Getting Cheeky: Knickers, Panties or Thongs?

As a designer and a technical apparel professional who is also an avid exerciser, I am regularly exposed to women’s rear ends. I have come to realize there is room for improvement in the undergarments we choose to wear. Whatever type of undergarments we choose, there appears to be a technical problem that could be improved upon.

With the athleisure clothing trend taking hold and women wearing workout gear all day (typically, tight leggings), our undergarment choices may be exposed to those around us. Unless you are wearing a long top to cover up your hips and butt, there’s not much left up to the imagination. All too often, what is worn under skin-tight apparel (which, at times, means thin fabric that is stretched too much) reveals details as to what undies are worn.

I should define three types of undies. I’m a Brit, so I use the term “knickers” as underwear. By the U.S. definition, knickers are loose-fitting trousers gathered at the knee or calf. The British meaning of knickers is women’s or girl’s underpants, usually with a higher cut and fit. Panties are underpants worn by women and girls that usually end around the lower hips, sometimes in a bikini cut. By thong, I mean a skimpy bikini bottom or pair of underpants with a narrow backside — not the Australian meaning, which is another term for flip-flop shoes.

As a technical designer, it seems to me that there is a need for improvement for these female undergarments. That need could be a good market niche for anyone wanting to enter this exciting industry.

What we choose to wear for undies should be comfortable but also should not be a point of focus when we are out and about wearing tight athleisure garments. Our underwear should be comfortable not only for the wearer but also for everyone who sees other butts when spinning, doing yoga at the gym or going on a walk or hike.

For the most part, the obvious need for improvement is the rear-end focal point seam across the back portion of panties, which attaches the main body portion of the undergarment to the crotch portion. Obviously, thongs have no seam but can often be identified on the wearer through the tightness of the leggings, which sometimes exposes flesh beneath when stretched too tightly.

By the use of circular knitting and other modern construction methods, such as tape and bonding, plus incorporating some high-tech fabrics, I think we could create a better-fitting and better-looking undergarment. We have the evolving 3D printing process, which is getting better with time. At the moment, 3D fabrication is not yet soft or fine enough, but I am sure this will be refined in the near future. Such a method would help eliminate unsightly and uncomfortable seams.

I am convinced that, soon, the material choices available will revolutionize the world of fashion. We have developed specialty fabrics that can be cooling during athletic activity, and those could be used to complement the trend of athleisure.

And while we’re at it, let’s make sure that the fabric weight that we choose for leggings is thicker!

Frances Harder is an author and founder of Fashion for Profit Consulting. She is also a consultant to the United Nations on Peruvian alpaca products and Nepali cashmere. She consults and speaks internationally on product development, branding, merchandising, production and entering the U.S. market. She can be reached at

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