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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]en’s fashions underwent some drastic changes after the late 1700s to the mid-1850s, likely as a result of rapid mechanisation, industrialization, and the impact of revolutions on the organization of society. Men needed more practical garments that would provide them with greater freedom of movement, warmth, and better protection of their lower body. In addition, they no longer wanted to have to contend with the putting-on and holding up in place of stockings or tights. In a period of 100 years there was a progression in men’s fashion ranging from different styles of breeches to the creation of trousers. Instead of drawing attention to their family jewels, the new tighter fitting trousers emphasized men’s legs. Sproles and Burns (1994) refer to the theory of shifting erogenous zones that states that changes in fashion “occur because of changes in perceived erogenous zones of the human body” (p. 197). Does this mean that since the 18th century, men’s legs and possibly their posterior and frontal views, although covered, have become the focal points for defining their manliness?

MEN’S UNDERWEAR, 1600 – 1900

Between 1600 and 1705, men wore knee length breeches or pantaloons that came in different shapes. For instance, there were the melon shaped pantaloons, the leg-of-mutton, and then the extremely wide breeches with full and generous folds giving them the appearance of a skirt without showing that the legs were divided. When wearing short breeches, men covered their legs with separate silk or wool stockings.

Underneath their breeches some of them wore knee length drawers made out of white linen, cotton, and wool for the winter. These drawers resembled the medieval braies.

They were closed at the waist with drawstrings and ribbons (Boucher, 1973, p. 210, 255-256, 308, 552; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 271-272).

Breeches became longer and tighter fitting after 1705. By 1770, they had reached below the knees, and in 1840, they were lengthened down to the ankles with closer-fitting legs. The long breeches came to be known as trousers. Trousers were pull-ones until the 19th held in place with buttons. Men’s drawers were gradually minimized in size to fit under the tighter fitting breeches and trousers. They were produced in long or short lengths. Some of the drawers had a slit in the fabric for privy business (Boucher, 1973, p. 322, 402; Sichel, 1977, p, 46; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 245). New kinds of men’s underwear were introduced between 1870 and 1912 such as: combinations or union suits in different lengths, a design that united together drawers and vests; ankle length wool knitted drawers called long johns that were appreciated by men in the winter time; and, short cotton knit drawers with button front closures (Boucher, 1973, p. 348, 371; Ruby, 1996, p. 29, 34; Tortora & Eubank, 2010, p. 401, 426).

MEN’S UNDERWEAR, 1900 – 2000 century when a front closure or flap was introduced.

The flap was Since the 1900s, undergarments have been adapted to fit under the changing styles of men’s trousers, pants, and outer shorts. Over the years, the design of men’s trousers has shifted back and forth, ranging from looser fitting legs to tighter fitting ones, from normal waists to lower or hip length waists, and from buttoned front openings to zipper front openings.

Innovations Affecting the Production of Underwear

There are two innovations that are worth mentioning as they affected the availability of fabrics for producing men’ undergarments.

In 1906, a fabric called Aertex was utilized in the manufacturing of men’s vests and drawers. This particular fabric, full of holes, was constructed to trap air to keep a person warm in winter and cool in summer. Since then, other similar air cooled fabrics have been common in the making of men’s underwear (Ruby, 1996, p. 36-37, 44-45).

The creation of synthetic dyes instead of using natural dyes has resulted in the fabrication of men’s shorts in different colors since 1939. In the 1960s, men’s boxer shorts were produced using fabrics with small prints and large bright prints (Ruby, 1996, p. 44; Tortora & Eubank, 1973, p. 567, 619).

Popular Underwear

Since the 1930s, several new types of men’s undergarments have appeared on the market such as boxer shorts, Jockey shorts, briefs, mini-briefs and others.

– In the 1930s, boxer shorts and knitted Jockey shorts were introduced in stores, and since 1935, the Trademark of “Jockey” has become a sort of generic designation for knitted briefs. In 1947, elastic waists were added to the boxer and Jockey shorts.

– In the 1970s, shorter briefs such as mini-briefs and bikini-cut shorts were offered for sale as an undergarment to wear with the popular low cut jeans and pants.

– In 1990, Jockey string bikinis appeared in stores, and tanga briefs were added in 1994. The stringed garments seem to attract men who wear tight fitting jeans, pants, and tights, or who are dancers.

– In the 1990s, cotton and polyester bodysuits were offered for sale in bright colors. The construction of the bodysuits resembles the earlier Victorian combinations or union suits (Ruby, 1996, p. 60-61; Tortora & Eubank, 1973, p.480, 551, 519, 567).

The Reappearance of Codpieces in the 1970s as a Novelty Accessory

The shape of the earlier version of the codpiece has influenced the design of jock straps and athletic straps which are in demand by the sports oriented men. In the 1970s, however, the more extreme form of the codpiece, popular in the 1500s, resurfaced as a novelty item. These over-sized codpieces made their debut in several movies set in the future, and have been used as a distinctive accessory by performers in rock bands and heavy metal bands. Willy warmers have also been seen in gift shops that cater to a clientele looking for unique items.

Since 1970, codpieces have been worn by actors in films that are set in the future. For example, in movies such as: A Clockwork Orange; The Labyrinth; and, Batman & Robin (Date Hook Up; McKay & McKay, 2010).

A number of rock, punk, and heavy metal band performers have sported codpieces as part of their stage costume since the mid-1970s. A few of the bizarre looking codpieces worn by musicians include: a large, bright-red codpiece which has become the trademark of Larry Blackmon of Cameo; Shock rock performer Blackie Lawless, leader of the group WASP, has worn a codpiece that features a saw blade; and, in 2003, Electric Six lead singer Dick Valentine wore a brightly flashing codpiece in the band’s music video, Danger! High Voltage! (Wikipedia, Codpiece; Wikipedia, Larry Blackmon). In 1980, gift shops at the seaside resort of Blackpool displayed Willy warmers. Since then the warmers have found a niche in some specialty shops. During the Gulf War of 1990-1991, the British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, printed a pattern for a Willy warmer in order to encourage women readers to knit the warmers and send them to the soldiers in the Gulf (Wikipedia, Willy Warmer). Designers have a flair for including unusual attire in their collections, but these garments do not necessarily become fashionable. In his 1990 designs, which aimed to reproduce fifteenth century styles, Jean-Paul Gaultier featured the codpiece and tights (Ruby, 1996, p. 32-33).


Men’s underwear has undergone several changes since early times. Some undergarments have remained fashionable for several centuries, while others such as the codpiece lasted less than 100 years. Up until the 1600s, men’s costumes and cache-sexes provided minimal coverage of their sex-organs. With the introduction of men’s breeches and trousers between the 1600s and 1700, and of undergarments such as drawers, men’s genitals have been visually concealed. However, the increasing tightness and skin fitting pants worn by males over the years continue to convey meanings of their manliness.

In recent years, designers have introduced men’s tights in their collection. The John Galliano Fall 2014 Menswear featured men wearing tights, some with short skirts and others with a hip length shirt or jacket. Their sex-organs may be hidden from view, but the tights still expose a distinct silhouette of their attributes. There is a video of the

Galliano collection in an article by Mark St. James, Marquis of Fashion. See:


Boucher, François (1973). 20,000 years of fashion. The history of costume and personal adornment. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Date Hook Up. A brief history of the codpiece.

McKay, Brett & McKay, Kate (2010). The art of manliness. Revising the lost art of manliness.

Ruby, Jennifer (1996). Costume in context. Underwear. London: BT Batsford Ltd.

Sichel, Marion (1977). Tudors and Elizabethans. Costume reference 2. London: B.T. Batsford.

Sproles, George B. & Burns, Leslie Davis. Changing appearances. Understanding dress in contemporary society. New York: Fairchild Publications.

St. James, Mark. Marquis of Fashion. John Galliano Fall 2014 Menswear.

Bill Gaytten Teaches the Class on Layering.

Tortora, Phyllis G. & Eubank, Keith (2010). Survey of historic costume. A history of Western dress. Fifth Edition. New York: Fairchild Books.

Wikipedia. Codpiece.

Wikipedia. Larry Blackmon.

Wikipedia. Willy Warmer.