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American leading man and future US President, Ronald Reagan modelling for a sculpture, circa 1939.
American leading man and future US President, Ronald Reagan modelling for a sculpture, circa 1939.John Kobal Foundation—Getty Images
American leading man and future US President, Ronald Reagan modelling for a sculpture, circa 1939.
American film star and director Clint Eastwood posing bare-chested, 1955.
Four men wearing long underwear pose in a profile lineup, circa 1915.
Page of Sear's catalogue, advertising men's summer underwear, circa 1890-1910.
Mexican heartthrob Ramon Novarro (1899 - 1968) on a gymnasium horse, circa 1925
American comic actor Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966) originally Joseph Francis Keaton, engages in a staring match with a photograph of Lon Chaney as he prepares to apply his make-up.
A group of determined men exercising outside in the snow, circa 1926.
Advertisement for Cooper's spring needle derby ribbed underwear by the Cooper Manufacturing Company in Bennington, Vermont, 1905.
A muscular young man flexes his biceps, circa 1930.
A summer game of touch rugby at Marling School, Stroud, Gloucestershire, August 1937.
Advertisement for BVD undershirts and drawers underwear by Erlanger Brothers in New York, 1907.
A line of underwear-clad draftees wait in line to check their clothes at an unidentified military facility, August 1944.
Four men dressed in underwear, 1948.
American leading man and future US President, Ronald Reagan modelling for a sculpture, circa 1939.
John Kobal Foundation—Getty Images
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Celebrate 80 Years of Briefs With 13 Vintage Photos of Men's Underwear

Jan 19, 2015

Women's clothes have a — mostly deserved — reputation for being more complicated than men's. Accordingly, the cultural, social and business histories behind their garments can be fascinating. (Did you know that nylon stockings were once available only in Delaware?)

But that doesn't mean that the basics of Western menswear don't have stories of their own. Take, for example, the humble item that has, for 80 years, been the foundation of many an outfit: briefs.

It was Jan. 19, 1935, that the first briefs were sold, in Chicago. According to Shaun Cole's The Story of Men's Underwear, Arthur Kneibler of Cooper's Inc, an underwear company, used an image of a French bathing suit as the model for a new kind of supportive, elastic underwear. Kneibler and his colleagues dubbed the item the Jockey — which would later become the name of the company — in order to conjure images of a jock strap, an athletic undergarment that would have been known to their customers. The item was first displayed in a window at Marshall Field and Company, along with that season's new undershirt. The item was an immediate success, and Cooper's added the "y-front" fly opening a few months later.

If that's not enough proof that the history of men's underwear is fascinating, take a look at these 13 vintage photos of skivvies from the pre- and post-briefs eras.

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