Panty Lines: What Causes Them and 7 Easy Ways to Avoid Them

  • Every Day
  • Published April 14, 2011
  • Updated May 2, 2020
Cotton Underwear 1
Woman showing her panties

What are panty lines?

Call ’em VPL (visible panty lines), panty lines, panties line, or panties lines — whatever the name, they’re the indentations caused by underwear that show through your clothes. Basically, onlookers can see some or all of the outline of your undergarments. And depending on the fit and construction of your undies and the pants over them, that panty outline might be so obvious that it distracts from the way your bottoms hang over your bum.

According to Wikipedia — which may or may not be a reliable source for fashion history — the phrase “panty lines” became a thing after a reference in the 1977 Woody Allen film Annie Hall.

What causes panty lines?

Panty lines are caused by poor-fitting or poorly constructed undies combined with lightweight or tight clothes. Heavy seams on panties are the most common culprit. Those seams either sit on top of a woman’s rump, creating a ridge line, or they dig into the backside, leaving an indentation. Either way, anyone standing behind you will have full knowledge of the shape of your underwear.

To get a feel for the role your clothes play in VPLs, think about a rubber band placed over an inflated balloon. The tight band indents the balloon’s smooth surface. Now, lay a flimsy cotton t-shirt over the top. You’ll likely still see the shape of the rubber band underneath. Pull that cotton t-shirt tight around the balloon and the indentation is even more pronounced. But if you put two layers of heavier weight fabric over the top, the indentation will be less visible.

Are panty lines good or bad?

Panty lines are neither good or bad, though some folks have very strong opinions about them. Generally, we head out the door thinking our undergarments are actually under our clothes, and therefore not visible to the naked eye. For that reason, you may not love the idea of telling the world you wear granny panties or that you have a wedgie.

As well, you might feel like panty lines are unflattering, because it seems like the indentations accentuate a loose booty. But that’s not really the case, as even the firmest of butts can show panty lines if your clothes don’t fit right.

How do you prevent panty lines?

1. Wear panties that fit

Too-tight panties that are taut over your backside will show a bulge where the panty ends and your backside begins. It’s like muffin-top, but on your buns. You can sidestep the issue entirely by finding panties that sit on your skin, but don’t dig in. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Panty makers don’t do a great job of producing underwear that actually fits women’s bodies. And unfortunately, that fit problem is exacerbated by our own expectations — we might avoid trying on a larger size, for example, because we think we should wear the smaller size.

Well, here’s some tough love: That’s complete rubbish. The number or letter of a size is irrelevant and says nothing about your character or your beauty or your lifestyle. Don’t let a number prevent you from wearing something that fits and feels good.

So, try on those panties. Test-drive different brands, styles, bigger sizes, and smaller sizes. Keep on until you find a style, size, and brand that fits you. I was in my 40s before I realized that Calvin Klein undies fit me and now I won’t buy anything else.

2. Limit cotton underwear

OK, so cotton panties are better for you. They are breathable and absorbent, and those qualities help prevent yeast infections. But cotton panties also have thick seams. And thick seams, well, they can make themselves known under your clothes.

If you want to wear cotton panties, go ahead and do it. But wear them underneath lined trousers, jeans, denim shorts, or loose-fitting dresses. On the days when you wear leggings with a waist-length top, leave the cotton undies in your drawer.

3. Wear NVP or seamless underwear

Back in the day, panty brands were all over the NVP — no visible panty line — messaging. Bali, Jockey, Wacaol, and even Target brands were proudly displaying “no visible panty lines” on their undie labels. These days, those manufacturers are all producing “seamless panties,” which is the same thing. NVP, no lines underwear, and seamless panties are all the same thing. Look for styles that have laser-cut edges with no stitching.

5. Go commando

There’s no shame in wearing no underwear. Especially when the occasion demands the slinky LBD that hugs every curve. If a certain dress or pant looks better without panties, then go for it — as long as the dress has enough length to keep you from putting your lady parts on public surfaces, that is.

6. Wear thongs

Seamless thongs won’t show through your clothes unless your bottoms are really tight. In fact, if you wear seamless thongs and you still have panty lines, you might consider wearing a larger sized pant or dress.

7. Try power panties

If you’re in love with the idea of a smooth surface under your clothes, try power panties by Spanx or some other compression-style panty that’s cut like a short. These will give you a smooth backside. The risk is that whatever you hold in will bulge out above your panties, like a muffin-top, or below, leaving a weird ridge on your thigh. These compression undies, called shapewear, are also not very comfortable.

How do you hide panty lines?

Preventing panty lines and hiding them are two different things. If you like your cotton undies, but you don’t want the seams to show, then wear lined or denim clothes that aren’t skin-tight.

How do you show panty lines?

In some circles, panty lines are desirable. And to that, we say: Be you. If you want to show off the shape of your underwear to the world, find yourself some cotton panties in one size too small. Then, slip into a lightweight and clingy bodycon dress. Now grab a small mirror to look at your own reflection from behind. You will see panty lines, guaranteed.

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Catherine Brock

As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine, DrLaura.com, Refinery29, Wellness.com and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

Blog Comments

i like the Barely There line……

Another way is to buy underwear that fit.  Panties that are too tight will always show the line—buy the bigger (true, *gulp*) size, and you’ll have much less of a problem with this. 

Of course, that would be if your pants fit, too.  😉

I’ve also found that line-drying pants helps reduce shrinkage a lot.  Jeans take 3 days, but they fit like you want them to, with no bendy-stretchy-acrobatics.  Even ones that have shrunk a bit can rebound if washed in cold and line-dried.

There is another manufaturer that makes a good no VPL panty: Commando. It doesn’t tuck you in like the Spanx and would be more comfortable. Kind of pricey but it does the trick. Unfortunately it does not have a cotton gusset which I wish they would put in instead of the same panty material. Easy solution is a disposable ultrathin panty liner.

I have tried a TON of seamless panties, and I found the boy-short styles work the best for me. I’ve also found that a homemade version of spanks, aka cutting the legs off of control top hose or tights, works great, too. You must cut no higher than just above the knee for it to work, as mid-thigh will roll/ride up pretty badly. I’ve done this with tights, and they washed in the machine without fraying just fine, too.

I use to say I would never wear thongs but tried them (only in the summer) and love them with my thin cotton pants….I also just tried the SPANX footless bodyshaping pantyhose and love them (by the way got them for $11.99 of their original price of $20 at http://www.filenesbasement.com) The Spanx were comfortable, showed no lines..

Hanes
Makes a nice invisible panty. Very Light. Not really that sexy, but effective. They have a few different styles. I am partial to the boy shorts.

Oh dear… spanx products in to review and to try out some time ago, I love the concept and they did the trick, although I must admit I am not very much into thongs as well, but I like t-backs which give more coverage, in all honesty unless your pants, or skirts are tighter than ever…the line will not really show, my I am a big fan of Jockey, still am, and perhaps a fashion editor should not admit this but I love my boy shorts on an every day work day,or plain and simple Jockey`s…..

b, i like hanes, too. i like the hipster briefs. they are cheap, they don’t show VPL and they don’t ride up or show when you bend down in lower rise pants.

Okay, I have to admit, my solution to getting rid of panty lines is sometimes to just.. not wear underwear.

I’ve had success with Jockey seam-free bikinis. Even in dress pants, they don’t show through. They’re comfy, too.

Does anyone know of a brand that makes cotton underwear that does not give you a VPL?

I like Target’s version of Spanx called “Assets.” The leg edge is a fold, rather than rubber-backed stretch lace which ALWAYS shows through pant legs as an ugly ridge at mid-thigh, even if the packaging says it won’t!  The Assets don’t show through anything!  I find them quite comfortable.

Sorry, anny, I don’t think there is any cotton underwear out there that doesn’t give a VPL.  At least, I haven’t found any yet!

cotten undies with no vpl- i like the hipster cut from aerie by american eagle. they are well priced, comfy, and NO VPL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Soma sells a line of cotton/modal Vanishing Line panties. I’ve tried the Vanishing Line brand and it’s comfortable. Maybe not very sexy but there aren’t any VPL.

Thought I would Commando Boy Shorts but had a problem with the leg rolling a big and the pantie itself riding down…pretty scary if one was wearing a skirt. My search continues.

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