The Evolution of Modern Men’s Underwear
Men’s underwear can be traced back to 5400 BC. Artifacts from ancient times were used to partially cover male sex organs, but the earliest ones left some parts uncovered. In different social and cultural settings, this display was used as a sign of a male’s strength, sex drive, manliness, and status. However, over time, as religion spread and the concept of modesty and morality changed, so did the designs and functionality of underwear.
Ancient & Medieval Underwear: Loincloths and Braies
Archeologists have found cave paintings, art, and figurines depicting men in loincloths between 5400 – 3500 BC. In these societies, it was common for men to wear some piece of animal hide or cloth hung from a belt around their bodies, which resembled a short skirt or apron.
Between these ancient times and medieval times, research has shown that men usually left the groin area uncovered underneath their long tunics or other clothing. By early medieval times (1066-3000), men of all classes wore some form of a tunic, the material depending on their status and wealth. Beneath their silk, linen, or wool tunics, they wore braies or breeches. These formed the purpose of covering their private parts, in the form of loose fitting pants.
By the 1300s, clothing manufacturing and styles had evolved, and men began wearing hosiery with their mid-thigh length jackets. This hosiery initially left their genitals exposed when sitting and mounting a horse, which sparked controversy in the morality arena. Thus, the codpiece was born to protect the modesty of gentlemen. Originally made of linen, the codpiece had a triangular flap or pouch that you tied to the top of your hose. The pouch served the function of concealing men’s genitals as well as providing storage, like a purse, for small objects. Another functional use of the codpiece during this time was to disguise syphilis, a disease that was rapidly spreading in the late 1400s and which affected sex organs.
Codpieces were used for several hundred years and changed shape over time. They were padded and became very elaborate by the 1500s. They made them in a way to exhibit the wearer’s manhood in a positive fashion. Men tried to exaggerate their stature and status by stuffing their codpiece. Even though their clothing could cover it, they would often make openings in the front to allow the codpiece to be at least partially visible. England’s Henry VIII would wear huge codpieces adorned with jewels and embroidery, which can be seen in his portraits (check out the codpiece phenomenon of Henry VIII and others in art from the times here).
Eventually, religious leaders began attacking the garment. By the time Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, she was highly against the fashion, and the codpiece gradually became smaller again and went back to its pocket roots. Shortly after that, in the early 1600s, the codpiece was no longer worn.
Men’s Underwear 1600 to 1900
By the time 1600 rolled around, breeches and pantaloons in different styles and lengths were the article of choice for many men. Beneath their breeches, they wore garments that resembled medieval braies and were known as drawers made of linen, cotton, or wool. They had a drawstring or ribbons to keep them tied at the waist. Over the next hundred years, the length and fitting of breeches changed into what were known as trousers. Men’s drawers gradually fit better and tighter, and men could wear them underneath their trousers. By 1840, companies began producing underwear of various lengths. Some included slits in the fabric to make it easier to use the bathroom.
In the late 1800s, different kinds of men’s underwear popped up, including union suits that had connecting vests with drawers, longjohns that were long wool drawers for the winter, and shorter cotton drawers with front buttons.
Men’s Underwear from 1900 to the Present
As the styles of pants have changed over time, so have the styles of undergarments beneath them. From loose to tight pants, normal to low to high waists, and buttons to zipper openings, men of today wear many different styles, which calls for many different underwear styles as well. Some common designs that still exist today include boxer and jockey shorts from the 1930s, and briefs and mini-briefs introduced in the 1970s. On our website, you can find a great selection of styles and types.
An innovative fabric used for underwear called Aertrex, developed in 1906, helped keep the body warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Many fabrics like Aertrex still exist today.
Over time, as fashion and morals have changed, so has men’s underwear. From minimal coverage, to full coverage, to genitalia accentuation, and everything in between, every era has its culturally accepted version. Who knows what will be acceptable in underwear fashion in the future?