Saturday, May 20, 2006

Briefs, Briefly Noted

Leave it to a a reporter for a British newspaper to, ummm, uncover a major moment in American history:

For men, 19 January, 1935, was their equivalent of the day Mary Jacob patented the first bra in 1913 or the moment in 1959 when Glen Mills had the inspiration for tights - it was when Arthur Kneibler's Jockey briefs first went on sale at a department store.
Until reading this article, it had never occurred to me that briefs -- also known as "Jockey shorts" or, in the UK, the more descriptive "Y-fronts" -- had been invented. I figured they just evolved. I had no idea how revolutionary they were. Notes Terry Kirby in The Independent:
Mr Kneibler was an "apparel engineer" for a company called Coopers, originally set up to sell socks to lumberjacks, but which had been hit hard by the recession. While searching for an idea to help the company, he received a postcard from a friend on holiday in the south of France, which featured a picture of man wearing an abbreviated swim suit.

At this point, the only serious challenge to the hegemony of long johns had come from the boxer short, a cotton version of the trunks worn by boxers, and first designed in 1925 by a Joseph Golomb, founder of the Everlast company that still makes boxing equipment. But they were slow in finding customers because they did not provide much of what was termed "masculine support".

One thing that did was the "jock strap", a method of protection mostly worn by sportsmen and named after the bi-cycle "jockeys" or messengers who rode penny farthings for whom they were designed. Mr Kneibler's mission was clear - the Jockey brief was born.

They were so popular that the briefs sold out in every store almost immediately. Coopers sent its "Mascu-line" airplane to bring special deliveries of "masculine support" Jockey briefs to desperate retailers around the United States.
Of course, design did evolve, over a long period of time, but fashions come and go. The lowly briefs morphed into bikini briefs, boxer briefs, and thongs, among other styles. (The traditional boxer evolved along a different genetic line.) And things were interesting in the pre-modern era:
All of these, of course, are just contemporary versions of the lioncloth, which is as old as mankind, was worn by both sexes in Greek and Roman civilisations and still exists as a traditional form of undergarment in many Asian cultures, as well as among primitive peoples. Sometime during the Middle Ages, the loincloth was replaced by a loose, trouser-like garment, called braies, which were laced around the waist and calves; the flap at the front was called the codpiece and allowed men to urinate. It was Henry VIII who began the fashion for padded codpieces.

By the 18th century and the advent of widespread cotton fabrics, the dominant type of undergarment for both sexes was the close fitting union suit, which eventually became long johns.

While women's underclothing spiralled off into all manner of stays, corsets, drawers, chemises and so forth, men were stuck with various types of long johns until well into the 20th century, until Messrs Kneibler, Golomb et al came along.
So that's what codpieces were all about! I wonder if that topic is covered in costume design courses in university drama departments.

Is there any guy reading this who doesn't raise his eyes to Heaven in thanks when he learns about Arthur Kneibler?

Be sure to visit my CafePress store for gifts and novelty items!
Read my blog on Kindle!
Follow my tweets on Twitter!

No comments: