Call them what you like – pants, chuddies, underwear, smalls, trollies, drawers, undies, skimpies, skivvies, kecks, undercrackers, grundies, shreddies – they’re that small but essential item of clothing that can define a man…
It probably began with the loincloth – remains of leather ones from around 7,000 years ago have been found by archaeologists. Resembling a nappy, it was basically a long strip of fabric that ancient man passed between his legs and tied around his waist. Well, you’d not want to be bounding through whippy, prickly undergrowth in hot pursuit of an auroch (that’s a massive, extinct wild ox) with your particulars exposed.
Roman men (and women) wore a loincloth or shorts called a subligaculum. A simple version might be just a belt with a piece of fabric stretching from front to back between the legs. More substantial versions might cover all of your bum and tie at the sides. Most men wore these early-style pants under a shirt or the toga, but workers and fighting gladiators often only wore a subligaculum. There’s a memorable scene with Kirk Douglas in Spartacus – but did Russell Crowe strip down like that in Gladiator..?
In the 13th century, full, loose pull-on underpants made an appearance. Hardly an item to set a female heart a-fluttering, these ‘braies’ or breeches, were baggy, calf-length drawers, shaped rather like pantaloons, with a long top flap that could be rolled down. Braies were made of white linen for toffs, or (very itchy?) wool for the lower classes.
By the Renaissance period, as men wore increasingly fitted clothes, the braies got shorter and had a convenient flap for having a wee. The buttoned or tied flap – the earliest codpiece – could be padded to look bigger. And then, of course, codpieces became BIG – literally – and were heavily padded to display a man’s…manliness. Seems these show-off items were also useful for concealing the medicated bandages worn by men who’d caught syphilis. Now that’s pants.
Next followed several centuries of more demure smalls, with long cotton, silk or linen versions. The most common were knee-length with a button flap at the front. These were the forerunners of the ‘union suit’, an all-in-one that evolved into long johns – ankle-length, close-fitting undies (named after the 19th-century boxer John L Sullivan, who wore them in the ring).
After the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the bicycle produced the jockstrap. A number of folk claim a ‘first’ for this – Chicago company Sharp & Smith, in 1874, as protection for cycle ‘jockeys’; Parvo Nakacheker, a Finnish athlete, who ‘devoted much time to the study of pure anatomy and the special demands of such an item’; and the BIKE Web Company of Boston in 1874 – again to protect cycle riders bits and pieces.
Aaaaand in the red corner… boxer shorts, aka boxers, made their first appearance in 1925. The founder of boxing-equipment company Everlast created a lightweight version of the shorts worn by the polished pugilist, loose around the legs with an elastic waist.
Laying claim to the first hard-cup support is Canadian company Guelph Elastic Hosiery, founded by Joe Cartledge. His son Jack developed the support and filed a patent for it in 1927. Interestingly, one version of the jockstrap, sold in 1900, was the Heidelberg Electric Belt – a sort of low-voltage gadget claimed to cure impotence, kidney disorders, insomnia, and many other complaints…
In 1935, the first Y-front Jockey pants – or ‘jokey pants’, as a pal of ours thought they were called – went on sale in Chicago, designed by an ‘apparel engineer’ called Arthur Kneibler, for the company Coopers. Samuel Cooper originally started his hosiery business in 1876 supplying lumberjacks, and the company ST Cooper & Sons is the predecessor of Jockey International, Inc.
And so the long and varied history of mens’ undercrackers rolls on. From the tighty-whitey to the baggy boxer, from briefs to trunks, not forgetting the comedy pants that are often a favoured Christmas gift. Today, the men’s underwear market is worth £674m a year in the UK, according to market research company Mintel. Now that’s a lot of knickers!
In a couple of surveys for mens’ mags, it seems over 80 per cent of us girls like a man in Levi’s jeans. And new, plain, clean, well-fitting white boxers are the pant of preference.
So here’s the look, famously demonstrated to perfection, by Nick Kamen in an ad for Levi’s jeans. Enjoy!
Now for a brief selection of some of the oddest undies ever…
The anti-stress tanga from Bruno Banani (motto ‘Not For Everyone’) – the designer brand that first tested underwear in space (!) – has a ‘twin layered pouch offering extra support whilst allowing you to breathe freely, keeping you cool and stress free.’ And, let’s face it, the last thing you’d want is stress from your kecks.
See more at Bruno Banai.
Described as ‘underpants for superheroes’ by Sir Richard Branson, these underpants, created by British inventor Joseph Perkins, claim to shield against 99.9 per cent of electromagnetic radiation. They’re designed to prevent damage to sperm count from smartphone and laptop radiation. The silver mesh in the smart pants disrupts the flow of waves.
Get yourself covered at Wireless Armour.
As the website says: ‘Once you have them on, it will be “hard” to take them off.’ These fancy pants are made of nylon and have ‘the extra room where you need it’. You can choose from bows and roses, lace, embroidered, high cut…there are so many! Unfortunately, they look rather like the sort of pants your granny might’ve thought alluring!
Treat yourself at Manties.
Shiridashi Butt Reveal Underwear, are billed as ‘comedy boxers’. Slip these on and it’ll appear that your underwear has been ripped at the back to share your cheeks with the world. Bizarre, but good for giggles.
Have a peek at Japan Trend Shop.
Undies from British company Shreddies are designed to stop farts from smelling. Invented in 2006 by Paul O’Leary and developed with a team of designers from the Contour Fashion lingerie design course at De Montfort University in Leicester, these flatulence-filtering funsters have a back panel made from cloth that incorporates a carbon-based material called Zorflex, normally used in chemical warfare suits and capable of stopping smells 200 times stronger than the average fart. Doesn’t muffle sound, mind you…
Go to My Shreddies and jump for joy!
With the motto ‘They Won’t Go Up Your Bum!’, Kiwi company Thunderpants make jolly comfy undies. And not only do these feel good, they do good, too! The Thunderpants company supports many causes and charities, donating a fixed amount for every pair purchased. As it says on the website: Philanthropy + Thunderpants = Philanthropants.
Get comfy at Thunderpants
Every year, a fella somewhere will be the lucky recipient of some ‘hilarious’ undies from a well-meaning wife or girlfriend. And, of course, they will be thrilled with them.
See some fancy pants at Fruugo.
8. Bum and crutch-enhancing
On the Silicone Body website (motto: ‘Our Duty Is Your Booty!’), you can find any number of padded undie items, such as The Package Booster for around £30, ‘which provides moderate to strong projection (up to 2in). This padded underwear is for fellas who need to balance upper and lower body, or need cushioned support.’ Balance and support, my, erm… a*se!
Feel manly at Silicone Body!
Or how about the ROunderbum Men’s Butt-Enhancing Padded Trunk? These ‘provide more support, definition and volume to the desired area and adapt to every body shape’.
Get bootylicious at Rounder Bum.
Meanwhile, good old George at Asda has launched a range of padded undies for women, costing from just £6 – nicknamed Great Bum Briefs. Bargain! Won’t be long until there’s a version for the boys, perhaps?