From Breeches to Boxers: The History of Men's UnderwearSubmitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Thursday 14th October 2010
- Ever-evolving undergarments.
- Making a statement.
- It’s all in the package.
You slip them on every day, but have you ever stopped to think where they came from? We don’t mean Bloomingdale’s or Marshall Field’s. Those ultra-comfy boxers or briefs — whether they’re Calvin Klein, Joe Boxer or Hanes — have quite a history. After all, the smooth fabrics and flexible materials of today are a world away from Adam’s fig leaves or Caesar’s loincloth.
A clever Web site, www.VintageSkivvies.com ®, has dug up the dirt on man’s favorite undergarment. Here, SharpMan.com gives you a glimpse of some of the highlights of the fun, witty world of VintageSkivvies.com®.
Whether, union suits or loincloths, men’s undergarments have been changing styles, fabrics and looks long before Mark Walberg ever filled out a pair of Calvin Klein’s. But it wasn’t until the World Wars that men’s underwear became a glitter in the eye of the boxers and briefs of today. The Industrial Revolution saw men’s underwear blast off into a full-fledged industry. By this point, Hanes had opened several mills and every man, woman and child was wearing a union suit, a one-piece garment that covers both the upper and lower torso.
By the 1930s, union suits were on the way out and briefs — made popular by a little company called Jockey — were all the rage. In fact, once the Jockey shorts appeared in the window of Marshall Field’s, 30,000 pairs were sold in the first three months. In the meantime, drawers were quickly being revolutionized by the advent of the elastic band. As you might have guessed, the birth of the boxer short soon followed.
Making a Statement
Men’s underwear was held hostage during World War II (advertisements read: Uncle Sam needs rubber so Jockey waste bands are no longer all-elastic). To make matters worse, the troops quickly found that hanging out their "tighty-whities" was a bad idea — it attracted enemy fire. Soon, the military declared olive drab the official men’s underwear color. But changes were on the horizon. The 1950s found a whole new market for skivvies. As war shortages went by the wayside, 1950s men got frisky. Nylon tricot briefs filled the shelves in a variety of colors; "skants," early bikini underwear in animal prints, were introduced; and boxers became "Fancy Pants," playful New Year’s Eve boxers that laid the path for the crazy Joe Boxer types of today.
It’s All in the Package
SharpMen are very proud of their packages. Maybe that’s why men’s underwear packaging has been in a constant state of change. Union suits were once found wrapped in tissue paper, but in the 1920s boxed underwear became a staple, as it was considered a "mark of distinction." Regardless, since increased sales generally translates into more cost-effective packaging, by the 1940s and ‘50s, boxers and briefs came cellophane-wrapped and then plastic-wrapped, per the 1950’s motto "plastics make things better."
What’s Your Skivvies Savvy?
Do you know your Balbriggan from a Gusset? Take this SharpQuiz to find out how well you know your unmentionables. Just match the skivvies-minded word (listed as a number on the RIGHT) to its correct definition (listed as a letter on the LEFT) — and try not to get your boxers in a bundle.
Answers: 1, e; 2, k; 3, p; 4, t; 5, i; 6, c; 7, r; 8, m; 9, f; 10, j; 11, n; 12, b; 13, s; 14, l; 15, o; 16, q; 17, g; 18, d; 19, h; 20, a.
*Information courtesy of VintageSkivvies.com®.
Want to read more about underwear? Check out Men’s Underwear 101: A Brief Review of Boxers, Bikinis, Etc.This article last updated on Thursday 14th October 2010