Picture this. You loved someone so much, you gave the person your underwear as a token of your affection – and they loved you so much, they wore it.
As kinky as this sounds, it was a real phenomenon in ancient China, where women would give their dudou, a type of underwear that covered the chest and was worn by women and men alike, to their lovers.
If you’ve never seen a dudou before, it’s an octagonal piece of cloth with strings you could tie around your neck and back to keep it in place. The dudou reminds me of a halter top, except instead of being a sexy, seasonal summer thing, it was traditionally tucked beneath one’s clothing all year long, safely out of sight.
There are no reliable historical records regarding the origin of the du dou. Yet a similar type of clothing called ri fu was mentioned in Zuo Zhuan, the earliest annals in China.
It was about a woman, Xia Ji, who had an affair with a king and the king’s two secretaries. The woman sent her ri fu as a gift to the king to show her love. The king was thrilled and wore her underwear all the time. One day, he showed the underwear off to his two secretaries. He didn’t expect that the latter two also took off their clothes and revealed ri fu that Xia Ji had sent to them.
The affair was recorded in the annals to criticize the shamelessness of the king. Yet it also implies underwear was a secret gift between lovers.
Many folk tales in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1271-1911) have similar plots about lovers exchanging their du dou.
In Yu Shi Ming Yan, edited by litterateur Feng Menglong from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), there is a story about a du dou called “pearl underwear”. A woman also sent the underwear to her lover as a token, for they could not meet every day.
It’s fascinating that this was a thing in ancient China. After all, when modern lovers exchange underwear, it’s usually because someone just bought you, say, some sexy lingerie from Victoria’s Secret – and not because he or she just handed over their bra or panties or boxers for you to wear. Even if you could overcome that natural aversion to putting on someone else’s underwear (particularly for men, who would probably not want to be caught in something frilly, lacy or pink), could you even fit into it? I’m willing to bet that, for many of us, the answer is no.
That was the beauty of the dudou, though. It was designed to fit a wide range of bodies – men’s and women’s — and the ties made it inherently adjustable. Because it covered the chest and not the crotch, there wasn’t that ick factor involved in sharing it among lovers. Besides, everyone wore it, even the guys, so nobody would question your masculinity if you suddenly revealed you had on a dudou.
Could modern lovers revive this traditional gift? I have to confess I’m skeptical about the willingness of modern men to actually wear a dudou designed for women. But I’m pretty sure most guys wouldn’t say no to seeing you wear one – and maybe, if you gave him a really special one, he might just cherish it as much as the ancients did in China.
P.S.: If you’re interested in buying a dudou this holiday season and giving it to your lover, you can find them on Amazon, where your purchases help support this blog.