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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
• 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
• Strapless pouches have a front pouch and waistband only
with no securing straps
To be continued...