Back then, underwear worn by women consisted of two different legs that came together at the waist, and these two separate legs were what formed a pair.

The original purpose for creating underwear was to protect the outer clothing from dirt that comes from the skin. They were important in the years before the 19th century because people back then did not take their baths very often, as frequent baths were for the wealthy. With time, however, people became more open to nudity and sexual activities, leading to a change in styles and sizes of underwear.

Currently, there are many diverse types of underwear that have been designed to cater for various needs. As we proceed in this write-up, we will go through the history of underwear and other related pieces of clothing including pants, shorts, bras, knickers, and panties. We will consider both the origin of the clothing and the words and how they are related to each other.

Why Are Pants Called a Pair of Pants?

Together, the whole phrase “a pair of pants” can be confusing to some people since it seems to be both singular and plural forms at once. The reason for this contradiction is because a pair of pants consists of two different legs, which come together to form a pair.

The origin of pants as clothing is quite unclear, as there are many points in history in distinct cultures and civilizations where pants were referenced. However, the pair of pants that are considered the oldest was found in the Yanghai Cemetery in Turpan, China.

After dating processes were carried out, the ancient pair, which was made from wool, was determined to have been sewn between 900 BC and 1300 BC. There are also mentions of pants in the Bible and Ancient Greek mythology, and they were also worn in Western Europe between 200 BC and 300 BC.

The structure and function of pants became revolutionized in 1890 when zippers were invented. Depending on where you are from, you might have heard the words “pants” and “trousers” being used interchangeably. While “pants” initially referred to underwear, the word now covers a broader range of clothing and is commonly swapped with trousers.

Apart from the origin of the clothing in general, the creation of the word “pants” has a bit of humor in it. From the 16th to the 18th century, an Italian comic character named Pantalone was known for wearing long clothing that came down to his ankles, as opposed to the common ones that stopped at the knee. As a result, in the 18th century, people in England began calling the clothing “Pantaloons” and the word eventually became shortened to “Pants” in the 19th century.

For more information in regard to the history of underwear, and the various eras that have shaped these articles of clothing we know today take a look at the video below.

The Chart Below Analyzes the Popularity of Brands for Men’s Underwear:

What is your favorite brand of underwear for men?Percentage of total results
Calvin Klein is a highly regarded brand that is by far the most liked brand of underwear for men.27.03%
Well known for being cost-efficient and of excellent quality, Fruit of the Loom is one of the most popular brands of underwear for men.16.22%
The gigantic Kirkland brand isn’t as popular as other men’s underwear according to preference forum users.5.41%
The luxury brand Tommy Hilfiger is quite enjoyed and worn by men across the U.S.13.51%
Under Armour, Boxer Briefs is a respected brand of underwear worn by many and is made to be comfortable.16.22%
Loved and worn by millions, Hanes is revered for its inexpensive cost for high quality of underwear.21.62%
Data derived from a wide range of men’s apparel forums online

Why Is It Called a Pair of Shorts?

Shorts are a quite common aspect of fashion nowadays, and the way their name was derived is quite straightforward. Shorts are called shorts because they are a shortened form of pants (or trousers).

Like most other fashion items, the use and design of shorts have evolved with time. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in Europe and the Americas, shorts were worn by young boys who were later given full-length pants (or trousers) when they reached a specific age of maturity (usually puberty). For this reason, men stayed away from shorts. Also, shorts and trousers were seen as male clothing, as women instead wore skirts and dresses.

The term, “a pair of shorts” is derived from the fact that shorts have two components that are joined together, giving a pair. Today we see short like that are popular such as the brand IZOD, which can be found on Amazon. The modern design you can see here, is very much so modern but conceptually unchanged from centuries ago.

Over the years, there have been different types of shorts introduced in different cultures and to serve various purposes. The earliest modern-style shorts seem to have been developed for military purposes, with an early example being the Nepalese army in the 1880s.

Another notable influence that affected the style and popularity of shorts worldwide was school uniforms worn by children in England. As these children grew older, their use of shorts made the practice to be welcome by society.

In addition, the advent and growth in popularity of sporting activities was another vital occurrence that boosted the use of shorts. Hiking, golf, and eventually, tennis, were popular sports that opened the public eye to the common use of shorts.

Finally, popular movies such as Dr. No. and Thunderball, both belonging to the James Bond franchise, influenced fashion choices for both men and women, favoring shorts.

Why Are Panties Called a Pair of Panties?

The earliest panties were not actual panties, but long undergarments that were called “shifts” and made from linen. At the end of the 18th century, panties were reinvented in the form of drawers. They were named “drawers” because they had to be “drawn” on, like drawing a curtain.

The reason panties are called a pair is that they contain two different legs that are joined together to form an actual pair.

By the early 20th century, the word “panties” was introduced in place of drawers, with the oldest recorded use of the word in 1908. However, the term “panties” did not become popular until the 1930s.

While the origin of the word “Pants” has an elaborate backstory as mentioned above, the process that derived the term “panties” was straightforward. Simply put, panties are a short form of pants, indicating that they are a smaller version of their older counterparts.

“Panties” is commonly used in American English, while British English favors alternatives like “Pants”, “Knickers”, and “Undies”. Earlier in history, before the 20th century, panties were usually large-sized and made from white cotton, with no attention being paid to how good they looked. Back then, panties were usually extended past the knee.

Towards the end of the 20th century, people became increasingly in tune with sexuality, leading to a change in the types of panties being manufactured and worn. Panties got smaller in size, and there were new variations in shape, color, and the material from which they were made.

Pair of Knickers Meaning

Knickers refer to pants (or trousers) that either stop at the knee or extend just beyond the knee. Technically, knickers are pants (trousers), just that like shorts, they are not as long as pants (trousers). Accordingly, knickers comprise two different legs that are joined together at the wearer’s waist, making them also be referred to as a pair.

Knickers are also gender-neutral, as both men and women in multiple cultures across the world wear them. However, they started as pieces of clothing made for men, with women beginning to wear knickers towards the end of the 18th century.

While knickers are often designed to stop on or just after the knee, there are also some variations that stop before the knee. Also, the story of the word’s origin is quite an interesting one.

The story begins with a writer in the 19th century who wrote a book named History of New York. While the author’s published name was Diedrich Knickerbockers, his actual name was Washington Irving. His book was centered on a Dutchman who wore loose clothing on his lower body that did not get to the end of his legs.

Soon, as the book gained attention, the term Knickerbockers also became popular with time. Sports also played a major part in the use of the word Knickerbockers, as some people who played baseball wore them as a part of their uniform. Towards the end of the 19th century, the word became shortened to just Knickers. Nowadays they are seen as a good choice for amateur and novice athletes. One such modern day choice is the brand EvoShield, and you can even find their uniforms on Amazon. Take a look here, for more information.

When published in London, the artwork for Washington Irving’s book showed knickers as the traditional loose breeches that the Dutch wore during that period. As the end of the 19th century approached, knickers were used to refer to underwear worn by women in England.

The term knickers are sometimes used interchangeably with shorts. One reason for this is because knickers do not have any fixed length with regards to whether they fall above or below the knee.

Why Is Bra Singular but Panties Plural?

The main reason why bra is singular is that the word is an abbreviation of the French word brassiere. Since brassiere which was shortened to bra is a single term, it cannot be referred to as a pair, since a pair deals with two separate parts.

To understand the word brassiere, we have to first understand its origin. The origin of the term is dated to a few hundred years ago, and it came up among the French. Over time, the word was used to refer to different objects. First, it started as a name of an arm guard, a braciere, worn by French soldiers. The direct derivation of the word brassiere was from the word bras, which means arm in French. Subsequently, the word took up other meanings, as it was used to refer to a breastplate worn by the military, then a type of corset worn by women.

One of the earliest notable mentions of the word brassiere being used to refer to women’s underwear was in the Evening Herald paper which was circulated in New York in 1893. The first major marketer of brassieres was Herminie Cadolle in 1905, though, there are other claims that credit the bra patent to other individuals.

In the 1900s, the word brassiere gained additional popularity, and was used by the Vogue magazine in 1907, and eventually found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1911. An official patent by Mary Phelps Jacob on the 3rd of November in 1914 further boosted the popularity of the word in the US. The word began to get shortened until it was finally being called bra in the 1930s.

There have been different versions of the word brassiere over time, with some of them meaning throat supporter and breast supporter. Some of these variations did include two different pieces of clothing coming together to form a single piece. However, the modern bra can be described as a single item and not a pair. This is because, as mentioned above, its derivation comes from a single word.

What is the Plural of Underwear?

The plural of underwear is underwear. In the English language, there are some words that are unique, in the sense that they can serve as both singular and plural forms. Underwear is one of those words.

Nouns such as underwear that remain the same for both their singular and plural forms are types of defective nouns. Some examples of such words are deer, flour, furniture, Lego, swine, and chinos.

There are other word forms that are also defective nouns, but they are different in the sense that they only come in plural form and have no singular form. These word types are called plurale tantum and are usually used to denote pairs or sets of objects, and thus, have the same word for both singular and plural. Examples of plurale tantum are clothes, pants, scissors, spectacles, jeans, alms, and trousers.

Another reason the term underwear remains the same for both its singular and plural form is that it can be referred to as a collective noun. Collective nouns are names of objects that refer to a collection or a set of things or people.

With regards to underwear, it can be referred to as a collective noun because it can be used to refer to all types of clothes that are worn right next to the skin, under outer clothing. This means that underwear can be used to categorize panties, boxers, briefs, vests, and bras. Other types of collective nouns are troupe, herd, pack, stack, and board.

Recent Content