The History Of Men's Underwear (2023)

From saving our trousers from perspiration to providing support for the boys down below, underwear is arguably the most integral accouterment to any outfit.

We take them for granted, but were they always so easy to come by? Where did they come from, anyway? How did they develop into the elastic support we know and love?

The History Of Men's Underwear (1)

That's the topic of today's article, gentlemen. We're covering the history of men's underwear.

  1. Ancient Times
  2. Going Medieval
  3. The Industrial Era
  4. The Modern Age

1. The Loincloth – Antiquity And Onward

The most rudimentary form of men's underwear, the loincloth was often a single piece of cloth draped over the groin and hips. They came in all shapes and sizes depending on local cultural influence.

You could honestly write an entire book on loincloths. So many cultures have used it across the centuries, that we couldn't possibly do it justice in a single article. Nevertheless, we can cover a few notable examples.

The Mediterranean

Ancient Egyptian loincloths, called Schenti, were made with linen and tied toward the front. Since most of the lower classes owned very little clothing, this was deemed acceptable as outerwear.

The seafaring Minoans of Crete likewise had an interesting sense of style. Loincloths show up so frequently in depictions of men, that it was clearly favored as everyday wear. What's more, imagery shows them in a plethora of patterns and colors.

The History Of Men's Underwear (2)

This is evidence that it was just as fashionable as it was functional.

The Americas

As men's underwear, loincloths weren't unique to the Mediterranean. We also see them featured prominently in indigenous American cultures between antiquity and the 14th century.

(Video) 100 Years of Fashion: Men’s Underwear ★ Glam.com

Incan men, for example, wore their loincloths in such a way that a long strip of cloth extended downward. This functioned as an eye-catching decorative piece.

The Aztecs seemed to wear them interchangeably with other garments. The imagery depicts them alone but also used in conjunction with various cloaks and tunics.

Fun fact: Amazonian native peoples STILL wear loincloths as traditional garments.

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2. Going Medieval: 400-1400 AD

As we move into the Middle Ages, we start noticing some intriguing developments in men's underwear.

First off, we have the knee-length Braies. They were popular at first with Celtic and Germanic peoples in antiquity but saw more widespread use in the Middle Ages. These were loose-fitting linen or woolen trousers that were buttoned or tied closed.

The History Of Men's Underwear (4)
(Video) A Brief History of Men's Underwear

Braies were fitted with a frontal flap called the codpiece which could be unfastened. This allowed men to urinate without having to remove the trousers entirely – a truly revolutionary development!

Though used as trousers in the early Medieval period, they gradually transitioned into men's underwear.

Henry VIII of England set an odd trend by padding his codpiece, which resulted in men sporting larger and larger packages (crazy, right?).

It's been speculated that the king actually had Syphilis and that the padding contained medication to alleviate his symptoms.

3. The Industrial Age: 1800-1900 AD

During the age of enlightenment, men's undergarment designers started prioritizing comfort.

The Union Suit

In 1868 in Utica, NY, the union suit was patented. Though it started as a women's garment, it took off as menswear. The union suit was a buttoned one-piece garment with long sleeves and pants.

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The signature addition was that of a buttoned flap on the buttocks that made trips to the toilet a little easier. It earned a slew of vulgar nicknames such as the “access hatch,” “drop seat,” and “fireman's flap.”

Eventually, American boxer John L. Sullivan made the garment popular naming them “Long Johns,”which is the name most know them by.

The Jockstrap

In 1874, C.F. Bennett, while working for a Chicago sporting goods company, made his contribution to men's underwear – the jockstrap.

In the late 19th century, most urban centers were laden with uneven cobblestone surfaces. This made it especially difficult for cyclers in Boston, whose family jewels suffered relentless abuse.

(Video) A Real History of Mens Underwear - The Truth Of Where Underwear Started & Why We Rock Them Today

The jockstrap can serve you well in any high-impact sport.

Bennett's invention offered a solution and, through his new company known as Bike Web, he started distributing it.

The jockstrap consists of an elastic waistband with a supportive pouch for the boys and two straps attached to the base of the pouch on either side. In some variations, the pouch can house an impact-resistant cup for even more protection.

4. The Modern Age: 1900-The Present Day

The turn of the century brought underwear that is much more recognizable.

The Evolution of Briefs & Boxers

The first briefs left the line of Chicago's Coopers Inc on the 19th of January, 1935. These have an elastic band around the waist and both legs near the groin. Finally, it featured a Y-shaped fly for easy access in a jam.

It was a revolutionary step forward in modern men's undergarments, receiving the infamous cognomen: “tightey-whiteys.”

Alongside briefs, boxers entered the market in the 1930s. Though it had a band around the waist, it lacked any along the legs. This resulted in a wider and looser leg section that extended to the middle of the thigh.

Other Variations

Between the 20th century and today, several offshoots of the boxer/brief were developed and are now easily purchasable.

The next step in the modern evolution of men's underwear came with Giorgio Armani in the form of boxer briefs, released in the 1980s. Similar to its predecessor, boxer briefs were slightly longer along the thigh. Some even ceased to have the traditional y-shaped fly.

Another invention of the 80s were trunk briefs. They were similar to Armani's creation, except that the inseams were a little shorter.

The last 30 years have seen considerable innovation in underwear designs for men.

Some variations include athletic-style boxer briefs, which are skin tight and have no fly. Pouch boxer briefs use – you guessed it – a pouch to house the genitalia rather than a fly.

(Video) Brief History of Men's Underwear

Midway briefs are the longest of briefs. Born in the 1980s, they're among the longest modern men's underwear out there. They stop just above the knee, staying snug with elastic bands.

Think it's reached the peak? Think again.

Underwear faces as much innovation today as it has throughout history. Nowadays, it's all about achieving maximum durability and comfort. SHEATH, with its dual pouch feature, is a great example.

Also read:

  • How To Keep Your Socks Up And Prevent Sagging
  • Best Men's Underwear For Your Body Type
  • Ultimate Guide to Wedding Attire For Men
  • 10 Most Popular Men's Underwear Brands For Stylish Guys…
  • Fall Outfits For Men: 12 Top Wardrobe Essentials Every Man…
  • Briefs vs Boxers vs Boxer Briefs

In Conclusion – Men's Underwear

  1. Ancient Times
  2. Going Medieval
  3. The Industrial Era
  4. The Modern Age

We take underwear for granted. It's tough to think that guys had to wrap a cloth around their junk every day or pad their crotches.

Gentlemen, I hope you have garnered an appreciation for what modern underwear does for you after this modest history lesson! Don't take your underwear for granted – there's history even here!

What to read next? Going commando – why warriors used to fight without underwear?

Click below to watch the video – Where Did Underwear Come From? (The Evolution of Underwear)

Also read:

  • How To Keep Your Socks Up And Prevent Sagging
  • Best Men's Underwear For Your Body Type
  • Ultimate Guide to Wedding Attire For Men
  • 10 Most Popular Men's Underwear Brands For Stylish Guys…
  • Fall Outfits For Men: 12 Top Wardrobe Essentials Every Man…
  • Briefs vs Boxers vs Boxer Briefs

FAQs

What is the purpose of mens underwear? ›

Men's underwear has performed multiple purposes: for protection, modesty and adornment; as an indicator of social status; and for support and for sexual or erotic purposes. Underwear protects the body from the environment and abrasion from outer clothes, as well as those garments from the body.

Why are men's underwear called boxers? ›

Boxer shorts (also known as loose boxers or as simply boxers) are a type of undergarment typically worn by men. The term has been used in English since 1944 for all-around-elastic shorts, so named after the shorts worn by boxers, for whom unhindered leg movement ("footwork") is very important.

Did men wear underwear in the 1700? ›

Elizabeth: 18th century men wore a linen chemise (basically a shift for men) and sometimes drawers. Most men tucked their chemise in between their legs to act as make-shift underpants but by the 1700s, it was becoming more common for men to wear drawers under their breeches.

Which came first boxers or briefs? ›

While boxers came about in 1925 and briefs hit the scene about ten years later, the renowned combination known as the boxer brief didn't make its debut until the early 1990s.

What happens to your body when you don't wear underwear? ›

"The material causes more friction and irritation, and any friction or irritation can make little cuts or microabrasions in your skin, and those cuts can lead to bacterial infections, which can cause discomfort, itching, redness, [and] pain," OB-GYN Scott Osmun told HuffPost.

Is it good for a man to not wear underwear? ›

Your underwear keeps your privates dry because it soaks up sweat, and since you likely wash your underwear more often than your pants, there's fewer bacteria and fungi to worry about. But when you skip the underwear, it can create the perfect condition in your pants for jock itch, or more formally, tinea cruris.

What kind of underwear did cowboys wear? ›

Real cowboys did not wear spangles on the windy prairie. But some wore pink underwear. Before central heating, “Union Suits” were important. The long underwear was available in white, gray, ecru, light blue, and, finally, in 1909, pink.

What did men wear for underwear in the 1800's? ›

In time long underwear became known as bloomers. By the late 19th century in Britain men's underwear were called pants. Men also wore vests. Some men wore combinations, pants and vest in one garment.

Why do some men's underwear not have a fly? ›

“We've noticed over the last 10 years that as apparel has gotten slimmer, it's much easier to navigate a product without a fly,” says Sean Radford, Jockey's director of design. “A product that doesn't have a fly looks much cleaner and gives a better aesthetic.”

Did people in biblical times wear underwear? ›

The clothing of the people in biblical times was made from wool, linen, animal skins, and perhaps silk. Most events in the Old and New Testament take place in ancient Israel, and thus most biblical clothing is ancient Hebrew clothing. They wore underwear and cloth skirts.

Who wore the first underwear? ›

The first known underwear dates back almost 7000 years, when prehistoric man used leather to cover and protect his loins while running prehistoric errands. For several millennia, not much changed. Ancient Egyptian art shows everyone from the pharaohs on down the line decked out in loincloths of their own.

Did Romans wear underpants? ›

The Romans—like numerous peoples before them—most certainly did wear underwear, the most fundamental of which was a loincloth knotted on both sides. It went under a number of names, such as subligaculum or subligar, a protective affair common on athletes.

Why should you not wear underwear at night? ›

Health Benefits of Sleeping Without Underwear

Sleeping with covers, tight-fitting pajamas or clothes, and underwear can lead to even more moisture buildup. Wearing underwear keeps that moisture close to your genitals. This allows bacteria and yeast to grow, which can cause infection and other problems.

Which type of underwear is best for men's health? ›

Nylon with Spandex

Nylon fabric is moisture wicking, can absorb better and dry faster than cotton. That means it will pull moisture away from your body and help it evaporate faster, without irritating your skin. As such, a nylon spandex blend can be a great fabric choice for underwear.

What are the disadvantages of not wearing underwear for male? ›

One major disadvantage of not wearing underwear is that doing so can lead to jock itch. This is a red, itchy rash that may be shaped like a ring. Jock itch is a fungal infection found in warm and moist areas of the body. The rash often affects the groin and inner thighs.

What is it called when you go without underwear? ›

Going commando” is a way of saying that you're not wearing any underwear. The term refers to elite soldiers trained to be ready to fight at a moment's notice. So when you're not wearing any underwear, you're, well, ready to go at any moment — without pesky undies in the way.

When did men stop wearing union suits? ›

The garment remained in common use in North America into the 20th century. As its popularity waned, it became chiefly working men's wear, increasingly replaced by two-piece long underwear, also known as "long johns".

Did they wear socks in the Old West? ›

Yes, cowboys wore socks in the old west; they were typically made from wool and were often tall, reaching up to the knee, and had a thick knit that provided both warmth and protection from chafing.

Are you supposed to wear underwear under a union suit? ›

The classic "Union Suit" that your suit is modelled after was developed as, and is still worn by some as underwear, so you could use your suit as your base layer–I'd recommend washing it as often as your undies if you do–and then add layers over top of it as needed, otherwise I'd recommend choosing some other active- ...

What underwear did men wear in the 1930s? ›

Boxer shorts were the preferred underwear for men in the 1930s. For most of the thirties, the dominant style was a yoke-front band with gathers at the back and three buttons above an open fly at the front. Metal “snaps” replaced easily broken buttons on some models. Then came the Lastex waistband without an open fly.

What was worn before bras? ›

Before there was a bra, women used a corset that formed the ideal figure, namely a chest that protrudes above a small waist. Actually the use of a corset is uncomfortable because it presses the breast. However, due to cultural influences, corsets are always worn by women.

What kind of underwear did men wear in the 1940s? ›

Men wore either knit briefs, woven boxer shorts, or union suits under their daily clothing.

Do men actually use the hole in their underwear? ›

You guessed it! The purpose of the fly is to make it easier for you to pee while wearing boxers. Are you ready for an underwear fun fact? Only about 20% of males who wear boxers actually use the hole in their boxers and would rather pull them down and take out their member when using the restroom.

Do guys use the flap in underwear? ›

Some men see so little use in the flap that many underwear brands have started produce lines without it. But it may still be a matter of fashion considering many men buy with, and others buy without.

What is the top of underwear called? ›

A gusset is a piece of fabric, generally in a diamond, rectangle or triangle shape, inserted in a garment to allow for more space and greater ease of movement. In men's underwear, the gusset appears along and around the inseams.

What the Bible says about underwear? ›

Exodus 28:42

"Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh.

Where in the Bible does it say not to wear women's clothes? ›

A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young.

When did men start wearing pants? ›

Until the end of the 18th century, bifurcated European garments took forms such as breeches, knickerbockers, and pantaloons. By 1820 trousers as they are known today had come into general use among men.

Did the Romans sleep naked? ›

Ancient Romans had no special sleepwear. They typically slept in their underclothes, which they also would have worn around the home.

Did the Romans crucify females? ›

According to Roman law, if a slave killed his or her master, all of the master's slaves would be crucified as punishment. Both men and women were crucified.

What does it mean when a man doesn't wear underwear? ›

Going commando” is a way of saying that you're not wearing any underwear. The term refers to elite soldiers trained to be ready to fight at a moment's notice. So when you're not wearing any underwear, you're, well, ready to go at any moment — without pesky undies in the way.

Is it necessary to wear underwear for male at night? ›

For men, there is no health benefit, nor is there any harm, from going commando to bed, said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist and the director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University Medical Centerin Palo Alto, California.

Should you wear underwear to bed? ›

Wearing underwear keeps that moisture close to your genitals. This allows bacteria and yeast to grow, which can cause infection and other problems. If you are prone to yeast infections, vaginal infections or vaginal irritation, going commando at bedtime could be a great—and healthy—choice.

Should men wear underwear in the gym? ›

Underwear isn't necessary, but it all comes down to personal preference. If you feel more comfortable having a layer between you and your bottoms for controlling sweat or odor, it won't hurt to wear undies; just make sure they're made of breathable cotton or are designed for wicking.

When did men start wearing underwear? ›

The first known underwear dates back almost 7000 years, when prehistoric man used leather to cover and protect his loins while running prehistoric errands. For several millennia, not much changed. Ancient Egyptian art shows everyone from the pharaohs on down the line decked out in loincloths of their own.

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