Men were wearing manufactured “under drawers” made of flannel by the
1830’s. Union Suits were first patented in 1868 for women as an
alternative to constricting garments. This was part of the 19th century
US clothing reform efforts and was billed as “emancipation union under
flannel.” Union suits then became popular among men as well.
C. F. Bennett of the Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith,
invented the jockstrap in 1874. It was originally designed to support
and protect the bicycle jockeys who rode the cobbled streets of Boston.
Twenty-three years later, Bennett’s Bike Web Company began
mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap.
John L. Sullivan, boxing’s first modern world heavyweight champion (1882
-1892), wore long wool drawers in boxing competitions. Because of his
popularity in the US these became known as “long johns.”
In 1910 the Saturday Evening Post ran the first full color ad for
underwear, a painting, not a photograph.
Into the 1920’s men still wore flannel drawers and flannel tops under
their clothes. These were available as separate vests and ankle length
drawers, or as the all-in-one piece union suit. These must have been
cumbersome as they buttoned up the front and had a buttoned “back seat.”
(Also known as the “access hatch” and “fireman’s flap”).
New designs were tried out with the emphasis on comfort and ads were full of
different “patented” designs to reduce buttons and increase accessibility.
Men’s underwear would shrink from the first wash and it was difficult to
determine the correct size. Sanford L Cluett invented sanforized
material (patented 1930’s) which guaranteed that an item would not
shrink more than one percent.
Boxing brought on the next change of style. Jacob Golomb, the founder of
Everlast, replaced leather belts on the boxers’ shorts with elastic.
These then became known as “boxer shorts.”
In 1934 Arthur Kneibler of the sock company, Coopers, developed a snug,
legless underwear with an overlapping Y-vent fly. They patented this
Y-front and produced it in both long and short length knitted drawers,
and introduced what we now call briefs — all under the Jockey trademark.
Thirty thousand pairs of new Jockeys sold within the first three months
of introduction. In 1936 Munsingerwear developed “the kangaroo pouch”
underwear which used a horizontal vent.
The current trend of colored underwear can be traced to World War Two.
Troops took fire because their underwear could be seen drying by the
enemy. The Jockey Company switched to an “olive drab” color for service
underwear. A wartime ad in 1945 had the headline: “Target: White
Underwear”. The ad explained why the army changed to OD (Olive Drab):
“A spot of white against coral sand or tropic green makes a bull’s eye
for the enemy. Patches of white draw gunfire; they show troops are
there. Olive drab blends with its background .”
Men started wearing undershirts outside in the 1950’s. Also in 1950s the
first T-shirts with nylon-reinforced neckbands to prevent sagging were
The 1960’s saw the shift of underwear from function to fashion. Bikini
briefs were introduced that hung low on the hip and had elastic on the
legs. They offered no access flap and were available in high and
low-sided versions. Novelty prints and wild colors were added. Boxer
shorts were also being offered in solid colors, patterns, and prints
from abstract to holiday-themed.
Hanes introduced the “Beefy-T” heavyweight T-shirt in 1975, which had a
stronger fabric for screen-printing purposes.
In 1982 Calvin Klein introduced his line of men’s underwear which sealed
the deal on the perception of men’s underwear becoming a fashion
statement. His model was Tom Hintnaus, Olympic pole vaulter.
Boxer briefs were popularized in the 1990s, combining the boxer’s length
with the shape and fit of a brief. Also n the 1990s, hip-hop artists
made it fashionable for men to wear their pants below their waists,
showing their boxers or briefs. This style, called “sagging,” may have
originated in prison when jail inmates had their belts removed because
they could be used as a possible weapon. Others believe this style
originated as a sign of availability among homosexuals.
Written by Amandainvermont
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