Underwear was invented primarily for the practical purposes of protecting vulnerable body parts of men and women, and providing women comfort during menstruation. The use of underwear dates back to ancient Egypt, when it first appeared as loincloths and strips of material such as leather and linen. The use of underwear appeared over time in cultures throughout the world, and served additional purposes, such as giving bodies' shape, enhancing certain features and even establishing gender and societal roles.
In ancient Egypt, men and women wore girdle-style loincloths, with strips of material running from the front to the back. These strips fastened to belt buckles or wrapped around the legs in a skirt style. Although men and women wore underwear for protecting vulnerable body parts and preventing irritation, the type of material used in undergarments varied among socioeconomic classes. Men and women of higher social status wore underwear created from silk, while poorer members of society used wool and linen.
Underwear gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Women first began wearing bra-type supports beneath their shirts. These bras came in several styles, designed for enhancing or flattening the breasts, depending on their size. Men started wearing longer, trouser-style underwear during this time. Initially, only men wore underwear, which society considered a symbol of masculine dominance. Women followed suit later, wearing short "drawers" made of linen or silk, the preferred material of the wealthy.