The properties of unfolded proteins have long been of interest because of their importance to the protein folding process. Recently, the surprising prevalence of unstructured regions or entirely disordered proteins under physiological conditions has led to the realization that such intrinsically disordered proteins can be functional even in the absence of a folded structure. However, owing to their broad conformational distributions, many of the properties of unstructured proteins are difficult to describe with the established concepts of structural biology. We have thus seen a reemergence of polymer physics as a versatile framework for understanding their structure and dynamics. An important driving force for these developments has been single-molecule spectroscopy, as it allows structural heterogeneity, intramolecular distance distributions, and dynamics to be quantified over a wide range of timescales and solution conditions. Polymer concepts provide an important basis for relating the physical properties of unstructured proteins to folding and function.