From Underwear to Fashion Thong
Nowadays, underwear is more of a fashion statement. A thong rising out of a lady’s low-rise jeans with a tramp stamp above says, hey, I like to be sexy. It doesn’t say go ahead and enjoy that bran muffin. Unless you carry wet wipes in your purse.
Disgusting things happen under our clothes. Being mammals, we poop and pee. Sweat. And get dirty. Most of us shower daily. And use deodorant. We didn’t always. But we always pooped, peed, sweated and got dirty. And probably always will.
As we entered more modern times, we started to wear nicer clothes. Clothes that weren’t so easy to wash. And were expensive. We weren’t bathing all that often yet. So we came up with an idea of how to keep all our bodily filth off of our spiffy new clothes. Underwear.
Gallant Knights no Doubt had Skid Marks in their Armor
People are fascinated with medieval court life. Dashing princes. Gallant knights. Fair maidens. Chivalry. The stuff of fairy tales. Every little girl dreams of having Prince Charming sweep her up onto his steed and gallop off into the sunset. If you brought these people into our modern world, though, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near them. Their stench would make you want to vomit.
Modern people would not believe how bad this stink was. Of course, back then, when everyone stunk, it didn’t smell so bad. Stink is, after all, relative. Someone would have to stink a lot worse than you for you even to notice their stink. But filth is absolute. So we started to wear underwear to keep the skid marks off of our fancier outer clothes.
Even the dashing ladies and gentlemen of 19th century America were still pretty smelly. They didn’t bathe every day. And they didn’t wash their outer clothing all that often. But they tried to do like mother said. And wear clean underwear.
Clean Underwear is as Good as a Shower in the 19th Century
One of the finest military memoirs ever written were those of General Ulysses S. Grant. He would advance to command all Union forces during the American Civil War. One time, his army was advancing so quickly that his baggage trains couldn’t keep up. And with no baggage, he had no clean underwear to change into. For many, many days.
Back then you wore clean underwear when soiled. Today, you shower. And if you don’t have clean underwear, you still shower. Some may turn dirty underwear inside out to wear. Some may go commando (not wear any underwear). But we wash to keep our outer clothes clean. We don’t depend on underwear alone to do that job.
Because of that, our underwear got smaller. Instead of covering our entire bodies, most wear it to just cover our naughty bits. Or enhance our naughty bits. Like a piece of ‘floss’ running up a lady’s butt crack. And some even go without. We have come a long way. With underwear.
Drinking the Water you Poop in will Give you Cholera
With going poopies, too. Before modern toilets, we pooped into a bowl. If we were in an upstairs room, we would just dump it out of a window. If we were wealthy, our servants would empty our chamber pots for us in the morning. They’d fill a large tub full of our waste and then trudge it down to the river. In early New York City, the Hudson River received many a tub of poop throughout any given day.
Convenient, yes, but we also did something else with rivers. We drew our drinking water from them. And the interesting thing about our poop? It’s not potable. You drink it and you get sick. It took us a while to figure this out, though. And during a cholera outbreak in London, we did. Well, John Snow did. With an able assist from the Reverend Henry Whitehead.
The Broad Street well drew drinking water from an area of the Thames River with a high concentration of human waste. In those days, people had cesspits under their houses. They collected their poop in them where it would eventually dissolve into the ground. And into the ground water. To keep them from overflowing, they’d sometimes transport some of the waste to, you guessed it, the Thames River. Ergo the cholera.
Smell that Smell
You ever work in a sanitary lift station? Smell that fragrant odor as it wafts up to you from an open manhole? If you have you know what I’m talking about. And how it buckled your knees the first time you smelled that smell.
We take a lot for granted these days. Like smells. And the lack of them. Because once upon a time, we didn’t have sewers. We had cesspools. And open gutters for our waste to flow in. Down to a river. Now that’s a special odor. And few today can really appreciate it. Unless they’ve worked up close and personal in one of our waste water treatment systems.
A little more than a hundred years ago, that odor permeated some of our bigger cities. And it was everywhere. Where our kids played. Where we cooked our meals. Where we ate them. It was with us when we slept. It came out of our pores. It was horrible beyond belief. This stink. Made by the gentry of high society. Those beautiful people we romanticize about. Like Scarlet O’Hara. Dashing princes. And fair maidens. Of course, there was an upside to this foul stench. It concealed our vile body odor.
Screw the Past
There’s a lot to being human that is disgusting. And the farther back you go, the more disgusting we were. The fact that a woman can wear a thong or go without underwear these days says a lot about how far our hygiene has advanced. We can wear less and we’ve never been cleaner. Or smelled better. You can romanticize all you want about those quaint, charming days before the 20th century, but you can’t beat the here and now.
We’re clean. We don’t stink. Our cities are clean. And they don’t stink. We have flush toilets. And safe drinking water. And if you want to find a cholera outbreak these days, you have to go to a third world country. Call me new-fashioned, but give me the here and now and “screw the past” (to borrow a line from Perfume by Sparks).