By: Chad Melius
A Brief History of Men’s Underwear, The Development Of A Necessity
Men’s underwear is not something that you usually hear guys talking about openly. In fact, most of the time what a man chooses to wear under his pants is often the farthest thing from people’s minds. This is strange, since the development of one of the most basic necessities of a man’s life has had a long and interesting history.
Studies have shown that 85% of adult men wear underwear and, of that amount, the majority sleep in them, and walk around the house in them regularly. They’re so dedicated to their chosen style and brand, they would not change for anything. Yet the majority of men cannot tell you one important fact about how their underwear came to be what is it today.
In the beginning, there were linen drawers, which were worn during the second half of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Victorian Era. These knee-length garments were loose-fitting and had tie-up sides and a lace-up front fly, to facilitate stand-up urination. In a way they were similar to boxer shorts, which would be developed almost 200 years later.
The development of commercial knitting machines in the 1860s heralded the advent of the union suit. This one-piece garment, with a button-up front and rear flap, was quickly adopted as a mainstay of men, but it also became popular among some women of the day. Often associated with old west cowboys and firemen, the truth is that this once was the number one style of undergarment in the western world.
Boxer shorts are so named, due to their resemblance to the trunks that pugilists wear in the ring. The name has been shortened in recent decades to “boxers”. Some people insist that there is actually a difference between boxers and true boxer shorts. The former has a more slender cut with fashion styling and shorter legs, while the latter is more conservative with a fuller cut, an ampler fly opening having snaps, subdued colors and prints, and a squarer fit to the seat.
Briefs, commonly called tighty-whities, drawers, or underpants, are tight cotton undergarments, usually white in color with a reach-through flap-over fly. They are also the most controversial underwear ever sold. The debate is over whether they’re the most childish underwear on the market, or the most masculine.
Their invention is even controversial. The company most commonly given credit for their creation in 1935 may not have been the actual inventor. Their main competitor has documentation that claims they invented briefs two years before then, but never brought the product to market. Either way, this is the number one selling style of men’s underwear in North America, and has been for more than 65 years.
The 1990s saw a truce in the battle over boxers or briefs with the introduction of the boxer briefs style. This offers all the advantages of briefs – such as being supportive, having a reach in fly, and being made of stretchy material – with the advantages of boxers – such as the longer legs, roomier seat, higher rise, and less restricting crotch.
It’s been a long road for the humble pair of men’s underwear laying on your bathroom floor. ( BTW, why is it called a “pair”, when there’s only one of them? ) Their evolution has been quiet, yet tumultuous at times. Believe it or not, there was a time when it was illegal in some communities for a store to even sell white briefs to customers. Who knows what styles will be developed in the next hundred years?