What I wear

Showing off my undies in public

UPDATE:    Want to make your own knickers from my pattern?  You can now buy the Wonder Unders Pattern  (which includes a singlet camisole & slip) through my pattern line: Scroop Patterns.  Get it here!

I’ve shown a lot of photos of undergarments over the years, and even quite a few photos of me in undergarments – but they have all been historical.  So this is a bit different, and kind of weird and hard for me.

Because these are my knickers:

Making your own knickers thedreamstress.com


Or, at least, knickers that are made from the same pattern that I wear, in the same way as the ones I wear.  As of this photo/post, these ones haven’t been worn, and may never be – they are just test pairs!

Yep.  I’ve joined the making your own knickers club.

It makes sense – it fits with my whole life and sewing philosophy.  I want to wear things that are well made, well fitted, and from quality materials.  I’m trying to live and shop  within a community: keeping my money and interactions connected to people and businesses that give back to the community.  I don’t like giving my money to faceless businesses that are focused on a profit line, not a people line.  I don’t want my wardrobe to be built on sweatshops and slave labour.  I’m willing to pay more to prevent that for the things I have to buy, but if I can make my own, I will.  And I don’t like waste: and with every T-shirt I make, there are little bits left over.

Making my own knickers uses up the scraps, give me underwear that fit and feel right, and the bits I do need to buy come from local businesses I really want to support.  While there are local companies that make awesome underwear, there are none that make underwear that are the kind of awesome I like to wear.

Knickers  are also really easy, and there is nothing like being able to whip up a couple of pairs of knickers in half an hour to make you feel like an accomplished seamstress no matter how badly anything else is going!  And that kind of satisfaction is priceless.

Making your own knickers thedreamstress.com

I actually started making my own knickers over a year ago, and have been so pleased with the result that I’m now teaching a (gratifyingly popular and successful) make your own knickers class.  I’m so pleased that so many other people want to emancipate themselves from poorly made, poorly fitted, and (at least in NZ) really expensive undergarments.

So, the only question remaining is: underwear, panties or knickers?

I grew up saying underwear, but the popular girls always said ‘panties’ and I wanted to be from a pantie saying family, not an underwear family (that is, I was fine with my family, I just wanted them to call them panties).  For one thing, underwear is so imprecise, and you know how much I love really precise textile terms.

Then I moved to NZ, and discovered the utter disdain with which  the English-English speaking world regards the word ‘panties.’  Such a small, seemingly innocuous term to attract such contempt and mockery in NZ, Australia and the UK.  Get people started on it and they will go on and on about what a horrible word panties is.  It’s completely disproportionate to the difference it makes in the world.  Panties is the Nickleback of clothing words.

The correct term, according to the pantie haters, is knickers.  I use knickers because everyone around me in New Zealand does, but when I really  think about it, knickers is  an even worse word than panties.  At least panties makes it clear what it is: panties are diminutive pants!  Knickers is just a shortening of knickerbockers, which isn’t at all what underwear look like.

So, at the end of the day, my mother was right (as she often is).  They are underwear.

I also like briefs (succinct and accurately descriptive) and smallclothes (historical and accurately descriptive), though briefs are used to describe a certain style, and smallclothes shares the problem with underwear in that it could refer to any of the garments you are wearing under your outers.

Perhaps I should act like the heroine of a Georgette Heyer novel and call them unmentionables?

Perhaps not.


  1. Weren’t Heyeresque “unmentionables” actually the men’s buckskin breeches? (I LOVE the term “Inexpressibles”) I am sure underwear doesn’t get mentioned beyond the occasional negligee!

    I always rather liked the term “underfrillies”

    • I think my absolute favourite trouser euphemism has to be “Southern Necessities” though.

    • Lisa W says

      Hahaha, love ‘underfrillies’.

      And re ‘southern’, an older gentleman once told me that “it was snowing down south”. It took a while for 14-year old me to realise he meant my petticoat was showing – as it was supposed to in a Desparately Seeking Susan sort of a way 🙂

    • Quite possibly, though I seem to recall her using one or the other for ladies drawers – which they may or may not have worn! I swore of Heyer after Cousin Julia (that is a seriously strange and terrible story!).

      As an adult female, I don’t think I could call anything but Felicity’s tummy fur underfrillies with a straight face, though it is a fabulous term!

    • Elise says

      We call briefs “chonis” in my Mexican-Spanish-speaking family. I’m posting this term, here, because there is also a southern restaurant called “Shoneys” and pronounced the same way. (Mexican words aren’t really written, so shoneys could be an entirely appropriate orthography of the word)

      So as a kid, I always giggled, because suddenly all of these restaurants were calling themselves underwear!

  2. Stephani says

    Ugh, I’ve always hated how “panties” sounds–although it is very precise. I grew up in an “underwear”-saying family too. Although, when my dad let his West Virginia origins show it was “britches”. I still say underwear to refer to the lower-body covers. I don’t mind the variation “unders”.

  3. I’ve been wanting to venture into making my own…. I’m going to say “undergarments” to cover all the kinds of items I want to make, including 30s-40s style bras. I haven’t gotten to it yet (I’m still psyching myself up for it), but my confidence is growing!

    • Knickers is a great place to start! I want to make bras too (including the ’30s styles), but they are more time consuming and I am always so busy, so haven’t gotten around to it.

  4. Hello! I laughed out loud at the idea of ‘panties being the Nickleback of clothing words’ so thanks for that.

    Here in the English-English-English speaking world (OK, England) I would say these are called ‘pants’. Because we use the word ‘trousers’ when you say ‘pants’, thereby avoiding all confusion and/or any need for the abomination that is the word ‘panties’. Men’s pants are also called pants (and their trousers are also called trousers), but I would typically only say ‘underpants’ if I was referring to men’s pants, whereas women’s pants are very often also called knickers.

    • You’re welcome 😉

      I forgot about the pants instead of trousers thing. I use the term trousers instead of pants for exactly that reason, but still can’t think of pants as underwear in my head. Interesting that you think of underpants as strictly mens!

      • I moved to England( an English-English speaking country if ever there was one) from California when my daughter was about 8. I can tell you that children that age find adults who say things like, ‘I bought a new pair of pants’ absolutely roll-on-the-floor hilarious. I provided lots of amusement! It took me a while to convert from calling my connected leg-sleeves ‘trousers’ instead of ‘pants’–and I still mostly think of the undergarments as ‘underwear’. Not completely, though, ’cause I had to think about it.

  5. I always liked the word “knickers” it was always funny and British sounding. It also doesn’t have the delicate sound that panties does.

    • I think a lot of Americans like it because it is British, but when I really thought about it, I couldn’t make it work!

  6. Makenzie says

    I came from an underwear household that used other words situationally. It was “do you have clean underwear” but “don’t get your panties in a wad”. Grannie-panties and voluminous drawers also made appearances.
    I like underwear partially because it is less specific. Its applicable to most people, regardless of their gender or the type of undergarment the prefer. Also because I have to suppress a giggle every time I say panties, even as a non-English-English speaking person.

  7. Lyndle says

    Brilliant post!
    Undies, every time (NZ). But my grandma said panties. In my language world, underwear is generic (long underwear, woolly underwear) but undies are, well, undies. Underpants definitely are a male item, usually with a y front. Grundigs are what your brother calls your undies.

    I refer you to the famous-in-NZ ad that confirms men can only wear speedo type bathing suits when you can see the beach, otherwise they’re in undies. Togs, togs, togs, undies.

    Anyway I like your knickers, especially the fabric, and I might take your class. My only attempt was a fail because I forgot to use four-way stretch fabric for my trial pair, so they, er, didn’t cover as much as
    I wanted, and I fought with fold over elastic. There has to be a better way.

      • Kirrily says

        I thought it was ‘don’t get your knickers in a twist’? Great expression either way.

        Having lived in the US, UK and Australia, I’ve used most of the words mentioned except for ‘panties’ which I can’t stand. Don’t know why it triggers such a reaction.

        I’d love to use knickers but it is as foreign as underfrillies to me, but just as fun.

        I’Ve always preferred pants for the little things and trousers for the bigger clothes, but now with Australian children, I have adapted to ‘undies’ – nice and simple. However I will never refer to long joined leg coverings as ‘pants’ – that would just be silly! 🙂

    • Yeah, undies in my (NZ) family too. And that’s a great ad – deserves to be world-famous!
      I have to say though, I think “panties” is actually worse than Nickleback.

  8. Great post! I’ve never like saying “panties”. Never. It just sounds to personal to say, which underclothing is very personally. In Spanish there are a few words to call undies also. When I was smaller, my Mami used to call undies “chonis” (cho-nees). Haha, my brothers and I got too big for that! I think whatever we are comfortable with should be used for undergarments.
    PS:I really like the fabric you used!

    • Elise says

      My family still uses chonis–and my grown friends do, as well. Glad that there is another Mexican-American here! Do you only use the term for boys’ underwear? I hear it for boy-short-type stuff, too.

      Terminology is oh-so-fun!

      • Hi Elise, I thought I would be the only one on here that uses the word chonies! My mom and I still like to use that word, but my brothers not really. It’s just a fun word for undies isn’t it? And yes, we do use the word “chonies” for both girls and boys. And I’m glad that another Mexican American is on here also 🙂 Have a blessed day.

  9. “Panties is the Nickelback of clothing terms.” Bahahahaha. This is so true. I know it’s not a big deal but I still hate the word panties. And I don’t know why.

    I usually use undies or knickers for the bits on my bottom, but they live in my underwear drawer. If I’m in “nothing but my underwear” I’m probably in knickers and a bra. And I do occasionally use underpants, and even more occasionally gruds or grundies, although usually for boys.

    My flatmate uses trousers for the outside bit and pants for the inside bit, which means when I bust him wandering around the house just in his knickers/undies/gruds and tell him to go put pants on he argues that he’s already wearing them.

    Meg the Grand, in her blog, coined undergoodies, which I quite like!

  10. There’s something about the word “panties” that somehow sounds slightly obscene, it makes me cringe so I call them undies as well (NZer with English mum).

    • I thought I was the only one! Most people I know say knickers or underwear. (I say knickers and underwear when referring to both bra and knickers together.) Only one person I know ever said panties and it really did sound a bit obscene. Of course it isn’t something that really comes up all that often in ordinary conversation!
      I’m Australian btw.

  11. Lynne says

    Trust you to write an amusing, informative, and decent post about undies! (I’m with Lyndal on that – undies were what I grew up with.)

    When I was about sixteen, witches’ britches became available, but ‘britches’ did not seem to translate to the whole range. By the time I was a university student, I was wearing bikini briefs. Darned fool things that never stayed where they were supposed to be, and usually ended up where they weren’t! I rebelled, and went for panties that went up to the waist when I was in my thirties. Then I had a ‘what the heck’ moment, and went commando. I wore jeans or trousers mostly, and they got washed all the time. Tights (with nice cotton crotch panels) covered the needful in winter. Now I have moved to what the seller called ‘pettipants’, really a version of tap pants. And I remember my mother calling the short-legged forties version of these ‘scanties’.

    There. 🙂

    • Lynne says

      The dominance of Jockey underwear for men lead to ‘jocks’ being a widespread term for men’s undies in New Zealand and Australia, anyway. Hence the great line, “jocks, socks, and chocs” in Tim Minchin’s wonderful song, “I really like Christmas”.

    • Lynne says

      And I found myself singing “Shuffle of to Buffalo” (1933), which could be where my mother got the term…

      “I’ll go home and get my panties
      You go home and get your scanties
      And away we’ll go
      Off we’re gonna shuffle
      Shuffle off to Buffalo”

      • Lynne says

        Sorry to be going on, but I just found this note to the song…

        “When recorded by singers in England, “panties”
        and “scanties” were replaced with the words
        “clothses” and “these and thoses”

        • Lyn Swan says

          Love the term scanties, but at this point in life it would seem to infer a small size that would not be exactly accurate for me…. I have, on occasion, had to explain to my students exactly what I mean by the term “don’t get your knickers in a knot”. 12 year olds in the US aren’t familiar with that particular idiom. It has made for some interesting conversations!

          • Lyn Swan says

            PS. I always learn something new when I visit the Dreamstress…I had no idea how reviled Nickleback was…I am in my 60’s and the last time I even noticed them was when my, now grown, daughter wanted a CD of theirs.

  12. ‘Undies’ here (because Australians are too lazy to say underwear) or if they’re gross boy ones, then it’s ‘grundies’ for grungy undies. As for phrases, these are the versions I’ve always heard: ‘Don’t get your knickers in a knot’ (or twist), ‘Keep your filthy paws off my silky drawers’ and ‘Keep your panties on’. I had a go at making my own once but wasn’t impressed with the quality of fabric I could get my hands on at the time. Just not enough stretch to them. Perhaps I should try again.

    • Elise says

      It’s such a sexist term: “Don’t get your panties in a twist”, “Keep your panties on.” (We have them in the US, too) because they are often applied to men, and imply that being angry is a female thing.

  13. Lisa W says

    Yes to underwear and undies as I was growing up, but it was always getting ‘your knickers in a twist’. My girlfriends used knickers but I didn’t until I was a teenager… and never, ever panties! Ick!!!

    Funny topic 🙂

  14. What my mother would delicately refer to as “smalls”, although this can include other undergarments as well.

  15. We always called them undies in our house, or occasionally smalls. I remember my mum used to make them, but not with cute hibiscus prints. Probably you couldn’t get hibiscus print knit at the time.

    I don’t make mine. I don’t have the time or the overlocker or, if I’m honest, the inclination. I can easily get serviceable undies that fit, whereas the same can’t be said for work trousers, so I prioritise the trousers.

  16. Deanna says

    Oh dear. This is all too funny! It’s interesting to see how many different terms we all use or despise. I grew up saying panties, underwear, and chonis! I’m like the term knickers, but don’t actually say it myself.

    Your knickers are very cute (like that hibiscus print). I’ve wanted to try making my own for a while, but haven’t worked up the chutzpah. 🙂

    • Elise says

      Team chonis! (I’m really excited: mine was probably the only Spanish-speaking home in the state, so I was the only one I knew as a kid who used ‘chonis’. So it’s really cool to finally feel like I was not the only one!)

  17. “Panties” sounds like little girls underwear. I don’t mind it for them, but I think it’s just weird to call adult underwear “panties.” 🙂 But I love your discussion about it!

    So, are you going to share the pattern you use and are happy with? Maybe you can convert some of the rest of us into making our own undies, too? These posts about ladies making their own underwear keep coming up on the blogs I follow and I wonder if I’m missing out on something.


  18. holly says

    thank goodness no-one’s brought up the dreaded “thong”

  19. Ooh I’d be interested in a post about your pattern and how you made these! I just recently tried a Oohlulu pattern but yours look like a better fit and like it gives more coverage! They look great!

  20. Underpants, anyone? What about apple catchers?

    Ah heck, who am I kidding, we called them underwear, too. 🙂

  21. We called them knickers or undies. When my daughter was small we called them knick-knacks or knickies.

  22. I love these. Please make up a tutorial! I suppose I could dissect a pair for the pattern but I would like some Dreamstress quality underwear.

  23. I think “panties” is a word like “moist”–when people hate it, they really hate it!

    I go with underpants or underthings for my own unmentionables. Underwear is generic, if I mean something lacyfrillygirly I might say panties.

  24. Elise says

    Thank you for this post: ethical shopping is hugely important to our world, and I appreciate you taking a public stance on this! Buying baby clothes, especially breaks my heart: imagine being a woman who loves her children as much as I love my own baby, but she cannot feed them or provide medicine. Maybe one of her children has died of disease. Meanwhile, she has to make designer clothes for babies who have everything. I cannot do it.

    While I know that even slave-wages are providing an independence and power to women otherwise unattainable to them, I hate that we don’t go the extra step and provide safer conditions and living wages. There is a much better way.

    I buy most of my clothing and my daughter’s clothing at Boden because while multi-national, (they just opened to Australia), they voluntarily join groups to protect the workers and the environment.

    Just as important as the way the clothing is made, is how the girls in the catalogues are protrayed. These girls are ACTIVE, not sexualised, and are asked things about their dreams and favorite school subjects. I want my daughter to see images like this while shopping for clothing.

    But…it does indeed cost more. Oh well. treating people well is more important than consuming. Especially in a country (USA) where people of color are being killed by cops and neighbors with near impunity, we all ought to be diligent in how we treat others in a myriad of ways.

    Thank you! Thank you for this post.

  25. Kathryn says

    Western Canadian here. “Panties” is used widely enough in these parts, but I agree with your NZ friends, it’s a terrible word. Too much association with cheesy, ‘naughty’ sex jokes and with some downright unclassy things that I won’t get into here. You do hear “knickers” every now and then but usually from people who immigrated from the UK (acceptable) or from people trying to cultivate a cutesy, hipstery affectation (less acceptable and really, really annoying). Myself, I go with “underpants” to describe both men’s and women’s briefs-style underwear. They are small pants that one wears under other things. Descriptive enough for me! 😉 Also, descriptive enough for my countrymen and women, it would seem, as it’s a common term out here.

  26. Fashionista says

    Highly amusing topic and conversation! Knickers for the girls and jocks for the boys in our Australian house. When my daughter was small (and still now sometimes) her knickers were her knick-knacks and singlets were shimmy-shirts (NO idea where that one came from but I suspect children’s love of alliteration). My Irish grandmother referred to knickers as smalls and they were to be hung on the inside lines of the clothes line (away from neighbours prying eyes) with the crotch to the sun for disinfectant purposes. She referred to bras as corsetry. My knickers and bras are kept in my lingerie drawer 😉

  27. I use undies, which I think is pretty common in Australia. Sometimes I use knickers – I tend to think of undies as more utilitarian, knickers to be more frilly.

    If I was refering to both my bra and undies I’d call them underclothes, and they all live in my lingerie drawer.

    My English mum just says underpants for all kinds of bottom-hugging underclothes, but I reserve the use of underpants for guys’ undies.

    I can’t like the term panties, to me it sounds like something really tacky you’d buy in a sex-shop.

    Interesting reading all the comments!

  28. To add to the naming confusion, in French the word is “slip” (right?!).
    I love this project, wish I could make my own as well. Would you mind sharing what type of fabric you are using?

  29. Sharon says

    Once upon a time, a medical technician told me to take off my “underwear” for the imminent X-ray. Understanding her to mean panties, I did not remove my bra. After the X-ray was taken, said technician nearly had a heart attack when she saw the metal of my bra hooks showing up on the film. Ever since, I make sure that I know exactly which undergarments medical professionals are specifying when they instruct me to remove my “underwear.” How odd that some of the terms for such a specific kind of garment are so fuzzy semantically.

  30. M in Carolina says

    I am getting a serger, and I’m finally going to be able to make my own tee shirts and underpinnings. I’m so sick of the poor quality and materials of slips and undies. I love the hipsters in your post. I also would love a tutorial. I can’t wait to make soft, comfortable undies and beautiful real silk camis and slips.

  31. Jenni says

    I would love to see a tutorial and/or a pattern for knickers! Sewing stuff like that would be great!

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