Lingerie is a term for fashionable and alluring women's undergarments. It derives from the French word linge, "washables" — as in faire le linge, "do the laundry" — and ultimately from lin for washable linen, the fabric from which European undergarments were made before the general introduction of cotton from Egypt and then from India.
While the term in the French language applies to all undergarments for either gender, in English it is applied specifically to those women's undergarments designed to be visually appealing or erotic, typically incorporating materials such as Lycra, nylon (nylon tricot), polyester, satin, lace and/or silk and not applied to functional cotton undergarments. It is commonly pronounced in English with a faux French pronunciation (such as LONJ-er-ee in British pronunciation or lonj-er-AY in American pronunciation).
The concept of lingerie being visually appealing was a development of the later nineteenth century. Up through the first half of the 20th century women selected underwear for three major purposes: to alter their shape (first with corsets and later with girdles or bras), for reasons of hygiene, or for modesty. Women's underwear before the invention of the crinoline was often very large and bulky. As the 20th century progressed underwear became smaller and more form fitting. In the 1960s 'controversial' lingerie manufacturers such as Frederick's of Hollywood begin to glamorize lingerie and the idea of lingerie having a sexual appeal slowly developed.
The lingerie industry has expanded in the 21st century with designs that double as outerwear. The French refer to this as 'dessous-dessus' which basically means innerwear as outerwear. The boutique Faire Frou Frou, which is an antiquated phrase meaning "show it off", heralds this philosophy by categorizing lingerie as an accessory with details such as straps and lace trim that should be layered and shown as part of one's outerwear.
Since the mid-1990s women have had more choice in bra sizes; the focus has changed from choosing bras in an average size to wearing bras that actually fit perfectly. In the UK, for instance, the media is fueling an awareness campaign about the need for each woman to have a proper bra fitting before every purchase.
Other companies have provided made to measure alternatives. The world famous French House of Cadolle, now owned by the fifth generation Cadolle, Poupie Cadolle, makes bras, corsets and other lingerie on a made to measure basis (also known as Demi-mesure for clothes adapted to fit the customers' measurements). The made to measure method is also used by British firm Kate Gibson Lingerie, founded by Kate Mellor and Katy Gibson. Kate Gibson Lingerie, taking the opposite track from Bravissimo, only produces petite lingerie for women who wear AA to 34B cup bras, thereby provided choice for smaller women. Both Cadolle and Kate Gibson Lingerie use couture fabrics and laces to created designer lingerie and petite designer lingerie.
Within the UK the choice of lingerie available is vast. In London Rigby and Peller are famous for their fitting service, and produce their own branded lingerie that sits alongside other brands such as Lejaby, Prima Donna and other premium brands. Bravissimo specialises in larger cup size bras, and has a huge choice of Fantasie and Freya. For more provocative sexy luxury lingerie Agent Provocateur is available in major UK cities and online. A newer brand Boudiche emerged in the last few years with boutiques in Scotland offering designer brands sourced from around the world, including from America Kiki De Montparnasse, Undrest, and more unusual brands such as I.D. Sarrieri from Romania.
Drapers magazine, runs it's annual Drapers Awards and includes a category for 'Best Lingerie Retailer' in the UK. In 2007 this was won by Scottish Lingerie Retailer, Boudiche, in 2006 by Marks and Spencer, and previously Figleaves held the title for 2 years running.
Companies such as The Natori Company, founded in 1977 by Josie Natori have helped expand lingerie beyond bras and underwear into the areas of sleepwear and loungewear, creating clothes that can be "worn either to bed or out on the town."
The global lingerie market in 2003 was estimated at $29 billion. Bras accounted for 56 per cent while briefs represented 29 per cent of the lingerie market in 2005. The world’s largest lingerie manufacturer, Victoria's Secret, operates almost exclusively in North America. The European market is quite fragmented, with Triumph International and DB Apparel leading the market.