No fabrics have a more sensual association than silks and satins. These luxurious materials are widely appreciated stimulators of male hormones and linked to a myriad of fetishes and fantasies, especially when manifested in women’s brassieres and panties. Yet, this erotic combination is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although silk was discovered 5,000 years ago, and satin has been produced for about a thousand years, women have been wearing panties for less than two hundred years and the brassiere was invented only just over a century ago.
Some men experience sexual excitement just from the look or feel of articles made of silk or satin. While this interest is usually directed towards the person wearing the glamourous garment, the stimulation is enhanced by the garment itself, or by the look or feel of the material. The attraction can be to the physical properties of the fabric, such as softness, smoothness and shine, as well as to its association with elegance, glamour, and romance. The most erotic materials are considered to be charmeuse silk and satins. Charmeuse silk has a satin sheen – lustrous and reflective – on one surface only, the other side being soft and dull, while satin has its sheen on both surfaces. Satins are also made of fibres other than silk, such as polyester and nylon, but some definitions insist that true satin is made only from silk.
Although, no doubt, through the ages upper-class women were admired in their silk and satin outer garments it is only in comparatively recent times that the wearing of undergarments has brought these luxurious fabrics into more intimate contact with the skin. Women had to wait until the early nineteenth century before the wearing of panties (knickers) became widespread, and for many years they were made only of wool and flannel. In Victorian times they were certainly not intended to be seen in public but by the late 1860s silk was reported to have joined flannel as a material of choice for knickers.
Women had to wait even longer for the pleasure of wearing a silk brassiere. There was even a time in the fourteenth century in France, when women were suppressed by a law stating that ‘no woman will support the bust’. By the late nineteenth century, however, things had changed, and a French corset-maker, Herminie Cadolle, invented the ‘Bien-être’ which means ‘Well-Being’. For the first time, breasts were supported from above instead of being pushed upwards by a stiff corset. Sixteen years later, Marie Tucek invented the ‘Breast Supporter’ and patented it in New York in 1914. Appropriately given a French name, brassiere (upper arm), it incorporated the modern features of separate cups, hook fastenings and shoulder straps.
By the nineteen twenties, women could enjoy the comfort and glamour of modern underwear and men could enter upon an exciting new phase of erotic fantasy. But in the five thousand years’ history of silk, this was just the latest in a long series of evolutionary stages by which it has enhanced the beauty and allure of countless generations of women.