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Mens Underwear: A Complete History

Call them trousers, drawers, undies, skivvies, slips, briefs vs. boxers or a combination thereof, men’s underwear has had an illustrious history and auspicious beginning. Wikipedia links underwear and undergarments, defining them as “clothes worn under other clothes, often next to the skin. They keep outer garments from being soiled, shape the body; and provide support for parts of it. In cold weather, long underwear sometimes is worn to provide additional warmth.” Semantics aside, underwear is a staple in our wardrobe.

In the beginning, there was the fig leaf

Religious scholars have been constantly debating this question for centuries: were Adam’s private parts covered up by a fig leaf when he and Eve bit the apple? In absence of a definitive ruling, the fig leaf is the first true incarnation of guy’s underwear. It’s come a long way since then.

The history of men’s underwear continued as the loincloth replaced the fig leaf in ancient times. The tombs of the Pharaohs revealed that the Egyptians of the second millennium BC used this fabric as an undergarment under their skirts. The loincloth had a very extensive run. Men wore loincloths in ancient Greece and Rome made of soft leather, linen or wood. They were still being worn by the shepherds in Southern France in the 1800s. During WWII, Japanese pilots wore a version of the loincloth underneath their uniforms. Even today, traditional Chinese underwear also replicates the cut-and-sewn version of the briefs which are tied in front with two cross-panels. A version can also be found underneath the Irish kilt.

In the Middle Ages, the first signs of pull-up underwear, as we know it today, appeared. Also known as braies, they were made from linen, and they laced down from the waist to the mid-calf. They were worn by all classes of society. The aristocrats and rich merchants wore silk underwear, known as chausses, which only covered the upper part of the leg. The braises usually contained a front flap that was buttoned or tied closed.

The industrial revolution to today

The invention of the spinning jenny machines and the cotton gin in the second half of the 1700’s proliferated cotton made fabrics, allowing for the first ever mass-produced underwear. For the first time, underwear became available in stores, rather than being made at home. A century later, in 1874, the jockstrap was invented by a tailor at a Chicago sporting goods company. The jockstrap later became mass produced for bike riders.

The invention of nylon, elastic and other materials spurred productivity and innovation. Manufacturers went from durability to comfort to fashion. Retailers began selling preshrunk underwear. Retailers also began selling preshrunk undergarments. Boxers came in all colors, sizes, shapes and patterns, from personalized boxers to Shamrock designs for St. Patrick’s Day. Women adopted boxers as a fashion statement. Jockey briefs spurred another revolution in underwear and became a symbol for masculinity. The briefs vs. boxers debated raged.

The Underwear Market Explodes

Today the underwear market is a multi-billion dollar industry in North America, offering men a variety styles and options and sold by specialty retailers and large department stories. In 2008, UK retailer Marks & Spencer sold 40 million pair of underwear alone, with the lion’s share being boxer shorts for English gentlemen. A new style of hipster trunks that were popularized as swimming trunks in the James Bond 2006 film Casino Royale, are also gaining in popularity.

Introduction of BLACKSOCKS underwear by subscription

In 1999, time stopped in the evolution of men’s underwear. No longer would men need to buy their underwear in a crowded department store, with briefs strewn about and unkempt. BLACKSOCKS was born and buying underwear became an online shopping pleasure. Similar to our sockscription service, used by 40,000 customers worldwide, men can now choose our well-made boxers or briefs, made from the finest cotton available and crafted for style and comfort. An underwear subscription allows customers to be relieved of worrying about their underwear supply - the deliveries come automatically to their door.

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