A Very "Brief" Secret History of Underwear.

1323 BCE: Egypt's King Tut is entombed alongside a wealth of jewelry, furniture, lamps, jars - and 145 loincloths. He's also entombed with over 400 statues of servants meant to clean said undies, just in case heaven doesn't have washing machines.

634 CE: The loincloth began to fall out of fashion in Europe. It's replaced by looser-fitting braies, which are basically cloth hose for men. Luckily, they come with easy-access openings at the crotch for convenience - if not modesty.

1390: Geoffrey Chaucer kvetches about the tunic's scandalous rise to midthigh level (for which undergarments neglect to compensate) in "The Parson's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales: "Alas! Some of them show the very boss of their penis and the horrible pushed-out testicles that look like the malady of hernia in the wrapping of their hose; and the buttocks of such persons look like the hinder parts of a she-ape in the full of the moon."

1482: King Edward IV forbids persons below the rank of Lord to expose their genitals with short tunics, sparking an outcry among fashion-forward Englishmen. They respond by inventing the codpiece, a simple piece of cloth covering their naughty bits.

1525: Henry VIII - perhaps insecure about his inability to produce a male heir - stuffs his codpiece, starting a trend that transforms its formerly flat, utilitarian shape into a conspicuous bulge, then an exaggerated, protruding loaf.

1793: The cotton gin is invented, simultaneously increasing demand for slave labor and cotton underwear, which could now be mass-produced. The union suit, an early version of long johns, became the standard 19th-century undergarment. Rural men often wore the same union suit all winter, washing it only when spring arrived.

19th Century: Scholars speculate that one of the reasons women constantly faint in Victorian novels is that Victorian women really did constantly faint - because uber-tight corsets so restricted their lung capacity.

1880: Rear today, gone tomorrow: The bustle, a padded frame that enhances the shape of a woman's derrière, reaches the height of its popularity after 200 years of an on-and-off use. Ten years later it disappears entirely.

1909: Horace Greeley Johnson invents the Kenosha Klosed-Krotch union suit, essentially long johns as we know them today. For his contribution, he was dubbed "the Edison of Underwear."

1919: Women's enthusiasm for athletic pursuits like bicycling and tennis make restrictive corsets impractical; trouserlike "bloomers" become popular instead.

1922: Perhaps the most important year in the history of women's underwear (at least from a man's perspective): a luxurious new kind of underwear with pleated chiffon, crepe, and satin is popularized by flappers. It comes to be called "lingerie" (for the French for "underwear").

1970: The thong begins to appear on Brazilian beaches. Apparently, underwear fashion has come full circle, returning to the days of loincloth-wearing, butt-baring simplicity. Appropriately, however, thong is actually an ancient word, derived from the Old English thwong, meaning "flexible leather cord." Which means that - had he been so inclined - Shakespeare might have penned Sisqo's tune as "Thwong Song."


From mental_floss' book Scatterbrained, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Yeah, and most thong-wearers are so very much NOT the kind of creature that should be going out in public. At least not unless they're wearing anything less than, oh, say, several burqas...

Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"A Very "Brief" Secret History of Underwear."

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More