A Brief History of Underwear
The loincloth was probably the earliest form of underwear. A piece of cloth was placed between the legs, wrapped around the waist and tied. Cloth and leather loincloths dating back 7,000 years have been discovered. Egyptian Pharaoh King Tutankhamen was buried with 145 loincloths in 1352 B.C. Some societies fashioned a male protective garment that in warm climates was often the only attire. A protective guard made from gourds is still worn today by primitive tribes in New Guinea. A Brief History of Underwear
A loose fitting, trouser-like garment called a braies was worn by men in Europe by the 5th century A.D. The garment tied around the waist and legs and was eventually fitted with a front flap, called a codpiece. Medieval women wore a close-fitting garment called a chemise or sometimes a looser-fitting shift or smock. By the 16th century women adopted corsets, a tight-fitting garment made of a hard material that flattened the bust. Corsets, or stays, were pulled tight around the waist by the 18th century; sometimes so tight women fainted. By the 1880s American women were beginning to campaign against the tight garments that caused pain and medical problems.
The Industrial Revolution-A Brief History of Underwear
Undergarments were home-made affairs throughout most of history. The Industrial Revolution and the introduction of mass production during the 19th century turned homespun essentials into a competitive retail product. The common men’s undergarment in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries was the union suit, a one piece garment similar to today’s long johns or long underwear. The suit provided coverage from the wrists to the ankles and was fashioned with a drop flap in the back. The jockstrap was invented in 1874 and advertised as a means of providing comfort for male cyclists maneuvering the cobblestone streets of Boston.
The Union Suit-A Brief History of Underwear
The Hanes Company, a manufacturer of men’s underwear founded in 1901, reduced production time for a union suit from days to minutes. Other companies quickly entered the undergarment business. Companies began advertising the merits of their products to differentiate their apparel from those of all the other companies suddenly producing outfits. The first print advertisement appeared in a 1911 Saturday Evening Post. The ad featured two men in union suits. This was revolutionary at the time. Victorian morals dictated one did not talk about unmentionables, and pictures were worse. But the precedent had been set.
Early 20th Century
The Chalmers Knitting Company introduced the two piece union suit, the beginning of the modern undershirt and drawers. Lacier versions for women, camisoles and drawers, appeared in stores. Whalebone and other stiff material were replaced by new, softer materials that still provided support. Bloomers, loose-fitting trousers, became common as women began actively participating in athletic activities. A New York socialite, Mary Phelps Jacob, changed women’s undergarments forever when she designed the first homemade brassiere by tying two handkerchiefs together with ribbon, wearing it under her dress to hide the bones of her corset. This was in 1913. By the 1920s bloomers became shorter and women wore stockings to cover their legs.
The Jockey Brief
A revolution in men’s underwear occurred on January 19, 1935. Chicago’s Marshall Field and Company introduced what came to be known as the jockey brief. The store featured the item in a window display. Management thought advertising short undergarments during the cold Chicago winter was poor marketing. Thousands had been sold before the window could be changed. Boxer shorts, similar to garb worn by boxers and hence the name, were launched soon after.
The price of a one piece union suit in the early 1900’s was one dollar; one pair of briefs cost one dollar in the early 1950’s. Mono-color whites were replaced by colorful, eye-catching, attractive garments. By the 1960’s prices started to rise. In the 21st century designer garments in an array of colors and styles attract fashion-conscious consumers and command top prices.