International Jock: Fashion Underwear
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A History of Men's Underwear
Today, when anthropologists visit the remote highland areas of western New Guinea, they find some native males of various ethnic groups wearing only a single and unique body covering.
That sole covering is an extremely hard and durable, sometimes colorful, gourd that has been dried out and hollowed. It covers the men's genital area - specifically the penis. These men wear nothing else.
Anthropologists call it a koteka, which, they say, is a phallocrypt or penis shaft. The fact that it is worn without other clothing indicates that it is not specifically a form of men's underwear. But it does indicate to us that covering and protecting the male's genital area speaks to the most primitive and basic of man's needs - food, shelter and, in this case, clothing.
The koteka is basic, and essential, to men in this region and the rest of the world has a modern equivalent of it today - although it is now hidden from view.
The koteka's antecedent is the hard cup, a vital and essential accessory in today's sports apparel line. Like its name indicates, the cup is extremely hard and more durable than a gourd.
It provides protection from severe injury to the groin area for a specific group of athletes. No professional baseball catcher, hockey goalie or rugby player would ever think to enter the playing arena without fastidiously securing his koteka, his hard cup, within his jockstrap.
In this examination we will take a brief look at the historical evolution of men's underwear. In addition, we will take a look at how many of the items within the historical line of men's underwear are familiar to us today. They are, in many cases, direct or indirect antecedents of those worn throughout the ages.
In a nutshell, we'll take a look as to how loincloths, codpieces, long johns and doublets evolved into briefs, boxers, shorts, trunks, thongs, athletic supporters, jockstraps, t-shirts and all the other items of men's underwear that are available to us today.
Here we go.
In the animal kingdom, the male is usually more ostentatiously colorful than the female, presumably to validate his masculinity and, thus, make him more attractive to potential mates.
Male humans, up until the last two centuries, dressed with as much brio as women. But then their clothes, and their underwear in particular, developed on singularly colorless lines. The present and future, however, would seem to offer considerably wider options.
Differences in anatomy have always dictated basic differences between women and men's undergarments. Women's underwear has been more about form, often to the point of distortion. It was an attractive covering featuring lace, ruffles, handiwork, and sheer fabrics. This emphasized sexuality rather than serving practicality.
Men's underwear, on the other hand, whether they are briefs or boxers, shorts or trunks, athletic supporters or jock straps have always been primarily functional in that they conform to the contours of the male body, and are made with sturdy and protective fabrics.
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In the Beginning.
The oldest example of men's underwear, the loincloth, dates back to the cave man. We know this because in 1991 a leather loincloth was discovered in the Alps along with the remains of Otzi, the iceman, who lived around 3300 B.C. Scientists discovered that Otzi wore a leather loincloth under his woven grass cloak.
The fact that he wore it under his cloak provides us with the earliest documentation of men's underwear. Abel Hugo, brother of the noted French writer Victor, reported that this basic ancient loincloth continued to be worn by shepherds of the Landes area of southern France all the way up to 1835.
Egypt's King Tut wore loincloths that were described by experts who studied them in 1979 - some fifty years after the discovery in his tomb. We are told that they were a long piece of linen shaped like an isosceles triangle with strings coming off the long ends.
These were tied around the hips and the length of cloth hanging down in back was brought forward between the legs and tucked over the tied strings from the outside in.
That being the case, the most visible and enduring artistic representation of the ancient times' loincloth is apparent when viewing any of the multitudinous artistic renderings of Christ's Crucifixion. And that event, Christians are told, occurred shortly after Jesus was "stripped of his garments."
Thus Christ's loincloth was indeed a form of men's underwear. Almost without exception, every artistic rendering of the Crucifixion displays this sole visible article, which was Christ's only clothing at that moment - his loincloth.
It is significant to note that the artist's interpretation of the style of Christ's loin covering was derived from his knowledge of waist coverings and undergarments that were contemporary to the time the portrait or sculpture was created.
To that end, we will sometimes see Christ's midsection covered by a loincloth that's joined together by ties or strings. Or maybe it will more closely resemble a bulky modern day bath towel with multiple folds that cover the entire groin area. Or it may appear to be a standard piece of white linen with a side tail flapping like a flag in the wind.
The latter was a favorite and important "interpretation" utilized by artists during the period of the Crusades. At that time, some artists portrayed the cuts at the ends of the "tail flap" of Christ's loincloth to be identical to the cuts or shape on the flags of heraldry of a specific group of Crusaders.
Thus the masters were capable of, and indeed did, stylize the crucified Christ's crucifixion garment, both to the political reality of the time as well as the designs of the undergarments that they were familiar with at that time the masterpiece was created.
Thus, it would be historically inaccurate, but artistically consistent, for a modern day rendering of the Crucifixion to depict the body of Christ wearing a pair of boxers or briefs, a thong, or even an athletic supporter.
As jarring and offensive as that would appear to the traditionalist (who would surely shout blasphemy), it would be traditionally acceptable in that today's painter or sculptor would be adhering to the centuries old tradition of covering the midsection of the crucified Christ in a style of men's undergarment that was contemporary to the time the image was being created.
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"It's All Greek to Me."
The uninformed may find it strange that the Ancient Greeks never considered wearing any form of protection to the groin area during their celebrated Olympic Games. The Greeks had a lot of time to think about it because, after all, these events were the longest-running recurring event in antiquity.
The early Olympics were heady events. There were peripheral activities that came with the Olympic festival: artistic happenings, new writers, new painters and new sculptors. There were even fire-eaters, palm readers, and prostitutes. And, of course, there were the celebrated athletes, each of whom performed his feats without wearing as much as a single stitch of clothing.
A reader recently asked National Geographic magazine: "Why did the Olympic athletes compete in the nude?" Here's how that esteemed periodical replied: "The truth is that no one knows.
According to one story, it began when a runner lost his loincloth and tripped on it. Everyone took off his loincloth after that. But ancient historians have traced it back to initiation rites-young men walking around naked and sort of entering manhood."
The answer continued by adding: "We know how fundamental nudity was to Greek culture. It really appealed to the exhibitionism and the vanity of the Greeks. Only barbarians were afraid to show their bodies."
"The nude athletes would parade like peacocks up and down the stadium. Poets would write in a shaky hand these wonderful odes to the bodies of the young men, their skin the color of fired clay. But other cultures, like the Persians and the Egyptians, looked at these Greek men oiling one another down and writhing in the mud, and found it very strange. They believed it promoted sexual degeneracy."
We are told that Plato was a huge fan of Olympic wresting and Sophocles could be found hanging around the Olympic handball court. Aristotle and Socrates surely bounced around the various events.
One would think that the civilization that gave us these great thinkers would have had someone in their stable who would have thought hard enough on how to come up with the world's first and greatest jockstrap. Even a thong, bikini or the precursors of today's men's briefs or boxers would have been sufficient. But, no, that thought never occurred to any of those great thinkers.
Couldn't one of the women who were married to the "fathers of geometry" figure out the simple angles that are necessary to put together a men's t-shirt? Couldn't one of her sons have grabbed a brass wine goblet and modified it into some form of a genital protecting hard cup? Surely that would have been placed on a shelf at home after the festivities as a dearly cherished vessel that not only protected but benefited those early Olympic wrestlers.
The invention of a jockstrap or athletic supporter, or any other form of men's underwear, never occurred to them because historians tell us the Greeks went without underwear all the time - even when they were off the playing field. Simply put, they didn't wear underwear - ever. Oh well, great thinkers didn't always look for practical results.
After all there was a widespread rumor floating around after World War II that claimed the now world-renowned scientist, Albert Einstein, father of the atomic bomb, didn't know how to tie his own shoelaces.
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
In the 1950's, a little tike visiting his gramma would occasionally hear the wise woman order the command "Pull up your britches or you're gonna fall down." The little lad had never heard the word britches before but he intuitively knew that gramma was ordering him to pull up his pants.
At the same time her husband, the boy's grandpa, might have been entering the room wearing a new pair of gabardine slacks. The observant women would tell him, "You've got a piece of lint on your trousers." Granma was born in the late 1800's and probably didn't know that her terminology, specifically britches and trousers, are derivatives that date all the way back to the Ancient Romans.
These garments were Roman underwear. Granma could care less; she just wanted her grandson to be safe and happy and her husband to be smartly dressed.
At least as early as the second century B.C., the Romans were exposed to bifurcated garments. That was when the Teutons defeated one of their armies.
These warriors from the North were garbed in short tunics under which breeches or baggy trousers were worn as a form of men's underwear. This was sure proof to the Romans that they were barbarians.
Contrary to the usual result, instead of the defeated people adopting the conquerors' mode of dress, it was here the other way around. The invaders soon began to wear something resembling Roman dress. However, the Romans gradually accepted both long and short trousers as their underwear.
They were adopted first by soldiers, who recognized their practicality - something that is always noteworthy when considering the appropriate style, form or fabric of men's underwear.
In conservative Rome, meanwhile, both men and women continued to wear similar layers of tunic, plus toga, although men sometimes wore an extra under-tunic. These were usually shorter than those worn by women in order to accommodate their more active life style.
The subligaculum was also a kind of men's underwear worn by ancient Romans as evidenced by the Latin prefix "sub" which translates as "under."
However, gladiators, athletes, and stage actors frequently worn it as an outer garment - "for the sake of decency." The subligaculum most closely resembles a pair of shorts or trunks, or it could also be a simple loincloth that was wrapped around the lower abdominal area.
In 481 AD, when King Clovis ruled in the area near the current boarder of France and Belgium, his subjects wore breeches or braies. These ended at the knee or were long and cross-gartered. Either way, they were worn under a knee-length tunic thus making them a form of men's underwear.
It was much later that male and female attire diverged dramatically. Men shortened their tunics and exposed their legs in breeches.
These were not as short as men's briefs or trunks. Women continued to hide their legs under long skirts that reached to their feet. Thus it was men, not women, who wore the first in history, shall we say, to wear "sexy underwear."
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Man of La Mancha and His Buddies
During the period when El Cid was galloping around Spain, the nobility wore fitted breeches under tunics that could reach to mid-calf or below - similar to the snug fit of today's compression shorts.
The lower classes, however, wore tunics at knee level with breeches that were loose and baggy thus they were afforded the comfort provided by the today's boxer shorts and men's briefs.
A century later, when Genghis Khan stormed through Europe, he would find a noble class whose breeches had shrunk. (Historians do not report if this was the immediate result of Khan's arrival - which assuredly meant doom.)
Nonetheless, he found the nobility of Europe wearing invisible drawers that served the same purpose of today's boxers or men's briefs. At the same time, the laboring classes made do with a breechcloth.
This was a strip of material, usually in the form of a narrow rectangle, which passed between the thighs and secured before and behind under a belt or string. The rectangular shape notwithstanding, this was clearly the predecessor of the currently popular men's thong.
At about the same time, the rigidity of plate armor necessitated the addition of padded linen linings that served as protection against the cold harsh metal. Additionally, armor clad men on horseback began to wear padded loincloths. Historians say that these were the real antecedents to what has been worn as men's underwear ever since.
The New World
The tunic started to disappear about the time Christopher Columbus set sail on his spice run to the Orient. It was morphed into the doublet which was a snug fitting buttoned jacket that men of his time wore. And, it is at this time that we see signs of men's legs being newly revealed and their outer clothing becoming more colorful and flamboyant.
The top of the outfit was formfitting and laced up the front - much like the mountain men would wear three centuries later while cavorting around the American West.
Men as well as women wore stiffened stomachers with pointed front panels. However, underneath, both sexes wore chemises, which is the French word for "shirts."
Thus at this point the world was introduced to what would evolve into the men's t-shirt because their garments also served as a nightshirt and, like the t-shirt, it is still worn for that purpose by many men today.
The outer garment was slashed at various places including the wrists and neck. The purpose of which was to selectively display various sections of the undershirts. Thus at this point in history, we encounter the introduction of "revealing or sexy men's underwear."
The style of the time allowed men to wear stockings that were decorated with embroidery. They were even bejeweled. Early hose stopped at the knee. But a short time before, the men who rode with Richard the Lionheart wore hose that had risen to mid-thigh and were pulled over the breeches. Clearly, this was the introduction of pantyhose for men.
Later men's hose often were tied with ribbons below the knees and were attached to the breeches. These were the decorative precursor of garters; they then were laced to the doublet. In the beginning, stockings were cut from either linen or wool cloth and shaped to the leg.
Knitting was little known until the time of Elizabeth I and when introduced, knitted hose meant greatly improved fit. Although elastic had not yet been invented the end result was not unlike the snug fit of today's athletic supporters, briefs, trunks, shorts and t-shirts.
Another "knit-fit" accessory would also appear later, specifically in the current reign of Queen Elizabeth II. They are the readily available leg warmers worn during rehearsals by both male and female dance students and professionals.
By the sixteenth century the male codpiece was dramatically apparent. Think Henry VIII. Who, thanks to the various portraits painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, is probably the most recognized of all the British monarchs.
The codpiece began in this era as a simple, three-cornered gusset in the upper part of what is referred to as trunk-hose. These were short full breeches reaching about half way down the thighs.
The codpiece was enlarged into a stiff stuffed protuberance that echoed and emphasized the shape of the male sexual organ. These exaggerated "centerpieces" were sometimes used as a storage place for coins, snuff or sweets. A costume historian has written, "During this time the entire male population above the age of three appeared to be suffering from a severe case of priapism."
Today's male athletes wear the codpiece's lineal descendant, the athletic supporter or jockstrap, as a protection for their genitals. A derivative for male dancers is referred to as a dance belt.
In the world of ballet - the dance belt (or jock strap) is stuffed, not with a hard cup, but usually with women's sanitary napkins. This not only provides a little extra protection to the dancers' private parts but also permits the display of an enhanced symbol of masculinity for any number of ballerinos who need to portray that.
Renaissance men were also known to wear padding to flesh out their calves because a "fine leg" was considered to be most desirable.
Thus, the aforementioned Henry VIII, with his plumed hat, broad shouldered robe, slashed and decorated doublet, embroidered hose, beribboned garters and aggressive codpiece was the image of masculine power at that time.
Welcome to Brigadoon
Since Henry's England shares its northern boarder with Scotland, this may be the time to answer the inevitable question, "What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt?"
The early answer was "trews." This was a Celtic garment and a form of mens underwear, consisting of loose fitting breeches and hose. It was knitted into one piece and worn by Highlanders as they walked the moors.
Sometimes it was trimmed with leather, probably buckskin, especially on the inner leg, in order to prevent wear from riding on horseback.
While still not considered to be strictly an "accessory" of Highland or Scottish dress, the subject of kilt underwear has been of long standing interest.
Today, if a kilt wearer chooses to go without underwear it is often referred to as "going regimental" or in observance of "military practice." Some prefer to use the simpler term "dressing traditionally" in the name of Scottish national pride. This is because the former terms are associated with the British military. There is, in fact, no evidence of official policy regarding undergarments in military forces that wear the kilt.
When wearing the kilt it is not uncommon to be asked, "Are you a true Scotsman?" This does not refer to a man's ancestry in any way but is a polite way of inquiring whether the person is naked beneath the kilt.
Today's highland dancers and athletes, however, are bound by the nature of their competitions to clad themselves appropriately and modestly. In highland dance competitions and exhibitions, the regulations of the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing state the following regarding men's underwear: "dark or toning with the kilt should be worn but not white."
Highland athletes are also required to wear shorts of some type during the athletic competitions and most opt for either regular shorts of a Lycra fabric. This is the most famous brand name associated with spandex. Compression shorts would appear to be ideal for this need - provided they follow the color guidelines stated above. Suffice it to say, men's thongs, briefs, athletic supporters or jockstraps are a definite "no-no."
Up until the French Revolution men's fashion was defined by knee breeches with stockings or tights worn underneath. The revolution's date -1789, for the most part, abruptly ended the trend of visible men's stockings and knee breeches which are commonly referred to as "culottes" by the French today.
The revolutionary cry "sans culottes" rejected knee breeches which were widespread in the aristocracy at that time. Instead, the introduction of the new fashion of wearing long trousers with knee-length socks or normal socks occurred.
This was a turning point in the history of European fashion, which still shapes typical men's wear today. Stockings and tights, as men's underwear, were still sporadically worn under knee breeches or long trousers but they became relatively rare at the time of the French Revolution.
The Age of Enlightenment introduced us to the dandies. These men did not subscribe to the relaxed mode of dress. The most notable dandy of this period was England's George Byran "Beau" Brummel, who branded himself with the smooth, wrinkle free fit of his clothes. He was known particularly for his meticulously kept underwear at a time when cleanliness was not given a high priority.
As meticulous as Beau Brummel was about his underwear, it would be consistent with his fastidious nature to wear a more gallant type of men's underwear in the form of men's thongs, shorts, bikinis or any of the other kind of sexy underwear that we have today. However those items were obviously not available to him at the time. Beau's contemporaries, the sporty Parisian dandies of the same era, were known to wear girdles.
This should not sound strange because throughout the centuries, some men in many nations, particularly those in the various militaries, have worn some form of a corset in order to facilitate the upright stance consistent with a warrior cult.
As recently as 1908 the Sears, Roebuck catalog offered a "male military corset giving the straight front effect that is so much admired." No doubt some unknown upper-class male passenger on the Titanic was wearing one when the ship went down.
There were two versions available at the time. One sold for ninety-two cents; the other for $1.50. Some obscure mail order catalog may still offer the male equivalent of the panty-girdle and tout it in the same way as was the tradition in the early twentieth century - for their "health-giving" features. Needless to say, these ads also count on the vanity factor to attract what few buyers there might be.
Meanwhile Back in America.
Cotton fabric, still commonly used today, occurred as a result of the invention of the cotton gin during the Industrial Revolution. Up to this period most people were required to improvise their own underwear in their homes.
Now it could be purchased from assorted vendors who acquired underwear items from various manufacturers. Thus, by the 1830's, a few decades prior to the Civil War, men were wearing manufactured under-drawers made of flannel.
By the end of the century some had adopted the three-piece knitted wool sleep suit. These contained a helmet, crewneck sweater and long drawers with feet. German reformer Dr. Gustav Jaeger advocated them.
Wool had previously been considered a habitat for vermin but personal hygiene was improving and Dr. Jaeger was persuasive. The British, in particular, subscribed to his theory that wool rather than linen made the perfect men's underwear.
John L. Sullivan, boxing's first modern world heavyweight champion, hailed from chilly Boston. He wore long wool drawers in boxing competitions. Thus, because of his enormous popularity in America these became known as long johns.
They were available as separate vests and ankle length drawers or as an all-in-one piece union suit. So named not because of the Confederate and Union states but because they were a unified all-in-one item.
The 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog offered union suits for ten cents. Their catalog, the "wishing book," tells us they came in "natural wool color, gray, and the very popular red." Union suits, either knee or ankle length, were buttoned down the front and had drop seats in the back.
An epitaph on a nineteenth century tombstone reads, "Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Uncle Peter Daniels/Too early in the month of May, he took off his flannels.
A pre-shrunk fabric was yet to be introduced and the union suit still remained popular as late as the 1920's. But even they had to be purchased in a "size larger" due to shrinkage when they were laundered the first time.
Today, almost every American has a clear idea of the union suit's style and shape. This came as a result of their exposure to the many cowboy movies that are set in the turn of the century American West.
Many of those movies had scenes where a cowboy or woodsman was taking off his clothes before jumping in a tub of hot water to bathe. And this cinematic action gave the viewer a peak at his underwear, his union suit, before he hit the water.
Today, word "Jockey" or jock will draw some reference to a popular form of men's underwear. The shorts that bare its trademarked name is headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin and are said to employ over 5,000 people around the world.
The company was actually founded in 1876 by Samuel T. Cooper, a retired minister who jumped to the aid of lumberjacks who were suffering from blisters and infections caused by their shoddy wool socks. Shortly thereafter, Jockey took a leap from socks to shorts and that would ultimately result in a men's underwear revolution some time later.
Only two years before the aforementioned Mr. Cooper went on his mission to rescue the lumberjack's feet from misery; another mid-west gentleman was interested in helping out the bicycle jockeys who were cycling on the bumpy cobblestone streets of Boston.
C. F. Bennett of the Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp and Smith, invented the jockstrap in 1874. Twenty-three years later, Bennett's newly formed Bike Web Company began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap. Today, Bike is still the market leader in jockstrap sales.
The standard jockstrap, or athletic supporter, consists of a wide elastic waistband with a support pouch. It has two straps extending from the base that surrounds the rear end to attach to the waistband. The pouch, in some varieties, may be fitted with a pocket to hold an impact resistant hard cup that protects the package from injury during athletic practice or competition.
Bike Athletic recently announced the production of its 350 millionth jock strap. That honorable athletic supporter was taken off the assembly line on November 28, 2006. (Yes, athletes the world over gave thanks to the company during Thanksgiving week.) Then the historic jockstrap was framed and flown by DHL to Bike's headquarters in Atlanta two days later.
A month later, in January 2007, Ms. Jenny Shulman, Bike Athletic brand manager and expert on jock straps, issued a press release with her tongue firmly planted in cheek. A portion of it reads as follows: "There was no doubt in my mind that DHL would take care of our package the way we have taken care of so many packages for the past 130 years."
The Bike Web Company, now Bike Athletic, a division of Russell Corporation, invented the jock strap in 1874. It was designed to provide support for bicycle jockeys riding in the cobblestone streets of Boston. The athletic supporter quickly became known as the "Bike jockey strap." Eventually the name was shortened to "jock strap."
During World War I, the first cotton boxer shorts with buttons were issued to infantrymen for summer wear. They were so popular that men insisted on wearing them when they returned home
The Twenties and Thirties
The turn of the last century was celebrated with parlor piano and ragtime music. That gave way to the speakeasies and jazz of the Roaring '20's.
Men's underwear at that time would be made of a nainsook, which is soft muslin fabric, often used to make babies' clothing. Muslin, we are told, got its name from in the Iraqi city of Mosul. There muslin was first discovered by some Europeans at that same time that another group, we now call Pilgrims, were sailing to the new world.
Obviously muslin is a natural fiber, not a synthetic. We would have to wait some time for that invention which would allow designers to create much more vibrant lines of men's underwear such as the colorful men's trunks, shorts, thongs and swimwear that we have today.
However, the twenties did see the introduction of pre-shrunk fabrics and that would revolutionize 1930's men's underwear. Additionally, the twenties saw the introduction of the boxer brief which was named accordingly because it was an "abbreviated" version of its predecessor - the popular long john. The latter extended down as far as the ankles, whereas the boxer brief ended at mid-thigh.
Despite the fact that America was in the depths of the Great Depression, 1934 was a watershed year in the history of men's underwear. That was when Jockey introduced their Y vent shorts.
The company began making briefs in 1930's. Word has it that men's briefs were inspired by the then popular swimsuits worn on the French Riviera. Those were snugly fitting undergarments and considered to be quite risqué at the time.
Four years later Jockey invented Y-vent diagonal vent. The convenient innovative feature was adapted to their boxers and briefs after it was first applied to both their short and long length knitted drawers.
Today one can buy jockey shorts with access pouch or flap. Traditional high and low cut jockey shorts have vertical or diagonal flaps.
Shortly after New Year's Day in 1935, a major mid-west department store introduced the new Jockey brief. Management thought the widow designers were nuts in devoting display space to skimpy men's underwear on a day when the city was being hit with one of the worst blizzards in a long time. "Get those shorts out and put the long johns in that window." But customers knew a good thing when they saw one and six hundred packages of Jockey briefs were sold before the window dressers were able to dismantle the display.
In 1936 Munsingwear developed their horizontal vent "kangaroo" pouch line of men's underwear
The Forties and Fifties
For the most part, men's underwear designs remained static on the home front during the first half of the 1940's. That was because all American energy went towards the war effort. The war brought shortages and rationings.
One Jockey ad declared - "Uncle Sam needs rubber so Jockey waistbands are no longer all-elastic." At this point the woven waistband with two side buttons was reintroduced to men's underwear.
However, there was one major change in men's underwear that was not introduced to provide ease or comfort to the wearer; the following change actually saved the lives of the many American men.
The final scene of Clint Eastwood's 2006 fall release Flags of Our Fathers showed us a small group of marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mt. Surabachi. Following that celebrated moment the American warriors took a swim in the Pacific Ocean off Iwo Jima.
They were leathernecks and they wore white underwear. Eastwood, the director, and his wardrobe costumer got it wrong. The color of the men's underwear, that is.
The historical fact is, G.I.'s didn't wear white underwear during most of World War II - and certainly not at the time this scene took place.
By that time, all G.I.'s wore a military issued olive drab boxer style short. That color was chosen for camouflage purposes after the war began. It was especially important on the occasions when the shorts were drying on make shift clotheslines throughout the battlefronts. American military personnel realized early on that a freshly washed white pair of shorts drying on the line attracted enemy fire.
After that change was made, another wartime ad for Jockey headlined: "Target: White Underwear." It explained to those at home why the armed forces had switched from white to olive drab undershorts.
Considering everything that was going on at the time, it was hardly vital that the public have that information. But it does show us how American industry, all the way down men's underwear business, was doing their part in the war effort - not to mention building their positive public relations image with Americans at the same time.
Most of these olive military boxer style shorts came with an elastic waistband that allowed the brief to fit snugly around the waist. Those that had no elastic had two larger than might be expected olive colored buttons at the in the front of the waistband and on the fly.
At home post-war table milk was being pasteurized and homogenized and men's underwear was being sanforized.
This was a factory process that guaranteed the item would not shrink more than 1% after being washed. Prior to sanforization those that sewed had to estimate how much a finished garment would shrink after its first wash, the results were sometimes tragic.
The sanforization process was invented by Sanford L. Cluett. It came to its height in the 1940's. When Sanford died in 1968, Sanforized was licensed for manufacture by 448 mills in fifty-eight countries. Today the trademarks Sanfor (Europe), Sanforizado (Latin America) and Sanforized (rest of the world) are registered in more than a hundred countries worldwide for cotton and cotton blend fabrics.
Despite the squeaky clean Ozzie and Harriet image that was being portrayed by the then new medium of television, post war men and boys of the 1950s took some daring-do with the look of their underwear.
New print patterns were now available following the war shortages. The traditional solid white underwear suddenly began becoming more colorful with the availability of thousands of print patterns.
It started with simple geometric shapes - vertical lines, simple squares and triangles. Those gave way to various assemblages of floating dice, wild animals, cupids and playing cards. Basically, any theme that crossed the mind was ok.
While the basic shorts and boxers were still the standard, the creativity of their over-all print patterns was unlimited. This creatively would continue but would have severe consequence for one manufacturer some time later.
Specifically, on one occasion, United States Secret Service agents made a surprise visit to a manufacturer in order to confiscated a thousand pairs of men's undershorts. They did this on the grounds that they violated U.S. forgery laws.
The agents observed that the colorful pattern on that particular line depicted a series of floating one hundred dollar bills and federal currency cannot be duplicated for any reason. This was probably the first time in history that Uncle Sam fulfilled the age-old taxpayer's complaint "the government would even take your shorts, if they could."
The 1950's also saw the introduction of synthetic fibers to many clothing lines. Men's underwear manufacturers began experimenting with such fabrics as rayon, dacron and the new DuPont nylon and would eventually create the early predecessors of the new lines of athletic supporters and men's swimwear, men's trunks, shorts and thongs that we have today .
The t-shirt graduated from an "under" article to outer wear in the 1950's. Up until a point, some men would wear a t shirt as a visible torso covering primarily around the house -perhaps while doing yard work or repairs.
On some occasions he would be restricted to that area by his wife who might say, "Honey, you're not going to the store wearing that - put on a shirt." (She meant a shirt that buttoned up the front.) The t shirt was still considered an undershirt and some wives wouldn't let their husbands be seen in "public" without covering it up. The media, specifically the movie industry, just as it does today, would change that dramatically.
The '50's saw the entry of Marlon Brando, and James Dean - teen idols who were portrayed as rebels. Most notably by the former in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the latter in "Rebel Without a Cause."
Brando and Dean wore t-shirts as "outerwear" throughout those movies. The former, in particular, displayed a sensual torso dripping with humid Louisiana sweat in some scenes of Desire, while the youthful Dean went through his trials and tribulations in a t shirt in the hot Southern California sun. This was nothing new to the teenage boys of the nation. They wore t shits to school and one that was Purex white in their "gym class."
There, it was a part of the standard American high school gym uniform - in addition to their jockstrap and solid colored pair of gym shorts that declared the school's colors.
On a Saturday night, some of these guys would take their dates to any one of the numerous "sword and sandal" movies. Most notably, those starring muscular Steve Reeves as "Hercules." The teen couple shared popcorn and kisses while watching the mythical hero romp around ancient Europe clothed only in a loincloth under which, undoubtedly, was a jockstrap, thong or traditional men's swimsuit.
The next day would find the couple enjoying the sand, sun and surf while listening to a transistor radio that told them who wore "Short Shorts" and an "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." This all took place while Gidget and Moondogie surfed the shores in their swimsuits.
A few years later, Annette and Frankie would do the same in their numerous Beach Party movies. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, wearing Pendleton shirts and sexy swimsuits on their album covers, would soon carry these images into the next decade.
Pop music critics still say their "Surfer and California Girls" and the soon to arrive Mommas and Pappas's "California Dreamin'" would be partly responsible for the nation's greatest land migration from the East to West coast since the 1849 gold rush.
The Sixties and Seventies
Relatively speaking, things remained somewhat routine with regard to the development of men's underwear during the 1960's and 1970's. But the social conditions of that era were anything but routine.
Flower-powered hippies were rebelling by paying little or no attention to what they wore under their bell-bottoms and tank tops. In many cases it was nothing at all.
This was the time of protest. So while their male counterparts burned their draft card, women libbers gathered together and chanted, "Burn the Bra."
Given these cries for liberation, when the voice from the megaphone intoned the chant "What do we want?" the men certainly didn't respond with "Sexy Designer Jockstraps!"
Hey, these were radical people and their underwear was coming off - publicly. This was the era when naked "go go girls" gyrated atop beer stained bar tables to Grateful Dead music. Visitors at some beaches saw women go topless and men go bottomless.
Thongs, bikinis, briefs, jockstraps, t shirts, shorts and other in-day swimsuits were flung off and sent, as Bob Dylan says, "Blowin' in the Wind."
City officials in Redondo Beach, California were so offended by this newfound liberation they looked in their books to see if they had an ordinance to arrest the sunbather who dared to violate their public decency laws.
When they found their law they also found more than they bargained for. Their law was written at the turn of the century and stated that "two thirds of the torso of both men and women must be covered at all times while on the beach." Nothing was said about covering the groin area - it was just understood that it would be done when the law was written in the post Victorian era.
Laughable as it may seem today, they realized their law dated back to the early 1900's - when people "frolicked by the seaside." Then women wore "sun suits" or a one-piece "Miss America" style swimsuit and the respectable gentleman with the handlebar mustache would never appear on the seashore without wearing an undershirt above his swimsuit at all times.
The early seventies was a time of mini-skirts and muumuus, rebellion and revolt, power and protest. In 1975, Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver even tried to reintroduce the Renaissance codpiece to contemporary male fashion.
His designer jeans incorporated a combination codpiece/penis sheath that, according to one description, could "accommodate a two-pound Portuguese sausage"
Cleaver's attempt to market this Renaissance fashion item made some headlines, most notably in the burgeoning underground press of that time. One such newspaper published a photo of a male model wearing a "see through" version.
The jeans were not made out of fabric but a clear plastic similar in thickness to that which your grandmother would choose to cover and preserve her new sofa. Readers were informed that it was designed to be worn without a jockstrap, athletic supporter, shorts or any other form of men's underwear.
Needless to say, the civil rights activist's new "jeans" did not catch on with many contemporary shoppers. Eldridge Cleaver may have designed them but Ward or Wally Cleaver's generation would never consider wearing them. They weren't ready for that yet.
They would wait, instead, for creative designers to come up with the less ostentatious but more vibrant lines of men's briefs, swimwear, trunks, shorts and other forms of men's underwear that is considered to be sexy underwear today.
Few could argue that one of the most celebrated photos of a woman in a swimsuit occurred in the forties with the "head over the shoulder" shot of Betty Grable wearing heels and a white one-piece swimsuit. We are repeatedly told that thousands of GI's hung it in their lockers as a reminder of home during WWII.
Would there ever be a photo of a man in a swimsuit that would gain an equally noteworthy place in history? And would that photo, like Grable's, not be created specifically for commercial advertising purposes?
The nation got that photo in the summer of 1972.
Just say the name Mark Spitz to anyone who as around at that time and it conjures up an image of a drop dead gorgeous young man with dark hair, neatly trimmed moustache, winning smile and gleaming pearly whites. Immediately prior to his photo shoot, Spitz had won his seventh gold medal at the Munich Summer Olympics. There they were, all seven medals, hanging around his neck blocking the view of his trim naked torso.
Spitz's event was Olympic swimming and he won more gold medals in a single Olympic than any other person in history - a record that still stands today.
This was the time when Vietnam was raging and American athletes fiercely competed against their Soviet Union counterparts during the height of the Cold War.
When the band played "Oh, say can you see." tv viewers thought, "Yes, we see!" him wearing his red, white, and blue trim men's swimsuit. It was a moment of true national pride.
The Spitz photo was carried on the first page of all the newspapers and on the cover of virtually every news magazine. It was one of the first to be reproduced as a gigantic wall poster that hung in many kids' bedrooms.
So there we have it, two of the most famous swimsuits in history. One on a woman; the other on a man - both taken during a time of war.
Grable's may have been motivating to men serving over seas during WWII, but Spitz's red, white and blue men's swimsuit was equally attractive to both men and women, not to mention young children and teens, who were at home in 1972.
The t shirt was used for a different purpose in the 1970's. T shirts still came in white and any imaginable color but they were now beginning to be used for advertising anything from a commercial business to one's allegiance to a particular rock band.
In short, they were the re-birth of the walking signboard that unemployed men wore during the Great Depression.
Some t shirt slogans contained more innuendo than direct advertising. One creative thinker marketed his t shirts with the then common banking phrase - "Substantial Interest Penalty for Early Withdrawal." This was obviously not to be interpreted as a loss on a short term financial investment at his local savings and loan but a warning to a potential sex partner that your performance in bed better be good if or when we go home together.
Additionally, the sixties and the seventies also saw the arrival of the "health club" chains, most with pools or saunas and some with masseurs.
They were geared to attract the businessman who knew he needed to exercise. He did this with free weights, run-in-place treadmills and the new Universal pulley machines. These health clubs, most notably the Jack LaLanne "European Health Spas," were a step up from the YMCA, which was the traditional option up to this point.
Those who had health club memberships during this time will verify that men in the locker room took off their traditional boxers and briefs prior to putting on their jockstraps and shorts in preparation for their workout. After which some would change into their swimsuits and take dip in the pool
The seventies also saw shortages in raw goods. Gasoline, beef, sugar and coffee were in disastrously short supply. But there was no shortage of bad taste in one area.
No examination of this period of men's fashion would be complete without mentioning the synthetic fabric - polyester. All one has to do to get a peek of this seventies fashion phenomena is to flip to the "Game Show Network" which currently shows endless re-runs of programs such as "The Newlywed Game" and "Hollywood Squares" - both were media creations of the seventies.
It was a period of men's pastel leisure suits, wide neckties and dress coats with even wider lapels - all made of polyester.
Perhaps the most iconic polyester suit of this period certainly is the white outfit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Touch dancing was back in vogue by this time. There was his memorable scene at the disco where the famous dance pose was filmed.
This occurred after we see him in his bedroom preparing to go out for the night. In that scene he is combing his hair while looking in the mirror. His only piece of clothing at that moment is a red underwear bikini - clearly the predecessor to the men's thong which would arrive on the scene a decade later.
The seventies were soon to end and we would soon be introduced to entirely new lines of men's briefs, jockstraps, trunks, shorts, thongs, shirts and t-shirts
The Eighties and Beyond
Things calmed down in the eighties. Most college protesters chose to cut their hair prior to entering the professional work force. When that decision was made, up to this point, men went to "barbers" and women went to "beauticians." Both were now going to unisex shops and being groomed by a unisex "haircutter."
Women were now entering jobs that, for generations, were traditionally only open to men. Thus, we now begin to see the consolidation of the sexes in many areas of work and play.
The sport of jogging became the craze of the early eighties. It was a perfect activity for both men and women who wanted or needed to maintain their cardiovascular system it tip top shape. This type of physical exercise was not costly - no club memberships or expensive equipment was involved.
It was a solo sport whose basic requirements included a good pair of running shoes, a t shirt, undershirt, trunks, shorts and support wear for the women and an athletic supporter or jockstrap for the men.
This sport, was made popular, in part, by the track and field successes of Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter. It is still very much alive today as is evident by the many joggers that still dot the roadside of virtually every American community. Not to mention the long distance runners that participate in the annual marathons sponsored by almost every major city in the nation.
Jogging was just the beginning. It would, like many other individual sports, allow people to utilize their leisure time in a beneficial and health giving way.
That premise would literally throw open the door to the vast line of creative and functional sportswear and men's underwear that we have today. Few could argue that, in the eighties, this all began at the heavy duty gyms that were popping up all over the world.
Some say it all started with two men who had, at that time, last names that were nearly unpronounceable - Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
At the beginning of the decade the former was in the middle of his hit TV series The Incredible Hulk. That series ended in 1982, which coincided with the terminator's blockbuster debut as Conan the Barbarian.
A few years earlier both of these soon-to-be actors were heavily featured together as rival bodybuilding competitors in the highly praised, independent underground documentary Pumping Iron.
This low budget production gave audiences their first look at, what was then, the underground world of professional bodybuilding. It took them the inside a dank and pungent independently owed men's gym in Venice, "Muscle Beach" California.
Audiences were exposed a small collegial group of men referred to as muscleheads. Their sculpted bodies were minimally covered with old sweatshirts with holes, torn t shirts, saggy trunks or makeshift men's shorts worn over jockstraps as well as any other form of swimwear that other men would have gladly given to the Salvation Army years earlier.
Arnold entered the scene via motion pictures and the Lou did the same on broadcast television - but the eighties also brought us as many as a hundred different cable tv channels in most service areas throughout the nation.
That would allow an entrepreneur named Vince Mc Mahon to take advantage if the new medium while Lou and Arnold were doing their thing elsewhere.
Mc Mahon's stable of WWF's (now WWE) professional wrestlers appeared regularly on as many at six different cable television stations in the same week during this period.
Interested viewers, especially the young ones, were saturated with colorful cardboard characters with names equally as colorful - Hulk Hogan, Sergeant Slaughter, Andre the Giant and The Killer Bees.
Professional wrestling's premise for a standard match was to pit a hero against a villain. The latter would frequently appear in a freakish Halloween costume - like The Undertaker. His opponent, the hero, would be a minimally clad, oiled down, suntanned, super buffed bodybuilder wearing a form fitting men's swimsuit or colorful men's trunks.
Given the amount of body slamming in this sport, all of these characters were additionally equipped with genital protection within their jockstraps.
Cable tv also provided viewers with ESPN, one of the most financially successful stations to this day. With twenty-four hour coverage on multiple channels there was now plenty of time to air what some were calling "fringe sports."
Bodybuilding competitions were among those telecasts. Up to this point, bodybuilding was lucky if it got a twelve-minute time slot once a year on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."
It made no matter that ESPN aired these competitions at "off hours" during the middle of the weekday or in the wee small hours of the night because, by this time, the VCR was now in most homes
Those that watched those bodybuilding competitions saw massively built young men posing on stage in the briefest of briefs. It was not a pair of conventional men's briefs that we know today. It was a men's thong that had evolved from the standard men's swimsuit that was worn during the first Mr. America competitions of the 1950's.
The bands of the thong that embrace the rear end were now even narrower than those found on the conventional jock strap or athletic supporter.
Even that small amount of coverage disappointed one bodybuilder who placed lower than he would have liked in one competition. He was overheard telling his wife, "The damn strap on my thong covered the best part of my glutes. (He was referring to his gluteus maximus or butt.) It's one of my best muscle parts."
Some popular culture historians find it humorously ironic that the weekly sports events that lead up to, and include, the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Championship and the World Series are still aired free of charge on broadcast tv.
All these games are played by men wearing colorful uniforms. At the same time, bodybuilding, wresting, boxing and kickboxing have all switched over to the financially lucrative pay-per-view audiences.
Each of the latter contains men who compete with unclothed legs and torsos. For the most part, they wear a variation of the contemporary men's swimsuit whether it is a pair of men's trunks, men's shorts, or a men's thong.
Are we now just like the Ancient Greeks? Is there something about the semi-nude male body in athletic competition that is so strong it will now attract millions of viewers who are willing to pay to see it?
This attention to the male body came about, in the eighties, as a result of the impact of motion pictures and television, particularly cable tv. But the music industry also played its part.
This decade introduced the world to MTV, which had little conventional restraint in portraying the glories of the partially clad human anatomy of both young women and men in the music videos that they aired.
To that end it should not surprise anyone to know that, according to the Billboard charts, the biggest pop hit of 1981 was Olivia Newton-John's cry for everyone to get "Physical."
That song not only held at number one for ten weeks but, Billboard tells us, it was the it was the biggest hit of that entire decade because it remained at the top of their chart ten times longer than any other song of the 1980's.
If Newton-John were to chart her "Physical" hit again she might do it as Olivia "Neutron-Bomb" because things were about to explode with creative design in this new era of men's underwear that we began to see in the nineties.
No examination of contemporary men's underwear would be complete without mentioning the name Calvin Klein.
His bold and provocative advertising brought the subject of men's underwear out into the open in the mid-eighties. His men's underwear line has now been available for a quarter of a century.
In 1982, Calvin Klein introduced his men's underwear line, which turned the perception of men's underwear to one of a fashionable item.
Men's underwear was no longer just a practical product, rather one that suggested sex appeal. It also told men that they too can look like male Calvin Klein Underwear models, Antonio Sabato Jr. and Mark Wahlberg.
Not only a fashion visionary, Klein has also become known as a marketing genius who changed advertising by continuously pushing the envelope a little further.
Mr. Klein has become notorious for the nudity, obvious sexuality, and use of young prepubescent models in his ads, which have not hurt his success in the least.
Known in the industry as "Calvin the Conqueror," he was named one of Time's 25 Most Influential People in America. Thanks to his minimalist designs for urban dwellers, provocative advertising, and visionary ideas, Klein has become a twentith century icon.
Klein's entry to the scene resulted in an explosion in the increasing availability of stylish and more creative men's underwear designs.
Examples include C-IN2's "sling support system" which uses an adjustable elastic sling that lifts your private parts up and brings them forward or the "Wonderjock" which has a fabric layer that pushes everything out in front instead of down towards the ground
It doesn't matter if today's man routinely buffs up his body at a gym; whether he jogs or works out at home on a Bowflex or Stairmaster or has not yet found the time or motivation to do anything at this point in time.
With the added option of over night delivery via internet sales and service, there are now thousands of creative and functional men's underwear designs can be on the mind of a man one day and clinging to his waist the next.
Lines such as those currently available from 2xist, Andrew Christian, C-IN2, Dickies, Diesel and Justus Boyz and many others are just the beginning. Today it's all about comfort and creativity; without losing the age-old purpose of form and functionality.
Sometimes it's just simply getting down to the basics - just like the gourd wearing tribes in western New Guinea still do today.
We hope you enjoy our selection of men's sporting goods. We guarantee your satisfaction with all the products we carry and will do our best to satisfy you.