Thermal underwear comes out of the fashion closet

by Yuko Naito

Until a few years ago, most young women abhorred long-sleeved undershirts, commonly derided as babashatsu (granny shirts).

The beige-colored undershirts, with lace-trimmed necklines and sleeves, were thought to be the ultimate in unstylish clothing. Despite their undeniable warmth, most young women would never have been caught dead wearing one.

Times have changed, however. According to a poll by the Nihon Body Fashion Association, the total number of undershirts sold in Japan over the 1994-1995 autumn/winter season leapt from around 25 million to over 55 million. The customers responsible for boosting sales have mainly been from the younger generation, especially high-school girls.

According to Chiaki Kobayashi of Wacoal Corp., Japan’s leading lingerie maker, simple, minimalist designs have been the mainstream of women’s fashion since the mid-’90s. This created a need for warm yet thin underlayers. (Wacoal now sells about 1 million thermal undershirts a year.)

Of course, the makers’ introduction of new designs and colors has contributed significantly to the recent popularity of the undershirts.

Kobayashi said young women prefer more T-shirt-like designs and avoid undershirts with too much lace.

Adding to the appeal has been the introduction of high-tech materials that make the underwear more comfortable.

“[New materials] make the underwear thinner and warmer,” Kobayashi said, citing fabrics which mildly generate heat while staying breathable.

Along with babashatsu, another once-shunned item has made a comeback: knitted thermal underpants.

Such underpants are common winter clothing for small children, but when they enter elementary school, even kids begin refusing to wear them due to their infantile image.

This winter, however, these pants have become a hot item among teenagers and young women in their 20s and 30s.

Many lingerie shops and department stores are carrying a variety of knitted thermal underpants featuring vivid colors and cute patterns such as hearts, cherries, hibiscus flowers, teddy bears and even pigs.

In September Wacoal scored a hit with the introduction of knitted thermal underpants under the Hip Warmer brand.

“The main customers are OLs [female office workers],” Kobayashi said, pointing out that the trend nicely complemented the revival of the skirt, since it keeps women’s posteriors warm.

“Those who have tried them on say they find them very comfortable and so practical that they cannot do without them,” Kobayashi said.