Underwear Makes New History as Fashion Must-Haves for Men

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There once was an underwear standard for men that no one would really talk about. Now, male undergarments have evolved into fashionable outerwear that make statements all their own.

Boxers and briefs were fashioned for utilitarian use to be hidden from sight. Add to that the standard white tee, placed under the dress shirt, and the socks to match the trousers or shoes. These are the undergarment basics that were designed for men’s fashion comfort but were never supposed to see the limelight. Eventually, the underwear of yesterday grew into trendy outerwear fashion of today.

A Brief Account in Underwear Fashion

In the 1920s, boxer shorts were introduced by the founder of Everlast, Jacob Golomb. He designed the underwear fashioned on the new shorts, with elastic waistbands he was making for boxers fighting in the ring. The new men’s fashion of wearing the boxer did not become popular until younger males discovered the underwear at the end of WWII. In 1934, while attempting to sell the boxer short, a hosiery decision-maker was inspired by a French bathing suit to design a brief-styled undergarment.

Arthur Kneibler, executive and designer at Coopers, Inc., a Wisconsin hosiery company, gained inspiration from a postcard to create a new, and more comfortable, men’s fashion underwear design. After seeing the man pictured in a leg-bearing bathing suit, Kneibler envisioned a new legless underwear design. Created to be supportive and fitting, like a jockstrap, the undergarment by Coopers was named Jockey shorts and were sold in 1935, by Marshall Field’s, in Chicago.

Unlike the slow-moving boxer shorts, sales for the Jockey shorts took off, and 600 pairs were sold on the first day. Within three months, Coopers had sold 30,000 pairs. After years of success, gaining even more appeal for the modern briefs, in 1971, the company changed its name to Jockey. Men were not only discovering the groove of outer fashion in the 1970s, but also the allure of the fashion-forward undergarment.

Calvin Klein took notice introducing designer underwear that would certainly catch the attention of men’s fashion aficionados. In 1982, the designer took the white brief from behind the clothes to show it as a true men’s fashion statement. The photo of a model wearing the skimpy white underwear on a huge billboard stopped traffic in the center of New York City, in Times Square.

The controversial sexual photo was a hit, making underwear a must-want designer quality men’s fashion that would continue to grow with new designs. Fast forward to the 21st century, and it is fashionable among the younger crowd to showcase designer underwear waste bands above their pants, with t-shirts tucked in.

T-Shirts Move From Underwear to Make a Fashion Statement

underwearBorn in the 19th century, the basic white undershirt, designed to be worn under men’s fashion, got its name for its T-shape. The original T-shirt did come out from under shirts as laborers found easy movement and breathability when wearing them alone while working. At the start of the 20th century, the U.S. Navy started mandating wearing the undershirt as underwear, followed by the other branches of the U.S. military.

With sailors, soldiers, and Marines working to protect themselves in sweltering conditions, they took to undressing to their T-shirts and trousers while working. This became a norm for men’s fashion as male civilians wore the comfortable tee to farm and do household chores. It was in the 1940s the tee shirt became acceptable outerwear when manufacturers took notice promoting it for young boys to wear for playing.

Since the basic tee began taking on a more sculpted shape with a variety of necklines, the tee is a men’s fashion statement on its own with the ability to be dressed up or down. As fashionable as it is to wear alone, colored and black T-shirts are now the norm, seen layered with collared shirts. The black tee is also a fashion-forward alternative to a shirt and tie, for a relaxed look paired with a suit and trendy socks.

Socks Styled Beyond Underwear to Give Fashion a Modern Statement

The very first socks date back to B.C. and was designed to be worn with sandals. Modern socks are fashioned after the 16th century nobleman’s stockings designed with the help of the then-newly invented knitting machine. Between the stockings and today’s socks, the garment designed to keep feet warm went through different fashion trends.

underwearStockings grew into one-piece tights for men to dress with their legs showing under tunics. As fashion changed, so did the design of socks, or stockings, transitioning in length and pattern. The use of cotton in the 17th century was a popular choice for the foot covering underwear.

As pant legs became longer, stockings became shorter and the moniker name of socks was initiated. In the 1920s, resort and golfing attire paved the way for a new trend in men’s fashion. Golfing knickers morphed into a short style below the knee pants, known as plus fours. With knickers and plus fours, the sock, as underwear that was unseen with long pants, was suddenly a new fashion trend as well.

Patterned knee socks in argyle and checked designs became popular as an accessory. As pants lengthened again, socks were worn in the practical fashion as underwear. As basic needs, socks were meant to blend in and not take away from outer fashion. Men were taught to match socks to either their pants or shoe color.

The 21st century has brought socks out again from being just underwear. Socks of today are statement accessories for men to show off. They have become a way for a man to express himself in much of the same way he would with a tie. In fact, many men have taken to matching bright, colorful, and lovely patterned socks with ties and sweaters.

Underwear and socks have gained notoriety among men, and designers and manufacturers are taking notice. The male is now learning that his underwear is as important as his outerwear. By all accounts, underwear is no longer hidden away as a no-show, but has taken over as a popular trend for men to show off their personalities.

By Carol Ruth Weber
Edited by Jeanette Smith


CNN: Brief history of men’s underwear
Highsnobiety: Fashion History Lessons: Calvin Klein
The Art of Manliness: The Best Damn Guide to Men’s T-Shirts on the Internet
Nick Graham: A Brief History of Socks

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Hans’ Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Chymaddy’s Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Darren Shaw’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

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