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What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?  

Oliver Pretl-Drummond
4.1k 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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Union Suits Evolved Into Long Johns
Union Suits Evolved Into Long ... is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?
Photo:  Socksguy/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the 1830s, renowned heavyweight boxing champion and Boston native John L. Sullivan wanted some warmer, more comfortable drawers to compete in. The shape of the union suit was too limiting for an athlete, so he donned a similar outfit split into two pieces and made of wool. 

Due to his immense popularity in the United States, long underpants became stylish. They were nicknamed "Long Johns," after the famous fighter. 

In 1851, Textile Mill Owner Robert Knight Filed A Patent For The Brand Fruit of the Loom
In 1851, Textile Mill Owner Ro... is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?
Photo:  Fruit of the Loom/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Fruit of the Loom brand was founded by the Knight brothers, Benjamin and Robert, in 1851. Fruit of the Loom was best known for their muslin designs with painted apples and other fruits, which were incredibly popular.

After 15 years of operating at the Pontiac Mill in Warwick, Rhode Island, the name inspired by their famous design was patented in 1871 - one of the very first patents created.  

The Jockstrap Was Invented In 1874 By A Sporting Goods Company To Provide Protection For Bicyclists
The Jockstrap Was Invented In ... is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list What’s The History Of Men’s Underwear?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Several millennia after the loincloth went out of fashion, its spiritual sibling, the jockstrap, was invented in 1874. During the boom of invention and innovation during the Industrial Revolution, the markets for underwear and transportation technology overlapped. 

When the bicycle was invented, streets were made for horses and pedestrians. Those cobblestones could be punishing to one’s tires, and unmentionables. At least one of those troubles was remedied by the invention of the jockstrap, which sought to protect and support the goods by holding them close during those bumpy rides

Jacob Golomb Added An Elastic Waistband To Boxing Trunks In 1925, A Precursor To Boxer Shorts

In 1925, everyone who ever had to pin or tie their clothing onto their bodies rejoiced at the invention of the elastic waistband. Once again, the underwear industry cribbed from the boxing ring. The earliest elastic waistband was used for boxing shorts, and Everlast founder Jason Golomb capitalized on sharing the comfort with the rest of the world. 

However, the earliest iteration of boxer shorts did not yet feature a button or a flap.