Lingerie vs Underwear: What's the Difference?

woman in black lingerie and heels stands near white curtain

Words sometimes tend to provide us with distinctions that aren’t quite necessary. So, on the subject of lingerie vs underwear, is there really a difference? The general consensus seems to be that all lingerie counts as underwear but not all underwear is lingerie. What does that mean?

As we well know, there are all sorts of different butt shapes out in the world and many womens underwear styles to complement them. Whether you’re into jiggling those cheeks on full display with some thong underwear or prefer a little extra coverage with some hipster panties it all counts as underwear until the spice fairy comes in and turns it into lingerie.

So, what exactly are the qualities that move a piece of butt cloth from the boring world of underwear into the lusty land of lingerie? Well, that’s what we’re here to discover so put on those detective hats and pull out your dictionaries because we’re gonna get to the bottom of the lingerie vs underwear debate!



:Black hipster panties, green bikini underwear, black triangle bralette, and black boy shorts laid out on a cream surface.

In order to root out the difference between lingerie and underwear, we have to first look at each concept individually. The Cambridge Dictionary simply describes underwear as “clothes worn next to the skin, under other clothes.” That’s pretty straightforward and suggests that every undergarment can be classified as underwear.

The real idea of underwear (specifically for women) is that it has a function. Underwear is especially important for women to keep out any bacteria or dirt or whatever else could creep on up there without a protective barrier. It has also always been used by women during their menstrual cycles to prevent the messiness of free bleeding.

Since underwear has historically been a protective barrier between clothing and bodies, it does encompass everything that falls into that category, which, you guessed it, includes lingerie. Lingerie is simply a reimagining of how underwear can be viewed. More on that below!



A woman’s butt clad in gray panties trimmed with white lace laying on a white bed.

So what is lingerie? Does it only qualify if it’s lacy and frilly and meant to be alluring? And does that mean that regular underwear can’t be considered sexy?

Ok, so here’s the tea. Lingerie is simply the French word for underwear. Who knew?? Specifically, the word “lingerie,” comes from the French word ‘linge’ meaning linen, which is what undergarments were traditionally made of. Lingerie became widely used in regards to female undergarments in the 1920s to refer specifically to items that were designed to enhance a woman’s natural attributes (aka sexyfy her).. In the following decades, the concept of women’s undergarments evolved quite a lot, with the 1980s bringing about trends of underwear as outerwear.

The 1900s, in general, mark the time when what women wore under their clothes became more of an interest than it ever had been before. In prior decades, underthings were simply meant to protect and keep everything together. During the Edwardian era, women wore camisoles and petticoats made of lace, chiffon, and other delicate fabrics attributed to “femininity.” Underwear became more intentionally gendered to maintain the status of women as delicate creatures as the movement for women’s rights evolved.

The birth of lingerie and the “sexification” of women’s underwear is closely tied to a time when women were gaining more autonomy over their bodies and personhood. Prior to the 19th century, intentionally attractive underthings were reserved for prostitutes.By the 1920s, more women casually owned pretty underwear as they began to define their own sexualities and relationships with their own bodies.

One can argue that simply by being French the concept is inherently sexy and ok, I’m sure the French would agree. However, this leads us back to the beginning, with the question, is the difference between underwear vs lingerie real or just a matter of perception?



Side view of a woman in black underwear and a white shirt laying on her stomach with red carnations in the foreground

The basic difference between lingerie vs underwear is, primarily, that one is perceived to be sexually appealing while the other is viewed as practical.

However, in our modern age, lingerie also describes a wider category of objects such as chemises, slips and garter belts, whereas the word underwear is generally used to describe only bras and underpants. Lingerie also has a more feminine connotation while underwear is more unisex.

Many brands have separate categories for bras, underwear, and lingerie, with the latter being full of frilly, floofy, lacy things. The general idea behind lingerie is that it’s meant to accent and highlight the body rather than just support and protect it. The delicate, silky, lacy nature of lingerie does make it easier to classify as sexy.

However, that doesn’t mean that underwear can’t be sexy. Or that lingerie can’t be practical. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both, with the distinction of underwear being more simple and practical and lingerie being frilly and sexy.



A  woman’s legs clad in black fishnet lace stockings are stretched out on a white bed, her knees bent

Lingerie can be a fun way to evoke a mood of confidence and desirability. Because a majority of lingerie is considered fast fashion, I suggest digging deeper to find eco-friendly lingerie brands so you can feel good about your body and your impact on the environment.


  • It’s meant to make you feel hot and highlight your assets
  • There’s a wider range of products in this category


  • Typically made of synthetic fabrics

  • Not necessarily designed to be worn under clothes comfortably

  • Tends to be pricier, especially at a higher quality

  • Products under the lingerie category tend to have less variety in terms of shape



Technically, all of the above counts as underwear too, but let’s focus on the stuff that’s more low-key and intended to be used on a daily basis. For the best underwear, I suggest looking into hemp fabric because it’s breathable and antibacterial, which are exactly the qualities to look for in a functional pair of undies!


  • Typically designed for comfort and practicality

  • Easier to find in sustainable, natural fabrics

  • Available in many different styles for all bodies and preferences

  • Refers to undergarments for both men and women


  • Often regarded as plain and not as sexually appealing (although that’s mostly due to marketing!)



green-haired woman wears a black bralette with her arms behind her head

Wear whatever you want whenever you want! The standards that the fashion industry has set, right down to the words they use to describe certain concepts, are really just suggestions. At the end of the day, wear what makes you comfortable.

I could sit here and tell you that you can stick to underwear for casual occasions and day-to-day life and opt for some fancy lingerie for a night out or a date night, but guess what? It doesn’t matter! For some people, a simple, low-cut pair of bikini underwear might feel a lot sexier to wear than a frilly sliver of lace up the butt.

Of course, my support for wearing whatever you want goes both ways! I love a lacy balconette bra that will make my boobies pop. I’ll also rip that off my body after a few hours and go back to my comfy triangle bralette, which is arguably just as sexy. All I’m saying is that the only valid distinction between any form of undergarment is the attitude with which you wear it.

You can be hot in anything and you can also just be chilling while wearing something traditionally considered “sexy.” Don’t let the undergarments tell you how you should feel— make them work for you the way you want.



A woman in black underwear and a pink sweatshirt stands with her hand on her hip in front of a white sink


Yup! The word underwear is used to define all articles that provide a barrier between the skin and outer clothing and lingerie sure fits that description!


Nope, the word underwear is used to describe a wider category of items and has been used for many centuries to refer to undergarments of all styles and all genders. Lingerie was first used to describe a specific evolution of women’s undergarments.


Obviously! Wear whatever makes you happy. There are even brands that make lingerie specifically for male bodies.


Lingerie is used to refer to a wider category of things. While underwear is typically used in references to bras and both female and male underpants, lingerie comes in a lot more forms. That is because lingerie is meant to function more as a centerpiece rather than something meant to be comfortably hidden under clothes. The categories of lingerie include bras, panties, girdles, bustiers, bodysuits, camisoles, slips, teddies, corsets, chemises, negligees, hosiery, garter belts, and more.



woman with afro wears black underwear set and kneels on a white couch

Well, I don’t know about you but I feel both enlightened…and underwhelmed. The debate of lingerie vs underwear seems like such a big thing with a clear distinction but the reality is that it’s all about how we view it.

What do you think about this topic? Am I completely wrong in declaring that the differences between underwear and lingerie are mostly insignificant? Do you swear by lingerie for certain events and underwear for others? Drop your thoughts in the comments—I’m looking forward to the discussion on this fun topic!

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