It is said that 16th century women began to wear knickers because of Catherine de Medici’s love of riding to the chase side-saddle on windy days. The Medici was small of stature and rather well-built but she had beautiful legs and a fine degree of modesty.
These underpants were called calçons and they caused a bruhaha amongst some moralists of the day…
“Women should leave their buttocks uncovered under their skirts. They should not appropriate a masculine garment but leave their behinds nude as is suitable for their sex.”
Others were of a different opinion. Henri Estienne believed...”These calçons are useful for women – they help to keep them tidy, prevent the onslaught of dust and cold and stop them showing too much of their body whenever they happen to fall off a horse. It also affords them a certain measure of protection against dissolute young men who, when they stealthily slide their hand under a lady’s skirt, will no longer come into direct contact with her flesh.”
Also condemned by some were the vertugades or hoops that women wore under their skirts from about 1530. Satirized, and finally declared a public nuisance, the hoop remained in use for several decades.
Catherine de Medici’s daughter, Marguerite of Valois apparently had a novel use for her hoops. She wore one of great width in which she had pockets made large enough to hold a little box. Inside each little box lay the embalmed heart of a deceased lover. And each night, Margot would hang her hoop in a cupboard behind her bed which she kept firmly locked.