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.