It is only this week that, at an auction house in Kent, England, a pair of knickers went for £6,200.
Knickers: that’s panties, pants, underwear. We also call them drawers, and once upon a time they were pantaloons and even bloomers.
But the reason, girls, that you are walking around in M&S cotton briefs today – or shorts, or camis, or strings or whatever – is because of the owner of the pants which have just sold for such a stupendous sum somewhere outside Folkestone.
It is interesting to note that the aforementioned, extremely valuable knickers had a waist of some 52 inches.
Despite the perfectly developed bra-and-pants model developed in the Classical World (or strophium-and-subligaculum model, if you prefer) women in Mediaeval and Tudor Britain did without pants. Which, I know, seems unconscionably draughty to us today. But it was just another garment to purchase, and garments cost money. Petticoats were long, and voluminous. Perhaps they created a benign microclimate. I hope so, for the sake of all those generations of women in this unforgiving corner of the world called the British Isles.
But towards the end of the eighteenth century it was fabric technology which made the whole pant thing possible. Until then they had been often rough, unforgiving, itchy, abrasive. And as the reign of Victoria approached, suddenly lawn, and fine silks, and cambric appeared: light, and soft against the skin.
And because the climate in the Northern Hemisphere is inclement, women took to pantalettess instantly.Two leg sections, held together by a tie at the waist.
But the final seal on the longevity of the pant came from an august source indeed.
Because knickers were modest.
Queen Victoria loved them: because they met her standards of propriety. And where royalty leads the fashion is never far behind. Throughout her reign, though details changed, the bloomer remained as an essential garment for the fashionable Victorian woman.
They were not an invitation, but a barricade for the good Queen. And this is evidenced by the pair of bloomers which was auctioned for more than £6000, which belonged to her.
They had found their way into a Kent family because Victoria often gifted her underwear after wearing it to her servants.
Auctioneer Michael Hogben told the BBC: “The items are very large.
“She wore them towards the end of her life when she had eaten a lot more than most people could afford to.”
He added: “These bloomers have been in a Kent family for more than 80 years.
“These” he concluded wryly, ” are some of the most interesting items I have auctioned in my 40-year career.”