Underpants. You wear them nearly every day of your life, but probably don't spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about them and their quirks.
For instance, in 2021 it came to our attention that not all of you knew what the holes at the front of boxer shorts were for (spoiler alert, it is in front of your penis for a reason). It has now come to our attention that people are also mystified by women's underwear, specifically with the little bow that sometimes adorns them.
While the bow is clearly decorative, a theory flying around the Internet throughout the years has it that that wasn't always the case.
"Now? Because it's cute, it's feminine, it evokes innocence, and it makes it really easy to tell which side is the front when dressing hastily in the dark," one Redditor said in answer to a question on where the tradition began.
"As for the roots of the tradition? It comes from pre-elastic days, when your underthings were held in place by a bit of ribbon threaded through the eyelet lace at the tops. The little bow is where you tied that ribbon, and of course it's in the front because that's the easiest place to do something like that."
While plausible – people still liked to wear undergarments before elastic was invented in 1820, and popularized in clothing in the 1900s – there's little in the way of evidence presented to back up the claim.
Men certainly wore loose drawers or "braies" that could be secured with a drawstring or a belt in the middle ages. However, it is not men's underwear that still retains a bow, nor do we strap a belt around our underpants to keep the tradition alive.
We're not entirely sure what European women wore before the 15th Century. Most of our evidence comes from artwork, writing, and textiles that have been preserved well enough to survive until today, which is a lot to ask of an underpant. Women after that wore petticoats and nightie-like clothes under their clothes, known as a chemise, and sometimes corsets. In the 1800s, they also wore drawers according to historian Tim Lambert of Local Histories. They were plain at first but were more decorative towards the end of the century, adorned with lace and bands.
Pantalettes were also worn by women, girls, and young boys, originating from France in the 19th Century. These garments were loose, long pants that were split in two but tied together by a drawstring, and are the reason why we say "pair of underpants" even though they are just one item. It's plausible that these drawstring bows were kept as a decorative point after elastic became popularized, while men's underwear dispensed with the decoration.
On the other hand, it could be that underwear manufacturers merely thought it a nice, decorative addition, unconnected to old traditions. After all, who doesn't like a bow?