French Knickers

AKA: French panties, tap pants (USA)

How to say it: french nik-erz

Traditional Features:


  • sits on the hip
  • non-elasticated leg opening
  • completely covers the bottom
  • often cut on the bias
  • made from smooth, silky fabrics
  • often embellished with lace or embroidery







Origins of the style: French knickers are thought to have evolved from the bloomer – a loose, long-legged pant that was the underwear of choice in the Victorian Era. As the monarch changed, so did womens fashion and by the  1920s skirts had gotten significantly shorter, forcing underwear to follow suit. Bloomers rose to above the knee and began to be embellished with lace and embroidery – the French knicker was born. They were generally made from luxury fabrics like silk and were particularly popular in pink, ivory and peach.

By the 1930s a lot of women had moved away from the wide-legged knicker style for a closer fitting, brief style undergarment, and the advent of WWII with its fabric rationing further effected the popularity of French knickers. However, the introduction of rayon in the 1950s meant that a more accessible and affordable fabric was available to produce the style and the knicker had a spike in popularity, before the short skirts and unisex trousers of the 1960s saw it drop out of fashion once more.

Since then French knickers have always been available but haven’t really been particularly popular other than brief bursts when designers, such as Janet Reger, bring them back for a season here and there. By the turn of the century, although French knickers had gotten significantly shorter than the 1920s versions and more closely resembled the what is on the market today, the style had been relegated to specialty markets as smaller forms of underwear like G-Strings and hipster briefs became popular with modern young women.

In the 21st century French knickers are very much still available but aren’t really seen as an everyday piece of underwear for the average woman. With its luxe, silky fabrics, pretty lace detailing and soft, unelasticated legs the style isn’t really a good choice for under pants and is often seen (and marketed) something that the modern woman would wear for someone else’s benefit as well as her own. This provocative side to the style may be its saving grace and be the reason it has remained available on the modern market and will probably continue to do so, despite its lack of popularity with the masses.

Origins of the name: This style of knicker is thought to have been named after the undergarments worn by can-can dancers in France in the early 1900s. It has also been suggested that they were called French knickers because the style was seen as risqué when first introduced, and at that time, everything that was risqué was thought to come from France.

French Knickers in the modern marketplace

Whilst not super popular, French knicker in their truest form can be found on the modern market at various price points. There isn’t a massive amount of choice, but if the 21st century woman wants them she will definitely be able to find them.


I got my information from: Wikipedia, Local Histories, this article on the Independent, Apparel Search, Panties 101  and the  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion


Can’t find the term you are looking for? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to my list!

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