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History of Men's Briefs

Written by Stephen Hunt

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When you think of men’s underwear, what’s the first product you think about? Most likely it’s the classic pair of men’s briefs; those “tighty whities” every man was given as a kid. Whether those childhood briefs were covered in superheroes or a bright crisp white, it’s an undergarment that unifies every single one of us. But did you know that briefs are somewhat of a modern invention? That’s right, briefs and other modern styles of underwear didn’t exist before the 1900s. So what’s the history behind men’s briefs? In this article, we will discuss what briefs are, when briefs were invented, how they were created, what they first looked like, and some important milestones in the history of briefs. 

 

WHAT EXACTLY ARE BRIEFS?

Before we start discussing the history of men’s briefs, it’s important to define them. Briefs are a style of undergarment (or swimwear) that cover the genitals but have no fabric covering the legs/thighs. Typically briefs have an elastic waistband attached to the fabric that covers the pelvis (ie crotch and buttocks). 

Primarily worn by men, briefs fit snugly around a man’s genitals to help keep the penis and testicles held in a fixed position. This security/support has allowed briefs to become popular for men with active lifestyles since it helps reduce the amount of jiggling and uncomfortable swinging that could happen during activities if wearing looser undergarments. 

 

WHEN & HOW BRIEFS WERE INVENTED

In 1934, an apparel engineer who worked for the Wisconsin company Coopers Inc. developed the first pair of briefs. This man, Arthur Kneibler, received a postcard from one of his friends who was visiting the French Riviera. On this postcard was a picture of a man wearing a short body hugging bathing suit. Drawing his inspiration from that postcard, Kneibler modeled his design off of this unique European style that offered support, mobility, and modern sex appeal. To make it more of an undergarment than swimwear, he used flexible fabrics and added a “y” front opening, which allowed for easier access for things like urination. It also helped with breathability. 

This revolutionary undergarment was called the “jockey” because the level of support was comparable to jockstraps. Jockstraps were introduced earlier in the century for bicycle jockeys since they needed serious support for zipping around on their bikes on cobblestone streets all day; hence jock strap. However contrasting with jockstraps, jockey briefs covered the buttocks and were designed to be worn everyday.

Those original jockey briefs were first sold to the public on January 19, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois at Marshall Fields, which was a well known department store of the day. Each package of briefs cost 50 cents, which would cost around $9.46 cents in 2020. Marshall Fields put a display of briefs in their store window, which helped them become the “must have” product that winter. In fact, the store sold out of all 600 packages by noon the first day, which caused them to restock immediately. The buying frenzy continued and 30,000 pairs were sold within three months of their debut. This popularity was driven by their innovative design, the fact that women were buying them for their husbands, and also because of the changing perceptions of the male body in the 1930s. Men were recently permitted to go topless on public beaches so there was an excitement about male sexuality and skin. Basically briefs were the right product at the right time.

It’s worthwhile to note that due to the popularity of jockeys, Coopers Inc. renamed their company “Jockey” to capitalize on the name recognition of their flagship product. Coincidentally, Jockey International Inc. is still around and continues to sell briefs. 

 

SO WHAT CAME NEXT?

After that, men’s briefs remained relatively unchanged for the next 30 years. However, in the 1960s, the concept of fashion underwear was introduced. It was slow to catch on, but by the 1970s fashion underwear gained mainstream acceptance as colors, patterns, and styles that were once thought of as exclusively feminine were now accepted as part of men’s underwear. By 1985, fashion underwear grew to 25% of the men’s underwear market for two reasons - more and more men wanted to express a sexy personal style and because women were buying more fashionable products for their husbands. 

Then in the 1990s, Calvin Klein helped explode the popularity of men’s underwear with additional innovations, including the visibility of the brand name on the waistband. Their contributions to men's underwear will be discussed in a future article, but due to Calvin Klein, many more underwear brands were launched and added products to the ever increasing amount of styles, colors, and patterns available to men. Nowadays, consumers can find any type of underwear they want in order to express their personal style. 

 

TYPES OF BRIEFS NOW AVAILABLE

As acceptance of fashion underwear has increased over the years, so has the availability of various cuts or styles of briefs. Nowadays, you can easily find a variety of briefs on the market. These variations are all similar, but have a different amount of fabric to show less or more skin. Some common styles of briefs include:

Low Rise Briefs

Mid Rise Briefs

High Rise Briefs

Sport Briefs

Active Briefs

Mini Briefs

Bikini Briefs

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    So there you have it! A brief history of men’s briefs, what they are, how they were created and evolved, and common styles available on the market today. If you would like to get a pair of briefs for yourself or as a gift, feel free to check out our selection of super soft and comfortable briefs