Weird History

What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?  

Oliver Pretl-Drummond
3.9k views 19 items

We are living in an age in which guys can get a curated selection of luxe, fashionable underpants in their favorite styles delivered to their doorstep once a month. In the storied evolution of men's underwear, the current level of ease and discretion available to underwear lovers, haters, and regular consumers is unprecedented.

The men of yesteryear were not so fortunate. Bulky leather underpants were pinned and tied onto their person, and their archaic codpieces bulged and scraped against bare skin. They had to harvest the leather, their wives spun the wool, and going to the bathroom was pure hell. 

This is not to say the history of male underwear is all bad. The long john, almost 200 years old, is an esteemed and highly respected garment that still looks and feels similar to its original form. 

In order to truly appreciate the comfort of our favorite form-fitting, rayon-blend novelty boxer briefs, we must remember the humble beginnings from whence they came.

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Rich Men In The 13th Century Wore Chausses, Which Covered Only The Legs
Rich Men In The 13th Century W... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?
Photo:  Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Those who found braies too pedestrian wore the more elegant version, "chausses." Held up by a garter belt, chausses were braies that covered just the legs and left the crotch area open for a variety of purposes. This would later be coupled with a codpiece, which would button, snap, or lace shut. 

One major logistical benefit of chausses was the ease of access when using the restroom. Fussing with all of those knots and ties while keeping oneself decent was probably laborious.

During The Renaissance, A Flap Was Added To Braies, Creating The First Codpiece
During The Renaissance, A Flap... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?
Photo: Pieter Brueghel the Younger/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The original codpiece was just a flap, not unlike the button fly on a modern pair of jeans. It did not become the pronounced accessory observed in paintings of Renaissance men until Henry VIII began to pad his. His vanity was a likely explanation for this, but some historians believe his spacious codpiece concealed the medicated bandages he used to treat his syphilis. 

A common way to posture while wearing chausses was to heavily emphasize the groin area with a large and shapely codpiece. Part of this was a masculinity performance, but the rest of it was convenience - the codpiece was often used to store snuff, coins, and other small items. 

In The Era Of Tudor Pants, Men Wore Knee-Length Cloth Undergarments

During the Tudor era, there were strict rules for who was allowed to wear specific garments. The Sumptuary Laws restricted the use of certain materials for persons in lower social castes, and these rules even extended to what type of underwear they could wear and how they wore them. 

An extravagant codpiece was primarily reserved for those of a higher social status, but everyone wore a similar style of close-fitting, knee-length underpants. 

Tight, One-Piece Long Union Suits Were Patented In The US In 1868
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Photo:  Sears/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The invention of the cotton gin during the Industrial Revolution fast-tracked the development of underwear to the present era. Before then, underwear was made at home, and not typically mass-produced. This changed when the union suit was created. 

The union suit was a one-piece knitted jumpsuit that buttoned down the front, with long sleeves and pants. For expediency, it featured a drop-seat flap so the wearer would not have to strip down to use the restroom.