Quick—name a piece of clothing you don’t think about too much while getting dressed in the morning.
Chances are, your underwear tops that list. Most men take for granted their undergarments of choice, but actually—the evolution of underwear has a varied and interesting history!
Several thousand years ago was when it first occurred to men to pay special attention to their loins. A simple cloth was typically secured around the waist, draping just so. Evidence of this can be seen in artifacts found in pyramids, suggesting that pharaohs even packed an extra supply for life-after-life.
This loose-cloth trend continued on for a couple more thousand years until the Middle Ages. Men working in the fields wore a linen garment called a braies, which tied at the waist and the shins. Convenient for hotter months because their pants could be removed, it had one distinct disadvantage—convenience for bathroom trips.
Enter the invention of the “codpiece.” A simple opening on the front of the braies took care of the bathroom dilemma, and even became the inspiration for underwear’s first dalliance into fashion.
Not surprisingly, it involved stuffing the codpiece to make it larger. Favored by men in the 16th century, some historians believe it wasn’t all about overcompensation…but rather to accommodate the bandages that wrapped their syphilis-ravaged bits.
The next few centuries were ones that celebrated tight-fitting flannel drawers and trapdoor-button-closed union suits. All this constriction paved the way for a new innovation, however, which came from the boxing world.
In the 1920s, the trunks sported by boxers with elastic waistbands and lighter, looser material began to garner attention. After WWII, the boys brought freedom, and their preference towards “boxers” home.
So where did the cliched phrase, “boxers or briefs” arise from? Well, in the 30s, a man named Arthur Kniebler for a hosiery company caught sight of a man sporting a “European-style” bathing suit bottom.
What resulted was the legless, snug style more affectionately known as “tighty whiteys.” This bit of inspiration was lost on early designers, but it wasn’t long before Jockey Shorts began selling out across department stores nationwide.
The Fashion Revolution of the 70s and 80s didn’t leave underwear out of its inspired pieces.
Calvin Klein is perhaps the most well-known of these brands that encouraged its wearers to allow his label to peek from pants, while other designers produced underwear that was made to be seen and not, well…
Like many fashion trends that tend to circle back in time at some point, underwear is no exception. The introduction of the “boxer-brief” in the 90s was the latest innovation, and one that many considered a nod to the union suits of the 30s.
Underwear may deserve more of our attention than simple historical reviews, however. When the nation’s attention was focused on the impending market crash of 2008, the former chairperson of the Federal Reserve made an interesting observation.
Notably, that underwear sales typically mimic—and possible predict—changes to the economy. So, next time you decide to dabble in the stock market, it may be a good idea to check for trends in men’s undergarment sales that quarter…