What’s a girl to do?
It wasn’t entirely vanity; codpieces also were handy as small pockets. Medieval men and women covered their upper bodies with a chemise (called a smock or shift in England), the forerunner of the modern shirt, which men tucked into their braies.
An ad for Wm. H. Burns & Co. manufacturer of corset covers and muslin underwear. Retrieved from Library of Congress.
The power of steel
The Union Suit
Both women and men adopted the “emancipation union under flannel” or union suit, invented in 1868 in reaction to the constricting corsets of the day. The forerunner of long johns (possibly named after boxer John L. Sullivan), the union suit buttoned up the front and sported a convenient buttoned rear flap for trips to the outhouse.
Long drawers and union suits lost popularity after World War I, during which soldiers got used to short underwear with a button-front “yoke.” Jacob Golomb, founder of the Everlast boxing-equipment company, invented boxer shorts—named for their origins in the trunks boxers wore—in 1925. He replaced the trunks’ leather belts with more flexible elastic waistbands.
The modern man
Women’s war effort
In 1935, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia ordered strippers to replace G-strings with (slightly) less revealing thongs. Years later, with Hank Panky’s 4811 Original Rise thong in 1986, the thong gained acceptance as underwear—not so different from the loincloths our ancestors wore.
1829 | A corset a woman could put on without help debuts
1868 | Union suit invented in Utica, NY
1871 | Fruit of the Loom brand is trademarked
1928 | Maidenform starts making bras
1935 | Jockey briefs introduced at Marshall Field in Chicago
1940 | DuPont’s nylon stockings cause near-riots in stores
1946 | Frederick Mellinger founds Frederick’s of Hollywood
1968 | Feminists protest the Miss America Pageant by throwing bras into a trash can
1971 | Coopers, Inc. changes its name to Jockey Menswear
1977 | Hina Miller, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith invent the sports bra
A version of this article appeared in the September 2014 issue of Family Tree Magazine