Underwear: We all wear it, but where did it come from?
Have you ever wondered about the history of your boxer briefs? Were the Ancient Egyptians wearing them? Were they revolutionary inventions, or has underwear been an integral part of human life for millennia?
If you've ever had any questions like these, then this article is for you. From loincloths to lingerie, our underwear has a history worth knowing.
Disclaimer: As we navigate the history of underwear, we are going to loosely use the terms "man" and "woman" throughout. This terminology is only used for historical context and educational purposes. Despite what history may say, we fully believe in the equality of all genders, and no one type of underwear is for one gender.
History may have said otherwise and attempted to assign stereotypical attributes to something as small as our undergarments. However, that is why we educate and why we make a change!
Here at TomboyX, our underwear is for every gender, every body, and every person. Nevertheless, we want to educate and inform about our past, so we can look forward to our future.
We recognize that the terminology used historically is not accurate for today, and we work diligently and deliberately to rewrite the history books of tomorrow.
On that note, let's talk underwear!
Who Invented Underwear?
Can one person be credited for the creation of the underpants? Not really.
However, one man does seem to be responsible for the invention of modern men's underwear in the 1930s. His name was Arthur Kneibler, a notable fashion designer of the time.
Arthur once received a postcard featuring some young men in swimsuit bottoms on the cover, and he wondered why he couldn't apply the same style of bathing suit bottom to men's underwear as well.
Kneibler was the first to introduce underwear with a Y-shaped flap that overlapped the front and was legless. This style remained immensely popular for many years and helped reframe the way men's underwear was viewed and styled. The impact of this design has lasted until now, even impacting the fashion designers of today.
Whether or not this one individual invented underwear, the concept of underpants or undergarments has been around for as long as we as a civilization can remember. So, where did it all start?
Let's dive into some history.
It should come as no surprise that the Ancient Egyptians did it first. After all, Ancient Egyptians were one of the first peoples behind inventions like ink, toothpaste, the ox-drawn plow, and, of course, some pretty famous pyramids.
Some of the first "underwear" prototypes, worn generally in the form of a loincloth, were created in the age of Ancient Egypt. Also known as a schenti, this loincloth was made from woven materials like cotton and flax and was held up by a belt and worn at the waist. It was worn as outerwear at first but would gradually transition to an undergarment.
Not long after the Egyptians started the undie trend, Ancient Romans and other societies started doing the same. The Romans were the first to create a style of "underwear" that is most similar to what we wear today in modern times.
The Romans prioritized beauty and aesthetics as a society, leading them to pursue greater levels of personal hygiene. The motivation to be clean and beautiful led the Romans to encourage the women of the time to wear undergarments as a statement of beauty and femininity for the first time.
Undies of the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, underwear transformed again.
Underwear became more of a full-body garment rather than just a loincloth. The underwear of the Middle Ages consisted of a shirt and bottoms made of fine linen or cotton. These undergarments were worn by both women and men.
The underpants that folks wore at this time were a pair of linen shorts, sometimes called braies.
Also, for the men of the time, a codpiece was added for added padding and protection. This codpiece also served as an enhancer for genitalia, making penises look more endowed than they really were. That goes to show that vanity was a thing back in the Middle Ages.
Undies of the Renaissance
The Renaissance era gave us art, culture, beauty, and some of the first unisex garments.
Garters were initially invented to hold up men's stockings in the renaissance era, but women of the time soon found them to be enticing as well. Soon garters became a symbol of sexuality, with women choosing to wear them as an expression of their sensuality, style, and charm.
Soon enough, women began garnishing their garters with jewels and decorations, only adding to the appeal of it all.
19th Century Undies
Everything shifted in the 19th century.
It was a new age of technology, democracy, social reform, and underwear. In the early-to-mid 19th century, we saw the arrival of drawers, also called bloomers. Both men and women of the time wore bifurcated drawers (as opposed to the simple loincloth) that were loose, fell at knee length, and suspended at the waist.
Another major change in the underwear game that directly affected the women of the time was the introduction of the corset. The purpose of the corset was to reshape and transform the cis woman's body to create the desired silhouette of the time.
Eventually, the original corset design was investigated by the medical community and was deemed "extremely constrictive" to the point of potential injury. Corset makers soon redid the design to be safe and stylish so we can wear corsets safely today.
For the men of the time, there also was the introduction of long-john underwear. Inspired by the popularity of long-legged trousers, the long john was the first introduction of hose to the world of underpants. They were full-bodied and worn under an outer layer. In addition, long-john underwear was generally worn during the winter — but not always.
Early 20th Century Undies
One major shift in the underwear industry was the invention of latex. Latex completely revolutionized the way that underwear and other garments were made. It allowed undergarments to have stretch to them that they never had before.
The next big game changer was just a short eight years later with nylon, which also changed the underwear game. Eventually, underpants got shorter and more form-fitting as trends changed.
For women of the time, the corset was soon overruled by the girdle. The girdle helped achieve the same shape and form as a corset without being as tight. The girdle was essentially a less restrictive corset that an individual could simply "step" into rather than fighting with all those knots and bows on a corset.
Late 20th Century Undies
As fashion trends morphed and changed in the mid to late 20th centuries, undergarments changed along with them. Towards the 1960s and 1970s, underwear began to find itself less gender and sex-specific, and styles shifted more towards a unisex feel. By the end of the 1970s, most underwear was seamless.
It was also around this time that the media began to show the women of the time in underwear in more casual settings, and it was seen as less scandalous to do so.
Photographing women of the time in their underwear served to glorify beauty and sensuality rather than attempting to cover up a person's body for the sake of modesty. It was the age of the sexual revolution — and the age of an underwear revolution as well.
Enter the Thong
Another shift in the late 1970s was the introduction of the thong. Some may argue that a thong doesn't technically fall under the category of "underwear" and that it has its own category, but we disagree.
Thongs are revolutionary because they are lightweight and virtually see-through, making them undergarments like no other. High-quality thongs are unique because they help provide an "invisible underwear line" and sometimes can even feel like you don't have any underwear on at all. Thank you, 1970s!
In addition, there are now countless kinds of underwear used for more than just aesthetic purposes. One such extremely useful kind of underwear is period underwear.
These underwear soak up all the menstrual blood on low-flow days, so you don't need tampons, pads, or anything else. All you have to do is wash this kind of underwear after each wear to keep it in a wearable, clean condition.
Inventions like these help cut down on our carbon footprint and can really make a difference in the end. Plus, it can help eliminate the “Oh no, I don’t have a pad” moment while you’re in a public restroom. Win-win.
Underwear of Today: Inclusive and Sustainable
Today, underwear is whatever we want it to be. The Y2k era saw underwear become a fashion statement rather than just something to be worn under clothes. Underwear appeared on catwalks and runways and was worn as something to be proud of. Underwear of today can be used to express personality or sensuality and has come a long way in terms of inclusivity and diversity.
Underwear today is often designed to be a "second skin" as well. Its purpose is now enhancing natural features, focusing on sustainability and longevity. At TomboyX, a bunch of our modern-day underwear is made with certified sustainable materials to keep the Earth as fresh as our wardrobes.