Woody Allen was very right to say so: “I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I will take a change of underwear just in case. After all, lingerie is nowadays an essential element of both women’s and men’s wardrobe, indispensable in almost all circumstances. But until a few decades ago the situation looked completely different.
The history of women’s underwear was briefly discussed in the previous entry. It is therefore high time to take a closer look at the equally impressive fate of men’s underwear.
Some people consider the biblical fig leaf as its oldest model. However, no sources have survived that would describe the history of this lingerie of the great-ancestor in more detail. To this day, it has also not been possible to establish when delicate leafy underwear was abandoned in favour of underwear made of more durable materials.
The first certainties concerning the history of men’s underwear were only provided by an archaeological finding made in 1991. It was then that, in the Tyrolean Alps, a perfectly preserved body of a man wearing a lumbar leather blindfold was discovered in a glacier. According to scientists, this man walked the mountain trails around 5300 years ago. As a result of archaeological research conducted in Egypt, it was proved that the sepulchral attire of Pharaoh Tutenchamon, who died in 1352 BC, consisted of a canvas belt wrapped around his hips 145 times. These valuable discoveries led to the conclusion that for millennia, men living in different latitudes used cloth or soft leather belts.
In ancient Rome, so-called femoral, or knee-length shorts, appeared, which were very popular among Roman legionaries. Femoral, sewn from ordinary canvas, worn until wiped and rarely washed, had only practical significance, protecting against abrasions caused by outerwear and metal armour. This type of lingerie has been popular among soldiers for many centuries.
In the early Middle Ages, men’s and women’s underwear were mostly similar to each other. At that time, the only typical men’s clothing was a tunic, quite long and wide, linen shorts, with a practical hole in the back. Commonly known as pants, over time, they became shorter and tighter. Often, however, men gave them up as underwear at all, treating them exclusively as linen shirts. With the advent of the first medieval legs, the front half of the shirt began to be pulled back and the back one forward, so that it wrapped around the belly and buttocks, isolating the body from the rough fabric of the trousers.
The 15th and subsequent centuries proposed a much shorter fashion. New, exposing legs, clothes required longer and tighter legs. Around 1371, in response to accusations of the indecency of this garment, the idea of stitching both legs together was born. This gave rise to the so-called solid legs, connected to the front with a small triangular piece of fabric. This part, movable and fastened with hooks, turned into a triangle permanently sewn on the front of the trousers in the 16th century. Canvas shorts became shorter and shorter with the passing decades.
Men’s lingerie fashion developed very slowly, and it took a long time to make a real breakthrough. It did not come until the 18th century, with the industrial revolution that began at that time, which allowed for the mass production of confectionery. The United States became the capital of lingerie innovations.
In the 18th century, in the bourgeoisie, when men’s trousers became commonplace, the fashion for pants came. They had long legs, which were let into socks for better protection against the cold. In summer they were sewn from canvas, in winter from flannel or jersey, in white, cream or grey. The American gold-seekers especially liked the red pants.
At the end of the 19th century, men’s “sneakers” were trendy, i.e. rarely removed and washed, also used as one-piece pants and shirts, buttoned up from the crotch to the neck.
It was not until 1901 that the American P.H. Hanes Knitting Company introduced a two-piece combination of men’s underwear. There were models with open or buttoned zippers and models with detachable front or back flaps.
Soldiers fighting during World War I wore pants with buttons. These pants were often anatomically formed by sewing an additional triangle into the crotch. Due to the comfort and convenience the pants offered, men introduced them permanently into their wardrobe.
In the twenties of the last century, for the first time in the underwear industry, rubber was used, i.e. a long latex thread is woven in the form of haberdashery tape. And in 1925 the French called short, leotard pants the word slip, the meaning of which derives from the verb slip.
In the 1930s, another novelty has shaken the world of men’s fashion. The American company Coopers Incorporation patented at that time panties with a front formed in the shape of an inverted “Y”, which were made in a longer and shorter version and were marketed under the trade name Jockey. The inspiration for this model was men’s swimwear worn on the riviera. The unusual shape of the front body provided a perfect fit and unprecedented modelling. The Jockey was presented to the public on 19th January 1935 in Chicago. On that day, the city was hit by a massive hurricane, and the Marshall Field and Company department store management concluded that in the face of the tragedy, customers should not be unnecessarily shocked. It was therefore decided to remove the underwear from the exhibition. However, before this happened, customers had bought the entire stock, that is 600 pieces. Coopers Incorporation provided its new product not only with excellent quality but also with very effective advertising. The visually attractive illustrations won the hearts of the ladies, who usually have the decisive voice in men’s clothing choices. The new model quickly gained the name of a cult, and today more than 120 owners from all over the world are licensed to produce it.
In the United States, even before the Second World War, with the growing popularity of boxing, the panties in the form of loose shorts with the elastic band instead of buttons were becoming increasingly famous. We are, of course, talking about today’s well-known and also appreciated boxers, who arrived on the European continent during the war, together with the American Allies.
At the end of the 1960s, the underwear became sideways cut, shallow, rubber-covered in the tunnel, men’s briefs, previously beachwear or bathing suit. In the mid-1980s, Calvin Klein designed the famous tight shorts with an elastic band, on which the designer’s name was written.
Today, there are almost as many models of men’s underwear on the lingerie market as there is women’s underwear. A prosperous offer makes it possible for everyone, depending on individual expectations and preferences, to find something especially for themselves.