Just as underclothes are shielded from public view, the evolution of men’s most intimate apparel is shrouded in secrecy. But the story of men’s underwear is about more than which came first: boxers or briefs. Undergarments as we know them today were first sold to promote cleanliness and improve the comfort of wearing clothing. The idea that they might one day be deemed fashionable was not even an after-thought.
During ancient times, the loincloth was the garment of choice. Typically made from wool, linen, silk or leather, material was wrapped between the legs and around the hips. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it was to have wool against the family jewels? Speed up to the Renaissance period to find men who wore a codpiece, a cloth pouch that supported the genitals, and typically was adhered to hosiery and attached with a button for easy access for bathroom breaks. The Industrial Age brought with it a structured type of garment known as a jockstrap, an undergarment that has an elastic waistband and a pouch over the genitals designed for support and protection.
In the 19th century, men’s underwear was closely linked with hygiene; associating these undergarments with athleticism, let alone sexuality, is a 20th-century notion. These shifts paralleled a growing public acceptance of the undressed male body, moving from the chaste forms of the Victorian era to the endlessly scrutinized torsos of today.
Hanes finally came into the underwear game during the roaring 20s, bringing comfort and ease with the creation of boxers. Jockey was introduced during the 1950s and the brief became the underwear of choice. Finally, in modern times with fabric introductions such as spandex and nylon, men’s undergarments have evolved into upgraded versions of the boxer and the brief, including boxer-briefs and trunks.
The men’s underwear game once only had two major players— boxers and briefs—but now there is more opportunity than ever for a man to express his style when getting dressed for the day. Men are no longer expected to declare loyalty to one style. Every style of underwear lends itself to different occasions. Moisture-wicking briefs, trunks, and jockstraps excel in athletic environments, while seamless briefs or thongs will go unnoticed beneath dress pants. My underwear drawer has a multitude of styles to suit my mood for the day, but you won’t find any thongs. If my ass is going to be bare, then it will be in a jockstrap.
While many will offer plenty of advice on what underwear style looks better on different body types, ultimately, the decision should be based on what makes you feel best. Briefs alone offer an extensive assortment of silhouettes for all different types of men—whether it’s the classic, white cotton, fly-front brief, or a low-rise, contour pouch brief in a fashion color. Boxer shorts are now available in a stylish, tailored fit as well as the relaxed fit made popular in the 90’s. Newest to the annals of underwear history, the trunk is a shorter, square-cut version of its predecessor, the boxer brief. And, not to be confined to strip joints and bodybuilding competitions, men’s thongs and g-strings serve a higher purpose in the boardroom—working hard to prevent visible underwear lines beneath your trousers, but I just can’t being myself to wear them.
What you wear beneath your clothes should be as fun and unique as you are, or wish to be. If drab work clothes or uniforms—or company policy—have you seeing drab neutrals every day, start mixing up the styles in your underwear drawer with bold prints, bright colors, and diverse textures and fabrics. Don’t be afraid to get a little risqué—a fashion jockstrap will have you feeling adventurous and daring even when sitting at your computer for eight hour days. Give others a peek at your inner-exhibitionist by flashing a stylish waistband above your jeans. With new fashion styles coming in every season, there’s never any shortage of distinctive new underwear styles for men.
Which do you prefer?