The History of Men's Underwear

Men have worn loincloths under their clothing for the biggest part of clothing history. But in the last couple of centuries, underwear became more standardized, then more competitive, and finally became sexy. Hunter Oatman-Stanford talked with Shaun Cole, author of The Story of Men’s Underwear, about how skivvies have changed since the 19th century.

Certainly by the 1880s, there were advertisements, and by the 20th century, there were masses of adverts. The earliest ones tend to be quite text-based, but that was common with all advertising of that era. When you started to see images being included, there were a number of companies using classical statues with undergarments superimposed over them, or dressed people holding underwear up in front of them to avoid this public negotiation with a semi-clothed or naked body. However, by 1907, for example, B.V.D. was advertising its coat-cut undershirts, which are shown open in illustrations so you can actually see the man’s chest.

Most brands, like Wright’s and Dr. Yeager’s, were going with the idea that underwear was hygienic, allowing your body to breathe. The concept of cleanliness appeared quite often in adverts specifically targeted towards female consumers, the wives and sisters and mothers, though the language was often about ease of cleaning the garments. But you also started to get this idea of comfort as well, how a man should be comfortable in his underwear.

By the 1950s, advertising imagery of underwear was everywhere. You still had the hygienic element to some extent, but there was a move in American advertising toward this idea of the family man. It was a postwar, McCarthy-influenced idea about the role of the man as the father and the head of the family. Often, there was a sort of sporting element in there, with fathers and sons playing basketball or boxing or those kinds of things. There was a lot of sporting imagery in underwear. Of course, it wasn’t just about promoting a sporty body: It was a justification for presenting a man semi-clothed, a legitimate means of looking at a man.

Read about boxers and briefs and how advertising determined what men wore underneath it all at Collector's Weekly. Link


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