Archeologists found that prehistoric men living 7,000 years ago wore loincloths as a form of underwear. In 2000 B.C. Eygptian men wore loincloths under their skirts. It was believed by the pharoahs that they would need loincloths for use after their death, so they were buried with them. In 1323 B.C., when King Tutankhamen passed away, he was buried with 145 loincloths.
Ancient Greeks wore a woolen cloth wrapped around the body from the neck to just above the knee. The side was open but fastened by a fibulae (a pin). Although they did not wear underwear, interestingly their slaves did. Subligaculums were worn by men in Ancient Rome. A subligaculum was either a loincloth wrapped around the lower body or a pair of shorts. Gladiators, athletes and stage actors in particular wore the subligaculum.
In the 13th century underwear became an important piece of apparel. The loincloth gave way to braies (baggy drawers). Braies were made from linen and were worn by men from all economic levels. In order to wear braies, one had to step into a pair, pull it up and tie it around the waist and legs at the mid-calf.
In Europe, underwear became pivotal in shaping outwear. Fashions for men started to become more important. It was during the Middle Ages that men’s apparel such as codpieces, stockings and undershirts were developed.
In the Renaissance Era, braies became shorter to accommodate longer styles of chausses (stockings that covered the legs and feet). Similar to the Middle Age braies, the Renaissance braies tied closed and a codpiece became an essential feature. The codpiece permitted the man to urinate without having to remove the braies. Before long, the braies became snug around the leg, remaining loose in the genital area.
Over time, codpieces were shaped to accentuate the genitalia and in some cases became padded. King Henry VIII began padding his own codpiece, which started a short-lived fashion trend.
By the Victorian era, undergarments were no longer were made of only linen. Cotton and silk became fashionable. In pre-civil war America, wool flannel underwear became an option. The most common underwear at this time was knee- length with a button overlap in front and a drawstring.
The Industrial Revolution permitted people to purchase underwear for the first time. The standard undergarment for men and women was the “union suit.” This garment originally covered a person from the wrists to the ankles and later became available in knee-length styles with or without sleeves. The union suit had a drop flap in the rear for convenience.
Union suits went out of style around the turn of the century and were replaced with boxers. In the 1930s, elastic waists replaced button-and-tie closures. The name boxer shorts originate from the shorts first worn by professional fighters.
Jockey™ began producing briefs in 1930, but it wasn’t until the introduction of the Jockey Y-vent briefs that men’s underwear advanced in styles and fabrics.
In North America during WWII, there was a shortage of rubber and metal so button fasteners were used once again. However, color was introduced for the first time and soldiers were issued olive-colored briefs as white briefs hanging out to dry were too conspicuous.
After the war, underwear styles and fabrics significantly changed. In the 1950s, rayon was introduced. In the 1960s, briefs got briefer and the market began to flourish with new styles and colours.
Like most fashions, the thong and g-string reappeared in the 1970s on the beaches of Brazil. Unlike the Khoisans of 75,000 years ago, today’s consumers enjoy a vast array of styles, fabrics and colours to choose from. The evolution of underwear has shaped how men feel and look today.