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The history of men’s underwear April 19, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion.

Egyptians > The remnants of leather loincloths have been found with the remains of pre-historic man living 7,000 years ago. The loincloth is the simplest and probably the first undergarment worn by human beings, alone in warmer climates and covered by other garments in colder. The Egyptians of the 2nd millenium B.C. used fabric to form an undergarment over which they wore a skirt. In tombs of the pharaohs supplies for further use after death were buried with them.

Ancient Greeks > The Ancient Greeks dressed very simply with a ‘chiton’, an oblong of woolen cloth large enough to wrap around the body from the neck down to just above the knees. The side left open was fastened by a ‘fibulae’ ­ a pin or brooch. A girdle was worn round it and the ‘chiton’ could by pulled through it and worn high by those who were physically active and left long by the older gentlemen. Over this was worn the ‘himation’, an outer cloak. Slaves wore loincloths. However, the ancient Greeks did not wear underwear. The closest article of clothing worn by men in ancient Rome was called a subligaculum, which in modern terms means a pair of shorts or a loincloth and was worn under a toga or tunic.

Middle Ages > Around the 13th century, pull-on underpants were invented and underwear became an important garment. The loincloth was replaced by large, baggy drawers called ‘braies’, which were often made from linen and seem to be worn by men from all classes of society under their normal clothing. Knights wore ‘braies’ under several layers of clothing topped by their armor. The wearer stepped into them and then laced or tied them around the waist and legs at about mid-calf. We know what they look like from illuminations of hot field-workers dispensing with all their clothes other than their braies for modesty and coolness. Wealthier men often wore chausses as well, which only covered the legs. In Europe underwear played an important role in shaping outerwear. Items for men developed during this time and included corsets, cod pieces, stockings, undershirts and drawers.

Renaissance > By the Renaissance, the ‘chausses’ became form fitting like modern hose, and the braies became shorter to accommodate longer styles of chausses. However, chausses and many braies designs were not intended to be covered up by other clothing, so they are not actually underwear in the strictest sense. Braies were usually fitted with a flap in the front that buttoned or tied closed. This codpiece allowed men to urinate without having to remove the braies completely. At first, the codpiece was entirely a practical matter of modesty. Men’s hose were typically very snug on the legs and open at the crotch, with the genitalia simply hanging loose under the doublet. A shortening of the doublet resulted in often-exposed genitalia, so the codpiece came into being. As time passed, codpieces were shaped to emphasize the male genitalia and eventually often became padded and bizarrely shaped. Henry VIII of England began padding his own codpiece, which caused a spiraling trend of larger and larger codpieces that only ended by the end of the 16th Century. They also often doubled as pockets, handy carrying places for a variety of items. The modern men’s shirt appeared during this era, but it was originally an undergarment. Renaissance noblemen also adopted the doublet, a vest-like garment tied together in the front and worn under other clothing.

Victorian Times > In Victorian times men’s undergarments were in two pieces and all undergarments were made by hand. Materials used were cotton through linen and even silk. In America, before the Civil War, from the waist down “drawers” were worn which were usually made of wool flannel, but could be of any fabric. The most common were knee length with a simple button overlap in front and a drawstring at the waist in the back. The preferred upper garment was a wool flannel shirt worn next to the skin.
The Industrial Revolution with the invention of water-powered spinning machines and the ¹cotton gin¹ made cotton fabrics widely available and saw the beginning of mass-produced underwear. For the first time, people began buying undergarments in stores rather than making them at home. The standard undergarment of this period for men, women, and children was the Œunion suit¹, which provided coverage from the wrists to the ankles. The union suits of the era were usually made of knitted material and included a drop flap in the back to ease visits to the toilet. Because the top and bottom were united as a one-piece garment it received the name Œunion suit¹. Hanes opened several mills producing ‘union suits’. Originally made with ankle length legs and long sleeves, later versions were available in knee length versions with or without sleeves. The name ‘Long Johns’, long skin-tight underpants, was actually first used for the long underwear issued to American soldiers during World War Two. The name is derived from the old boxing gear worn by John L. Sullivan, who was a boxer in the late 1880s, the height of his career being 1882-92.

1930s > In the 1930s, union suits went out of favor and boxers and briefs became the ‘vogue’. The 1930s saw another major innovation, that is easy elastic waists replaced button, snap, and tie closures. At around this time companies began selling buttonless drawers fitted with an elastic waistband, which were the first true boxer shorts. The name is derived from the shorts worn by professional fighters. The word “underpants” also entered the dictionary. ‘Jockey’ began making briefs in 1930 but it was not until 1934 with the advent of ‘Jockey’ Y-vent briefs that the design of men¹s underwear made a leap forward. It was the first time an easy-to-use diagonal vent was applied to boxers and briefs. Today one can buy jockey shorts which are knit fabric, with access pouch or flap, usually at or near true waist, leg bands at tops of thighs. Traditional high and lox cut jockey shorts have vertical flaps or diagonal flaps. In 1936 ŒMunsingwear¹ developed the ‘kangeroo pouch’ underwear which used a horizontal vent.

During the Second World War there was a difficulty in obtaining underwear as the first priority were troops abroad. Also there was a shortage of rubber and metal, and button fasteners were again used. For the first time color was used for underwear; soldiers were issued with drab-olive briefs for safety, as white briefs were too conspicuous when being hung up to dry. The preferred undergarments of this period were knit briefs, broadcloth shorts with buttons, and the union suit. Designs incorporated French backs, that is a design with small tabs at the rear of the waistband, usually secured by buttons, for adjusting the size and fit at the waist, and tie-sides. At war’s end, Jockey and Hanes remained the industry leaders. Also at the end of the war a preshrinking process called Sanforization came to be used. Prior to this one had to buy underwear a size larger to allow for shrinkage in the wash. After the Second World War underwear continued to change significantly helping create the shape and the look for the outer clothes we wear. In 1947 came the introduction of nylon tricot, as well as men’s stretch briefs, and in 1950 the first T-shirts with nylon-reinforced neckbands to prevent sagging were introduced.

1950s > From the 1950s design in underwear became more innovative and exciting with the introduction of color and pattern. Underwear began to be a fashion statement. New fabrics were introduced such as rayon, Dacron and DuPont nylon. Nylon tricot briefs were made in a multitude of colors. By the 1960s boxer shorts were decorated with every type of ‘fun’ image and a bikini type underwear was introduced using animal prints. However, white cotton underwear was still the major seller. New fabric technology continued to offer better comfort in men’s underwear, particularly with the introduction of Lycra and Spandex. In the 1960s in Italy Peppino Gheduzzi realized the importance of elasticity in fabrics used in men’s underwear to improve comfort (close – fitting – support). He proposed the idea to Du Pont and subsequently the first product in Lycra Cotton was realized. Spandex was created in the late 1950s and developed by Du Pont, but the first commercial production of Spandex fiber in the United States began in 1959. Underwear became smaller with far more variety designed for specific age groups and purposes.

1970s and 1980s > In the 1970s and 1980s the new ‘designer’ underwear producers as Calvin Klein, Sauvage, Ron Chereskin, Tommy Hilfiger, 2(x)ist, as well as Jockey, used ‘sex’ as the main selling point for major advertising campaigns. Briefs got briefer and great design, unusual fabrics, wonderful colors and combinations, and great variety of choice made for underwear becoming a ‘fashion’ item. Today you can get underwear for sports, casual, romance, figure enhancement, warmth (thermals), humor, and with dual purposes such as the inclusion of pockets. Also, like the women’s designs, the newest and hottest styles are almost totally seamless.

Modern Trends > The modern sexualization of underwear has started one more curious trend: not wearing underwear at all. This practice is known in slang as freeballing (or freebuffing for females); going commando (a term popularized by the TV show ŒFriends)¹ is also used for both sexes. This trend only emphasizes how far underwear has come from its beginnings as a hygienic aide. When modern people bathe every day, underwear is not nearly as necessary, and with underwear as the final barrier to sex, not wearing it at all is a powerful turn-on for many people. Traditionally a kilt is worn without underpants.

Boxer Briefs: In the 1990s, retailers started selling boxer briefs, which take the longer shape of boxers but maintain the tightness of briefs. Though marketed as a new design, these are actually quite similar to the bottom half of the two-part union suits worn in the 1910s. Boxer style are at or near true waist, leg sections extending to thighs) . They can be woven boxers (traditional) or knit boxers (like traditional but with more fabric give) . Boxer briefs ere also knit and more form-fitting . Pouch boxer briefs have a pouch for genitals rather than access flap and athletic and bike-style boxers are generally skin-tight, usually with no access pouch or flap, like short tights.

Bikinis: The ‘bikini’ was invented in 1946 by two Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, who named it after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of atomic bomb testing, because the 2-piece swimsuit was miniscule in size. The name became popular for both men and women¹s briefs. Bikini briefs can be low or high-side bikini briefs but are usually lower than true waist, often at hips, and usually have no access pouch or flap, legs bands at tops of thighs. String bikini briefs, another style have front and rear sections meet in the crotch but not at the waistband, with no fabric on the side of the legs.

Thongs & G Strings: Men in ancient cultures wore thong-like items for ease and comfort. The thong was very popular in South America, particularly in Brazil, since the 1980s and was used on the beaches as swimwear by both men and women. Even prior to this ‘exotic dancers’ were thongs. But at that time you could not wear thong swimsuits on the U.S. beaches and the fashion was slow to catch on. Nowadays the thong has become popular as underwear not only for its erotic appeal, but its use has the ability to give a smooth and rounded finish to the bottom, particularly for wear under tight trousers. Current styles:
• G-string have a front pouch for the genitals but no rear coverage
• Thongs have a strap securing the pouch at the bottom rear, passing up the crack between the buttocks to the waistband.
• Athletic supporters use two straps securing the pouch at the bottom rear, passing around the bases of the buttocks up to the waistband at the sides.
• Strapless pouches have a front pouch and waistband only with no securing straps.

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