26 Fascinating Milestones In Underwear History

26 Fascinating Milestones In Underwear History

Major Milestones in Underwear History

Underwear history’s humble beginnings go back nearly 9000 years with a piece of leather considered to be the first gitch. Like everything since then, underwear has come a long way. These days, underwear has many purposes: from keeping our parts from flailing about when we exercise, to keeping us warm in winter, and reducing the effort and cost of washing clothes. It is ingrained in societies all around the world in religious ceremonies and cultural traditions, and is often used to make us look or feel sexy.

Loincloth

7000BC
loincloth
A simple narrow piece of cloth that typically wrapped around the waist and looped between the legs. The fabric used for loincloths may have been wool, linen or a linsey-woolsey blend, though the oldest known loincloth was leather. The loincloth, and undies like it, is called different things across the world’s cultures and took many different forms and sizes over the millennia.

Braies

300

braies

Braies generally hung to the knees or mid-calf, resembling what are today called shorts. They were made of leather, wool, or, in later years, cotton or linen. They were adopted by the Romans as Braccae. They often had draw strings around the waist, and around the calves or knees. Like loincloth, men didn’t typically wear clothing over braies, so they weren’t technically underwear, but they served the same purposes.

Chausses and Codpieces

1300

chausses

During the Renaissance, braies became shorter to accommodate early leggings called chausses that extended up towards the waist. The codpiece was essentially a front flap on the braies that allowed men to urinate more easily. Codpieces evolved to include separate clothing items that were meant to cover the groin and were tied to the chausses and doublet (medieval shirt).

Codpiece as a Fashion Accessory

1500

henry viii

It’s worth noting that King Henry VIII of England popularized padding codpieces. Historians are divided if he did this to make himself more appealing and portray fertility, or because he stuffed medicine in his codpiece to treat his syphilis.

Corset

1550

corset

The corset was made popular in Europe by Catherine de’ Medici, an Italian noblewoman who was Queen of France. She enforced a ban on thick waists at court attendance during the 1550s. For nearly 350 years, women’s primary means of support was the corset, with laces and stays made of whalebone or metal. The purpose of the corset was typically to shape women’s bodies to such extremes where ribs were broken, and “fainting rooms” were a thing for unfortunate women wearing overly tight corsets.

Breeches and Britches

1600

breeches

Eventually braies, chausses, and codpieces gave way to simple trousers with buttoned flaps on the front. They came in various lengths and styles, and were sometimes worn simply as trousers. Breeches would more or less be the standard form of gitch until the industrial revolution.

Cotton Gin & Spinning Jenny

1750

spinning jenny

The spinning jenny, cotton gin, and mass production meant that for the first time in human history people could buy basic, relatively well made cotton underwear at an affordable price instead of making it themselves.

Jock Strap

1874

jockstrap

Patented in 1874 to protect bike riders (or bike ‘jockeys’ in this context) riding down Boston’s cobblestone streets from banging their man-bits around too much. The company that patented the jockstrap was renamed to the Bike Company and is today the market leader in jockstrap sales.

Union Suit

1886

union suit

The original onesie and the precursor to the ‘long johns’. The union suit was a full body under garment that covered everything from the ankles to the wrists. Adorably, the union suit had a buttoned flap covering the rear for easy access when visiting a toilet, which was called the ‘access hatch’.

Long Johns

1900

long johns

Named after heavyweight boxer John Sullivan who fought in the ring in similar clothes, long johns were just the bottom half of a union suit. They are typically warn in colder countries and are often made out of wool or cotton. Initially they were used in England as lounge wear or sleep wear (as they are being used again today), but in the mid 20th century, they were worn mostly by working men.

Technological Innovation

1930

Technology and the latest manufacturing meant a union suit could be made in minutes instead of days. Hanes becomes the leading producer of union suits.

Underwear Ads

1911

union suit ad

The first underwear advertisement appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. It was an oil painting that highlighted the durability and comfort, not style or fashion.

Brassiere

1913

brassiere

A New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob created the first modern brassiere by tying two handkerchiefs together with ribbon. Although women had worn brassiere-like garments in years past, Jacob’s was the first to be successfully marketed and widely adopted.

Cup Sizes

1928

cup sizes

Maidenform, a company operated by Ida Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant, developed the brassiere and introduced modern cup sizes for bras.

Briefs

1935

coopers jockey shorts ad

Cooper Inc sold the world’s first brief in Chicago. Within 3 months, they went on to sell 30 000 briefs, starting a major clothing trend. Cooper Inc renamed the company to Jockey as the briefs closely resembled jockey straps. The briefs were popular as they didn’t have any buttons and had a Y-shaped fly.

Boxer Shorts

1937

boxers ad

Companies also began selling buttonless drawers fitted with an elastic waistband. These were the first true boxer shorts, which were named for their resemblance to the shorts worn by professional fighters. Scovil Manufacturing introduced the snap fastener at this time, which became a popular addition to various kinds of undergarments.

WWII

1939

During World War II, elastic waistbands and metal snaps gave way once again to button fasteners due to rubber and metal shortages. Undergarments were harder to find as well, since soldiers abroad had priority to obtain them. By the end of the war, Jockey and Hanes remained the industry leaders in the US.

Strapless Bra, Corset Con’t

1948

strapless bra

Meanwhile, some women adopted the corset once again, now called the “waspie” for the wasp-shaped waistline it gave the wearer. Many women began wearing the strapless bra as well, which gained popularity for its ability to push the breasts up and enhance cleavage.

More Colors And Materials

1950

Underwear went from hidden white garments to colored fashion items in their own right. Rayon, nylon, spandex and other materials became normal.

Panty Hose

1959

early panty hose ad

Pantyhose, which combined panties and hose into one garment, made their first appearance in 1959, invented by Glen Raven Mills (at the behest of his wife) of North Carolina. The company later introduced seamless pantyhose in 1965, spurred by the popularity of the miniskirt. By the end of the decade, the girdle had fallen out of favor as women chose sexier and lighter alternatives.

Wonderbra, Pushup Bra

1960

early pushup bra ad

The 60s was the decade that saw focus shift from woman’s bottoms to tops. Pointed cups, Wonderbra, and the original push-up bra became popular. Bikini underwear, named after the south pacific Bikini Atoll, also became popular as did various colors and styles of women’s panties.

Edible Underwear

1975

editable underwear

Marketed as “Candypants, the original 100% edible underwear.” At first the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the application for a patent on the basis that the idea of candy and pants were incompatible, but later granted the application and within weeks hundreds of thousands of pairs were shipped.

Sex Appeal

1980

early underwear sex appeal

Underwear ads became more focused on sex appeal than traditional benefits of undies. Calvin Klein started showing underwear ads featuring sexy male models in the early 1980s and went on to fuel a multi-billion dollar company.

G-String

1985

g-string

Even though the g-string had been around for decades, primarily used by exotic dancers, it finally started to become popular, initially in Brazil before spreading and becoming the inspiration behind the modern thong.

Boxer Briefs

1992

marky mark boxer briefs ad

Pioneered by designer John Varvatos during his 1990–1995 stint at Calvin Klein as head of menswear design, boxer briefs were made famous by a series of 1992 print ads featuring Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg. They have been called “one of the greatest apparel revolutions of the century”. Of their creation Varvatos said in 2010, “We just cut off a pair of long johns and thought, this could be cool…”. The boxer brief ads are largely credited for launching Mark Wahlberg’s music and film career.

Bamboo Fabric

2003

bamboo-viscose

While several companies found ways to economically create fabric from bamboo around this time, the first modern bamboo fabric patent was awarded in 2003. Since then, bamboo fabric has exploded in growth and has become increasingly common in all apparel segments, including bamboo underwear.