The history of underwear is a reflection of how it evolved with the changing needs of men.
Did you know? The world’s first underwear was made from leather loincloth around 7000 years ago? Once people found out about the immense heat produced, the idea of using leather was dropped like a hot cake!
Every day you wake up in the morning, take a shower and pull them on. There is probably nothing closer to you than your underwear. There is something surely special about a fresh pair of underwear. Yet the most integral accoutrement to any outfit is often taken for granted.
Underwear, the most intimate of garments, didn't always enjoy the limelight. People considered talking about underwear in public to be taboo. Today, while still primitively private, through visual culture and advertisements, men's underwear is more public and visible. Men’s underwear is the shield that protects the family jewels from the outside environment, dreaded zippers, and is pretty damn important!
Underwear performs multiple roles: protection, modesty, sensuality, an indicator of social status, support, adornment, etc. It supports the genitals as well as shapes the waist, torso, and legs.
It has taken thousands of years to perfect the boxers or briefs you can’t imagine your day without! The history of underwear is a reflection of how it evolved with the changing needs of men. So, fasten your seatbelts, let’s get on the time machine and travel thousands of years to understand the fascinating history of underwear!
When you think about loincloths, Tarzan's name may pop up in your mind. Loincloths were the most rudimentary form of men’s underwear. It was made of a single cloth draped over the groin and hip region. The size and shape would often depend on local cultural diversities.
For running prehistoric errands, prehistoric men used leather to cover and protect their loin for several years. You must be wondering, why didn’t anyone complain about loincloths back then? Guess they were busy hunting and escaping wildlife.
Ancient Egyptian artefact evidence shows that pharaohs, Egyptian royalty, wore a specialized loincloth called Shenandoah. They took extra supplies of the garment into their pyramids for use in their afterlife!
The Codpieces Rage
A variation of the loincloth seems to have persisted during the middle ages. Men began to wear loose-fitted trousers called ‘braies’. These trousers extended from the waist to the mid-calf region. They were worn under breeches, the wearer had to lace them up around his waist and shins.
Braies were not very practical as they prevented any airflow to one’s loin. Also, removing laces made answering nature a bit of a hassle. A codpiece that opened in the front using buttons enabled men to urinate easily.
Boxers or Briefs?
You would get a blank look if you asked this question in the 1920s - boxers or briefs? Neither boxers nor briefs were discovered in this era. Until the 1930s, men wore tight-fitted knee-length flannel ‘drawers’ beneath their pants and wore similar flannel tops as undershirts. Yes, it looked as complex as it sounds! And the breathability? Very Questionable.
To save the world down under, Jacob Golomb, the founder of the prestigious boxing company Everlast, realized that leather belted trunks fighters wore weren’t completely ideal. He replaced leather with elastic waistbands. The world will always remain indebted to him.
The next breakthrough was the invention of boxer shorts. Boxers did not get immediate success as underwear did. They lacked the support that drawers provided, men weren't crazy about them! During World War II, boxer shorts competed with its younger sibling, the briefs.
The Age of Tighty Whities
Once upon a time, around 1934 Arthur Kneibler’s sharp observation led to the transformation of underwear drawers for good! Arth Kneibler, an executive and designer at Cooper, Inc., got a postcard from a friend. The postcard depicted a man in a bikini-style swimsuit. The ‘Apparel Genius’ Kneibler had an epiphany! He thought, “Can we convert this type of bathing suit into underwear?”.
Kneibler presented a new kind of snug, legless underwear with an overlapping Y-front fly. The ‘Tighty Whities’ was the first sustainable invention in the history of underwear. This new product was called the ‘Jockey shorts’ because the high support the garment provided was reminiscent of jockstraps.
Coopers arrived in Chicago’s landmark store Marshall Fields on January 19, 1934, with its first batch of Jockey briefs. Even in the grip of a blizzard, the entire load of 600 pairs of Jockeys sold out on its very first day! Within three months, 30,000 pairs of Jockey shorts were successfully sold. Coopers continued producing them and marketing their underwear aggressively. In 1971, its name was changed to Jockey. When it comes to underwear, who does not know Jockey?
The Designer Age
High-profile designers such as Calvin Klein began to enter men’s underwear drawers. Designer underwear became quite the rage in the 1970s and 1980s. Cuts become sexier and tighter, underwear designs become bold, flashy, loud, and often humorous. Oh! What we humans do for attention!
The Current Age
The early 21st Century has seen the return of classic underwear that enhances male body shape. In 2008, Andrew Christian launched the ‘anti-muffin top elastic’ designed to reduce the appearance of love handles. The advent of the ‘Compression Technology’ was also used in undershirts and vests to make the wearer look leaner, sharper, and taller.
New developments in design enhanced the male body, particularly the crotch. In 2007, an Australian brand introduced the ‘Wonderjock’ for clients who wished to look bigger. Few companies made garments with built-in padding that encircled the genitals lifting them and pushing them forward.
Between the 20th Century and today, various offshoots of the boxer/brief have been developed and are easily purchasable. The last 30 years have seen many innovations in men’s underwear. Along with daily wear, the focus on athleisure has multiplied. Nowadays, it is all about durability and comfort! What is integral is that underwear should be able to absorb and dry quickly, hold everything in place, and should be breathable.
There is simply no pleasure in wearing uncomfortable underwear. It chafes, it rides up, it cuts. Uncomfortable underwear can surely ruin your day. Hence, one must invest time before purchasing the right underwear that can make you feel sexy, confident and all set for the day!