A short history of men's undergarments

In 1353 BC, the corpse of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamen was placed in a tomb amongst priceless jewelry and solid gold treasures along with 145 loincloths.The loincloth, however, looks to us like typical underwear but by definition the underwear is worn under a garment. For the Egyptians, nothing else was worn over the loincloth; therefore it could not be considered underwear. But at least it was a start!

As opposed to women’s underwear which seriously became known during the Middle Ages, men identified the need for privacy below the waist much sooner. The earliest Mediterranean civilizations, (Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman) wore robes or loincloths but it was not uncommon to wear both as there were advantages in limiting the movement of the male sexual organ or any unwelcome reflex caused by surrounding stimuli. Amazingly, numerous battle representations until 100 BC portrayed men fighting dressed only with shield and sword.

This choice was no doubt the result of poor ergonomics in garment design and/or the perception that such a garment was confining or a constraint on one’s creativity. Free Greek men did not wear underwear, whereas slaves wore loincloths. The development in combat garments soon put an end to exposed non related war organs. When Romans took over the Greek empire they popularized the "subligaculum" :…"This article of dress, or a bandage wound about the loins so as to answer the same purpose, was worn by athletes at the public games of Greece in the earliest ages." It was worn under a toga. For sports and other manly activities, it was however discarded.

After the Classical era where no underwear manufacturer could earn a living, came the Middle Ages and the arrival of "braies", a French word meaning baggy drawers that were worn under other clothing layers. Despite the magnificence and richness of the Renaissance period which brought art, culture and science, men’s underwear design remained virtually stagnant.

The Industrial Revolution led to the mass production of underwear. People could buy in stores what they used to make for themselves. Knitted fabrics, tight fitting coveralls from ankle to waist with a second piece for the upper body were now easily available. Features like bottom flaps and front opening became standard.

"Women’s underwear design is an art that integrates all imaginable resources, whereas men’s underwear are designed with a practical sense that flirts with indifference". (Extract translated from 'Histoire imprévue des dessous féminin', by Cécile St-Laurent, ed. Herscher)

The 20th century finally brought innovation to underwear design, for example, elastic bands, snaps and tie closures. As a result of the Second World War, new synthetic yarns provided new ways to make underwear and led the way to making them a fashion item. In the 80’s the word "designer" was associated to underwear. In the 90’s after centuries of hiding underwear from sight, teenagers chose to exhibit their underwear as much as they could especially if the designer's name was displayed.

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