Fashion

From girdles to supermodels: looking back at 90 years of M&S lingerie history

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Moya Crockett
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To many modern British women, Marks and Spencer is synonymous with one thing (OK, two, if we’re including Percy Pigs): underwear.

The iconic department store might not be our go-to shop in the way it was for our grandmothers, but its hold on our knicker drawers remains remarkable. Over 21 million M&S bras are sold every year, with one in three British women owning one – and for adolescent girls in search of their first AA-cup, a mum-escorted trip to “get measured” at the M&S lingerie department remains a rite of passage.

September 2016 marks the 90th anniversary of M&S lingerie, and to celebrate, we’ve rounded up some of their most iconic underwear designs over the years. From delicate petticoats to contemporary celebrity collaborations, it's a whistlestop history tour of what lies beneath. 

  • 1920s bra

    The longline shape of this delicate bra from the 1920s wouldn't look out of place today.

  • Slips and pyjamas, 1932

    Some surprisingly modern-looking candy-coloured nightwear, as seen in a Downton-era M&S Christmas magazine. 

  • Bustier bra, 1953

    Old Hollywood-style underwear will never really go out of fashion, but it was at its peak in the early 1950s.

  • Petticoat, 1955

    Ah, the mid-1950s, when an innocent expression was best paired with aggressively pointed breasts. 

  • Knitted nylon slip, 1963

    A Jean Shrimpton-esque model strikes a pose - back when slips were strictly worn under dresses, not as dresses. 

  • Underwear illustrations, 1967

    These whimsical illustrations of floral lingerie, from a 1960s M&S campaign, capture the hippy-ish mood of the day.

  • Underwear advertisement, 1970

    Back in 1970, it must have seemed pretty radical for a heritage brand like M&S to be jumping on the revolutionary bandwagon. Groovy, baby.

  • Lingerie advert, 1972

    Can't you imagine seeing Taylor Swift on a tropical beach somewhere wearing every single one of these looks? 

  • Crochet lace bra, 1974

    Because nothing says 1970s like crochet. 

  • Vest and knickers, 1984

    We tend to think of 1980s fashion as bold, brash glamour, but this page from an M&S magazine shows a softer, more casual side.

  • Fern lingerie advert, 1985

    This shot, however, is pure 1980s: just look at that backcombed hair. 

  • Bodysuit, 1987

    A million 16-year-old girls would sell their grannies to wear this to V Festival this year.

  • Body separates collection, 1995

    Ah, the 1990s: such bland, soothing minimalism. 

  • Bras for teenagers, 2014

    This makes us feel a bit weepy. The no-nonsense, sturdy, seen-it-all-before women in M&S underwear departments are exactly the kind of women you want to help you choose your first bra.

  • Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for M&S, 2016

    Supermodel Rosie H-W's M&S range continues to bring some celebrity sparkle to the halls of Marks and Sparks.

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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.