Sunday, December 20, 2009

In praise of underwear (in speculative romance)

Good quality underwear is absolutely essential to a speculative Romance writer. I am not talking about erotica, nor about everyone's grandmother's admonition to wear clean underwear for fear of being knocked down by an omnibus.

The best Fantasy underwear ever, in my opinion, was Frodo's mithril undershirt. We readers knew he had it, but by the time he needed it, we'd forgotten that he'd got it on. It allowed everyone to think that he'd been killed by the most dreadful, invincible weapon, and after we were emotionally wrung out over the loss, it allowed us to believe that he'd survived.

It could have supernatural qualities, and did, but because the Elves made it, and they were made plausible, and because it was underwear and therefore out of sight and out of mind, I found it plausible.

Magic underwear could be the modern and futuristic deus ex machina.

Certainly, Electra-Djerroldina's futuristic "chastity belt" was inspired by mithril (Knight's Fork). It allowed me to retain all the restrictions that my alien romance plot required, yet did not oblige my heroine to clank or rust. In the interests of coming clean with my characters' underwear, Djetth in Insufficient Mating Material sported trunk briefs very similar to what a seven foot tall basketball player might endorse. Tarrant-Arragon wore something half way between a loin cloth and a kilt.

In a waiting room the other day, I indulged in highly risky behavior and read a magazine. It might have been "People". Carrie Fisher gave a revealing interview, and disclosed her feelings when Star Wars wardrobing showed her the brown bikini she had to wear as Jabba The Hut's slave.

I remember what I felt when I saw it. I was not convinced. Why would a nudist like Jabba make his slave girl wear a bikini? What would a futuristic, tyrant Heff do? Of course, we couldn't have Princess Leia looking like she worked for Hooters. I understand the political problem. I think I might have draped her in veils...

Where are we going with underwear in sfr? It is going to change, I assume. Look how much underwear has evolved and changed in the last couple of hundred years. I cannot imagine thongs lasting into the future. Can you? They're neither comfortable nor functional, are they? And there's not a lot of room for magic.

If our bodies become more perfectly sculpted, will we need underwear? If we try to save more energy, will we wear more thermal underwear and look more like the heroes and heroines of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers?

By the way, will we wash less often? I saw in Discovery Magazine that unwashed, greasy hair absorbs harmful ozone. Making an environmentally responsible choice to wash less often also reduces water usage, and reduces the quantities of soapy reside and other chemicals going down the drain and ultimately out to sea.

Maybe we'll use more disposable tear-off strips. "Always" for his and for her gussets. What are you seeing your heroes and heroines of the future in?

Rowena Cherry


  1. Anonymous3:24 PM EST

    Rowena, I haven't quite figured out what the underwear should be but one thing I hope is that it will not be bras.

    I write Trek Fan Fic, nothing kills the mood for me quicker than when we get to the part where Janeway and Chakotay make love and she is wearing a bra.

    My personal opinion is that some woman will invent something better, after all she invented the bra because it was better than a corset.

    I first asked this same question November 16, 2003 on a Star Trek Message board. They decided underwear had to be built into the uniform.


  2. Haha fun post. I can see underwear being built into the outfits. That's what camis and shelf-bras are doing nowadays to avoid the dreaded bra strap exposure. I think underwear itself will never just go away as it's a sanitary, comfortable, and protective piece of clothing.

  3. Underwear was originally designed as a barricade between those unfortunate "understains" and clothes that are/were difficult/expensive/ruinous to wash.

    Built in underwear must perform a different function, unless it is detachable, like fichus.

    What say you?

  4. A built-in bra, which some garments already have, would serve as support just as well as a separate bra. I agree with you that underwear for the nether regions still needs to be separate (or possibly detachable, but what would be the point of having it built in, then?).

  5. Some bathing costumes come with the promise and illusion of a "built in bra" and I have never found them satisfactory.

    I suppose, if more could be done with elastics and lycras and fabrics with "memory", a built in bra might become workable and financially viable.

    Otherwise, it's difficult already to cater to all our amazing variety of shapes and sizes without factoring in cup sizes and adjustable lift/separation.

  6. You're right, Rowena, but of course in our amazing future all those purely technical problems will be solved. :)

    I also hope for a fastening material like Velcro only better, which will totally eliminate zippers, snaps, buttons, etc. (except maybe for decorative buttons, which I understand was their original purpose -- before being used for fastening).

    In one unfinished novel I tried to imagine a form of underwear for females that would make it as easy for us as for males to take care of "personal business" without completely undressing below the waist (in effect). I had trouble with the mechanics; I visualized some kind of crotch-opening or drop-flap arrangement, but I'm not sure that would work. For one thing, if a woman wore outer pants, all the layers would need the same device. (You read that chapter in a workshop, Jacqueline -- you probably don't remember. You said "don't describe their underwear," but I intended it to make the point that women had as much freedom of movement in this culture as men.)

  7. A portable, personal aquaduct would be

  8. How about we get injected with an army of nanobots trained to eradicate those unfortunate understains? Then we wouldn't have to wear panties and it would be more environmentally conscious. Yeah, I'm up for that!

  9. Heather,

    To coin a phrase, "You cannot be serious!"

    Injectable nanobots in my great great grand-daughters' armpits and between their legs? Ewwww.

    And you'd need greater bot activity after sex and at certain times of the lunar cycle... and how would you possibly calculate and anticipate the output of a new lover.

    No, I think you need to go back to the drawing board on that one. LOL

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  12. Oh, but see, they'd be microscopic...and...and...maybe they could be ordered in designer colors/styles. There could even be specialty spas for the initial injection/servicing/upgrades. Think of how many new jobs this would create!

    The possibilities are endless, lol!

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  14. What if the bots mutated?

    Why bots, anyway? Let's just genetically engineer crotch crabs and ticks and lice.

    I am not, of course, serious.

    Mind you, Heather, now you've got me thinking....

  15. I assume your nanobots would be engineered into the cloth, not injected into the wearer!

    Self-cleaning cloth -- I'd like to have that for all my clothes.