Underwear Glossary

Ever since writing the “What is a Slip?” article I’ve been thinking about writing this. Just to avoid some confusion. Some of it won’t be relevant, but that just depends on who you are. At least some of it will be relevant across the board.

You know what a bra is, so I'm taking this opportunity to show you one made out of bacon


Unless you’re from a vastly different country, you don’t need me to explain this, or the next one. I’m only including it for the purposes of this glossary being as complete as I can make it. A bra is a garment that holds your boobs in place. Some push up, some minimize, and there are different types to go under different styles of clothes.

You also know what panties are. These ones are made of aluminum cans. Lady Gaga would be proud.


These are often made to match a bra, unless you get them in 3 or 4 packs at a discount store. They’re pretty much just for hygenic purposes, and so nobody can accidentally see your crotch in a short skirt. There are a few basic types:

  • -fullbacks are the standard ones that cover most or all of your butt. Very comfortable, highly recommended.
  • -thongs have a very narrow butt section so you don’t get panty-lines through your clothes.
  • -gstrings are similar to thongs but even skimpier. Often worn by strippers, though you certainly don’t have to be a stripper to wear them.
  • -Boy shorts sit lower on the hip and are longer in the leg.


Here’s where things start to get less painfully obvious. We all know that stockings cover your legs in a skirt or dress for warmth and modesty (and in the past they were necessary to complete an outfit), but stockings in particular stop at the knee or the thigh, and stay up with grip or garters.

Somehow these are just never as sexy as stockings.


Similar to stockings, but these are all one piece, like pants with feet. They became popular in the 60s when girdles went out of style, because they didn’t need garters to stay up. Now you can get them with control tops, to almost give the effect of wearing a light girdle and stockings at the same time.

Somehow I've ended up with containers full of these.


They can refer to something as simple as a ribbon tied around a stocking or sleeve to keep it up, but these days they’re also sets of 4-6 straps which are either hooked or sewn to a garter belt, girdle, or corset, and clip to the top of stockings to hold them up. These can also apply to leg bands with similar extending straps that hold up men’s dress socks.

Garter Tabs

I can’t find an image on these. According to my search a lot of people feel that garter tabs refer to the clips on the bottom of garters. So what the hell, we’ll go with that definition too. I’ve always refereed to them as the tiny elastic loops sewn into the bottom underside of corsets, bustiers, or girdles for hooking on garters.

Garter Belt

A low “belt” with built-in garters.

This is why your grandpa married your grandma.


Part of the evolution of the corset, this is worn around the waist and/or hips in order to minimize their appearance. They can be lightly boned or made from a firm and stretchy fabric. A girdle that also works as panties and a bra is often referred to as an all-in-one.


The ultimate in figure enhancement and modification, these are heavy-duty steel boned garments used for decreasing the size of the waist and sometimes also flattening or pushing up the bust. These days they can be worn under clothes or as part of the outfit itself. There are three basic types. Underbust corsets stop under the bust, mid-busts come up half way, and overbusts cover the bust enough that it’s not necessary to wear anything but a liner underneath. More details are available in the rest of this blog. I suggest you go look, because if you don’t I’ll have to get started here and I swear you’ll be here all day.


This is basically a light little tank top, used for layering. It’s usually worn for modesty’s sake, either to reduce cleavage or line a transparent shirt. They can also be used as corset liners, as this was their original purpose. They evolved from the…


A voluminous undershirt worn in the 19th century and earlier to line a corset and the top of a dress.


This is for making a skirt really puffy. It has lots of layers, often of stiff netting and a lot of ruffles. A brightly colored one adds interest to a circle skirt or dress.


Hoop Skirt

Also for making a skirt puffy and giving it a fashionable shape, a hoop skirt typically only has one layer so it’s less hot and heavy. They get their structure from hoops made from various things such as rope, horsehair, or steel.


While we’re on the topic of the masses of Victorian underwear, bustles came after the hoop skirt in terms of giving a skirt a certain shape, but there was some overlap. Bustles give you a nice Victorian J-Lo butt, and can be from large and structured like hoop skirts, to as simple as a pad tied around the waist. A bustle can also refer to the voluminous backside of a skirt itself, either in a pile of cascading ruffles, or when excess fabric is gathered up.


The definition can vary a little, but generally speaking this is a lot like a slip, but think Victorian or earlier. Some people also consider it the equivalent to a crinoline.


Basically a liner for a dress or skirt. For modesty, warmth, to help clothes lie smoothly, and to help protect clothes from sweat and body oils.


A bustier is pretty much just a boned top or longline bra, sometimes worn as a crappy alternative to a corset, to wear either as underwear or part of an outfit. They can be an alternative to a typical bra.

Merry Widow

Similar to a bustier, a merry widow is like a bra and girdle in one. They’re considered the “missing link” between corsets and modern styles of underwear. Suddenly I REALLY want that one from the picture.
I think that’s it, but considering the enormous wealth of history and fetishes I know I must be missing a bunch. If there’s anything you would like to add to this list, leave a comment!

2 comments on “Underwear Glossary

  1. Shari says:

    gosh, this is why I enjoy reading your blog! this was very informative. my only question is, since this topic IS about underwear, and back when they were worn on a regular basis, how did women go to the bathroom wearing girdles? They look tight and hard to get out of! and also, are colourful tights considered pantyhouse or fashion?

  2. Girdles come in different forms, so that affects how you would go to the bathroom. A panty girdle, which is like bike shorts, is often worn instead of panties so they just get pulled down. An open bottom girdle, such as the one in the picture, would usually be worn with the panties OVER them (unlike in advertisements) to make that function easier. Some girdles are quite short and equivalent to waist cinchers, so they don’t get in the way at all. And many have fastenings that can be undone. Nevertheless, you’re definitely not wrong in thinking this is a challenge.
    I admit I find tights a strange thing. They are between pants and pantyhose, but I would consider them outerwear because of the way they’re worn. Of course there is also the option of treating them like long underwear in the winter to keep warm 🙂

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