Happy Birthday Y-Fronts
83 Years old today - 19th January!
Yes, ‘Briefsters’ we have a very important Birthday to celebrate in a few days… the Birthday of the Y-Fronts!
Can you believe it, the traditional Y-Fronts, where it all started will be 83 years old on the 19th January.
So to celebrate this monument occasion I think we should all take a ride back in time and find out where it all began!
To the inhabitants of Chicago, the day had no more significance than being one in which they had to endure the worst blizzard of the winter. What they did not know was that this would become one of the most important days in the history of the male sex. At least in the way they dress.
For men all over the world and especially us ‘Briefsters, 19 January, 1935, was a most important day - it was when Arthur Kneibler's Jockey briefs first went on sale at a department store.
But it was a nervous launch. Although the briefs had been put on show in the window at the Marshall Field & Co department store, its management thought it ludicrous to try and sell such skimpy items on a cold day that cried out for long johns - then the dominant form of men's underwear - and ordered the display to be removed. They were so wrong. Before their orders could be carried out, 600 packages of Jockey shorts were sold. And 30,000 pairs were sold in the next three months alone.
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.
After they went on sale in Britain in 1938, at Simpsons in Piccadilly, they sold 3,000 a week. In 1948 every male athlete in the British Olympic team was given a free pair of Y-fronts. Today, Coopers are known as Jockey International and are pretty much the biggest thing in briefs anywhere in the world.
Sometime during the 1980's, the market mutated rapidly from being one of purely functional garments into one where a man's choice of underwear amounts to a lifestyle statement. Mr Kneibler's simple brief now faces competition from boxers as well as slips, thongs, trunks and all manner of hybrid versions. Men's underwear is now a designer accessory, marketed with all the blatant sexuality the advertising industry can muster, as well as an empowering personal statement.
Unfortunately, the biggest seller now-a-days is the woven loose boxer, the style that has, in the past 20 years or so, overtaken the brief as the underwear of choice for younger men. Also popular are the jersey trunks, a closer fitting and - it's that word again - more supportive, version of the boxer. Even the simple slip outsells the brief.
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.
After their sensational start, Kneibler's Jockey briefs dominated the mens underwear market until the late 1940's, when the popularity of boxers, favoured by US airmen, began to rise.
Over here in Britain, boxers have supposedly always had an enthusiastic following. Certainly not when I was growing up, back then everyone wore briefs, whether they were Y-Fronts, slips or A-Fronts, if you wore Boxers then they were classed as ‘old mans’ underwear! It was the retro TV ad in 1985 for Levi's jeans, which featured model Nick Kamen, stripping to his pristine white boxers in a launderette, to a soundtrack of Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', that made women swoon and unfortunately young men rush out to buy them by the truck load.
The early 1980's became the time when men's underwear stopped being merely functional and became fashionable and sexy.
If there is one company that came to epitomise the branding of male underwear, it was Calvin Klein. It began a trend of highly homoerotic advertising for men's underwear and still is today.
Latterly, Klein and the other designer brands have concentrated on various close-fitted hybrids of boxers and trunks, in this country certainly, it’s reported that briefs, or Y-fronts, have never really recovered in popular culture from their somewhat fusty image. However I think a fair few of our members would disagree with that statement!
But, according to various fashion pundits, the brief is down, but not out. They say, ”Fashion tends to go in swings of the pendulum. I think we are going to a return to traditional conservative, supportive briefs...."
I think judging by the majority of BriefsBooks members, we can all agree on that statement!
Long live the Y-Front!
Info taken from The Independent May 2006 with a few little additions for us briefsters.