The History of Men’s Undergarments

Men’s underwear has evolved over the years. In most people’s lifetime they have seen how underwear has gone from a quite ordinary piece of clothing to something that varies in length, color and design. So what is the history of underwear, you may ask. Is there a history to underwear? Certainly, just as there is a history to about anything, even men’s underwear has started somewhere in time. Of course the only way to trace the history of anything is through paintings, writings and art. So, the earliest traces of underwear starts with the Egyptians and their hieroglyphics. These underwear designs date back the 2nd millennium and show Egyptians wearing loincloths. Underwear was so important to the Egyptians that Pharaohs were often buried when these garments. In Greece, slaves simply wore loincloths. 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 this was worn under a toga or tunic. For other Greeks, the ‘chiton’, an oblong piece of woolen cloth large enough to wrap around the body, was wore and then often fastened beneath by men who were physically active. Pull-on underpants (not pull-ups) were invented in the 13th century and underwear started to become important garment. Of course these garments looked like baggy drawers and were called 'braies'. Knights wore 'braies' under several layers of clothing topped by their armor. The braies was stepped into and then laced or tied around the waist and legs at about mid-calf. During the Renaissance, the braies became shorter to accommodate longer styles of chausses. Chausses were form fitting like modern hose and were typically very snug on the legs and open at the crotch. This is when the codpiece was added. As time passed, codpieces were shaped to emphasize the male genitalia and eventually often became padded and bizarrely shaped. In America, pre Civil War, "drawers" were worn from the waist down and were typically made of wool flannel. A new design that was knee length with a simple button overlap in front and a drawstring at the waist in the back also became popular. This was also worn with an upper garment made of wool flannel, which was worn next to the skin for added warmth. Then came the invention of water-powered spinning machines and the cotton gin during the Industrial Revolution. Underwear could now be mass-produced and for the first time, people began buying their underwear in stores rather than making them at home. The standard undergarment of this period for men, women, and children was the union suit, 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 union suit. Hanes opened several mills producing 'union suits'. The union suit went out of style by the 1930s and men were favoring shorter underwear again. By this time elastic was invented which replaced buttons, snaps and ties. The buttonless underwear, as it was known, had been the first ‘boxer shorts.’ The y-vent crotch on underwear was created by 'Jockey' also in the 1930s. In 1936 OMunsingwear’ developed the 'kangeroo pouch' underwear which used a horizontal vent. During the second World War soldiers didn’t want to be too conspicuous during battles so, while washing their underwear, whites were dyed olive green. The idea of colored underwear caught on and from the 1950s on, underwear became more innovative and exciting with the introduction of color and pattern. New fabrics were introduced such as rayon, Dacron and DuPont nylon. Nylon tricot briefs were made in a multitude of colors. This was followed by the introduction of Lycra and Spandex. In the 1970s and 1980s briefs got briefer and underwear was becoming a 'fashion' item. By the 1990s and new millennium people saw everything from boxer briefs, Thongs and G Strings become a common choice for men’s underwear/ Today, men aren’t left with only loin clothes or long underwear as their only choice for undergarments, no, their choices are nearly limitless. And there you have the brief history of men’s underwear.
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