Ever wondered whose idea it was to wear underwear?
Blokes have been wearing undies for the last 7000 years and for a good reason. Men’s underwear provides support and protection for private parts and absorbs sweat and other bodily fluids. Whether you prefer briefs, trunks, or boxers, underwear is the single most used item of clothing for all men all over the world.
Men’s underwear has a long and fascinating history. Briefs, trunks, and boxers underwent transformation spanning centuries.
Loincloth: Predecessor to Men’s Underwear
The predecessor of men’s underwear, the loincloth, is the earliest. It is a rectangular cloth that covers the groin and is wrapped and tucked on the waist. From as early as 1189 BC, Egyptian art showed loincloth’s being used as underwear by pharaohs.
The loincloth, also called breechcloth, is a long piece of rectangular cloth, leather, or bark fibre that covers men’s private parts. It goes in between the legs and is either tied on the waist or secured by a belt.
In some cultures, loincloths were worn as underwear; in others, they were worn on their own.
Evolution of the Loincloth in Ancient Egypt
In Ancient Egypt, the loincloth, which eventually evolved into what was called schenti or kilt, which was longer and typically reached the mid-thigh area.
Loincloths were worn by labourers, as well as noblemen on their own, given the hot climate in the country. Similarly, pharaohs also wore loincloths of different materials with a lion’s tail dangling at the back.
Evidence of Egyptian men wearing loincloths can be seen in hieroglyphics. Loincloths vary depending on the rank of the wearer and the occasion or ceremony. Hieroglyphics showed working-class, Egyptian men doing labour in what looked like a piece of cloth tucked and tied on the waist. Meanwhile, pharaohs wore loincloth made from higher quality materials like pleated gold.
The earliest loincloths were made from leather and bark cloth. They also used flax plant linen, which was much cooler, more absorbent and comfortable to wear especially in a hot climate.
Loincloth in Other Cultures
The loincloth was also used in other cultures as men’s undergarment, swimsuit, sportswear, or outerwear.
- In India, the loincloth was called kaupinam. Indian men wore the kaupinam during dangal or wrestling competition. They also wear them during training or sparring.
- In Ancient Central America, Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans also wore loincloth as men’s underwear. In some cases, however, they wore them as outerwear because of the predominantly hot climate in the region. They also have different variations of loincloths, ranging from the simple to a more elaborate and ornate kind.
The Mayans’ loincloth is called ex and was considered the primary garment worn by men. The ex was made from hand-loomed fabric and was wrapped on the waist several times and went between the legs. Feathers commonly adorned it.
- The Japanese also wore loincloths called the Similarly, it was a long piece of cloth which was draped around the hips and wrapped between the legs. The remaining cloth was tucked in front and left hanging like an apron.
Men’s Underwear in the Middle Ages
The loincloth and its varieties were worn up until the Middle Ages. Aside from the loincloth, Medieval men also wore what was called braies, a type of trouser that was used in Antiquity. In the late Middle Ages, it was primarily used as underwear. It was sometimes paired with a codpiece which was a decorative pouch used to cover the male private area.
Men’s Underwear in the Age of Enlightenment
During the Industrial Age, the union suit became the standard underwear in the West. A one-piece body- long underwear with pants and long sleeves, the union suit, was an innovation from women’s wear. Invented in New York, the union suit was the most common underwear in North America up until the 20th century.
Jockstrap: Underwear for Athletes
In 1874, C.F Bennet felt the need to invent underwear that would provide comfort and support to bikers who had to bike on cobblestone streets. Consequently, he invented the jockstrap, which was a kind of grundies with an elastic waistband, made with knitted fabric, and had a pouch protecting the male private part.
Invention of Boxers: Underwear for Pugilists
It was in 1925 when Jacob Colomb, the owner of the boxing company Everlast, designed more comfortable underwear that boxers can wear. His invention had an elastic waistband and became popularly known as “boxer trunks”. Boxers, as they were eventually called, used loose fabric and provided more room for the male private part. These allowed better mobility and comfort.
Form and Comfort: The Rise of the Briefs
In 1935, the classic briefs were commercially sold in Chicago by Coopers Inc. at the Marshall’s Department Store. Also called jockeys or jockey shorts, briefs were more form-fitting and shorter than boxers. Briefs made use of lightweight material such as the synthetic fibre nylon, a breathable and lightweight material invented in 1938.
Through the years, men’s briefs evolved to be even more comfortable. It was in the late 1950s when a synthetic fabric made from Polyether-polyurea copolymer called Lycra was invented. Because of its moisture-wicking properties, breathability, and stretchability, it became an ideal material for briefs.
Briefs are called many nicknames. In the United States, they were called “jockeys” and “tighty-whiteys” while in the UK they were called “pants” or “Y-fronts”. Here in Australia we sometimes refer to them as “jocks”.
Evolution and Hybrid: Trunks and Boxer Briefs
During the 1990s, John Varvatos designed the boxer briefs. A Greek American menswear designer at Calvin Klein, Varvatos made the hybrid of a brief and boxers. It was form-fitting and not too loose like boxers, but provided more room for the male private area than briefs. Meanwhile, trunks are shorter than boxer briefs. They also offer the same form-fitting comfort but are cut mid-thigh. They are sometimes used for swimming and other sports activities.
Get yourself high-quality briefs, boxers, and trunks today
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