The History of Underwear - Part 5

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Part 1 · Part 2 · Part 3 · Part 4 · Part 5 · Part 6 · Part 7 · Part 8

Meanwhile Back in America…

Cotton fabric, still commonly used today, occurred as a result of the invention of the cotton gin during the Industrial Revolution. Up to this period most people were required to improvise their own underwear in their homes.

Now it could be purchased from assorted vendors who acquired underwear items from various manufacturers. Thus, by the 1830’s, a few decades prior to the Civil War, men were wearing manufactured under-drawers made of flannel.

By the end of the century some had adopted the three-piece knitted wool sleep suit. These contained a helmet, crewneck sweater and long drawers with feet. German reformer Dr. Gustav Jaeger advocated them.

Wool had previously been considered a habitat for vermin but personal hygiene was improving and Dr. Jaeger was persuasive. The British, in particular, subscribed to his theory that wool rather than linen made the perfect men’s underwear.

John L. Sullivan, boxing’s first modern world heavyweight champion, hailed from chilly Boston. He wore long wool drawers in boxing competitions. Thus, because of his enormous popularity in America these became known as long johns.

They were available as separate vests and ankle length drawers or as an all-in-one piece union suit. So named not because of the Confederate and Union states but because they were a unified all-in-one item.

The 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog offered union suits for ten cents. Their catalog, the “wishing book,” tells us they came in “natural wool color, gray, and the very popular red.” Union suits, either knee or ankle length, were buttoned down the front and had drop seats in the back.

An epitaph on a nineteenth century tombstone reads, “Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, lies Uncle Peter Daniels/Too early in the month of May, he took off his flannels.

A pre-shrunk fabric was yet to be introduced and the union suit still remained popular as late as the 1920’s. But even they had to be purchased in a “size larger” due to shrinkage when they were laundered the first time.

Today, almost every American has a clear idea of the union suit’s style and shape. This came as a result of their exposure to the many cowboy movies that are set in the turn of the century American West.

Many of those movies had scenes where a cowboy or woodsman was taking off his clothes before jumping in a tub of hot water to bathe. And this cinematic action gave the viewer a peak at his underwear, his union suit, before he hit the water.

Jockey

Today, word “Jockey” or jock will draw some reference to a popular form of men’s underwear. The shorts that bare its trademarked name is headquartered in Kenosha, Wisconsin and are said to employ over 5,000 people around the world.

The company was actually founded in 1876 by Samuel T. Cooper, a retired minister who jumped to the aid of lumberjacks who were suffering from blisters and infections caused by their shoddy wool socks. Shortly thereafter, Jockey took a leap from socks to shorts and that would ultimately result in a men’s underwear revolution some time later.

Only two years before the aforementioned Mr. Cooper went on his mission to rescue the lumberjack’s feet from misery; another mid-west gentleman was interested in helping out the bicycle jockeys who were cycling on the bumpy cobblestone streets of Boston.

C. F. Bennett of the Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith, invented the jockstrap in 1874. Twenty-three years later, Bennett's newly formed Bike Web Company began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap. Today, Bike is still the market leader in jockstrap sales.

The standard jockstrap, or athletic supporter, consists of a wide elastic waistband with a support pouch. It has two straps extending from the base that surrounds the rear end to attach to the waistband. The pouch, in some varieties, may be fitted with a pocket to hold an impact resistant hard cup that protects the package from injury during athletic practice or competition.

Bike Athletic recently announced the production of its 350 millionth jock strap. That honorable athletic supporter was taken off the assembly line on November 28, 2006. (Yes, athletes the world over gave thanks to the company during Thanksgiving week.) Then the historic jockstrap was framed and flown by DHL to Bike's headquarters in Atlanta two days later.

A month later, in January 2007, Ms. Jenny Shulman, Bike Athletic brand manager and expert on jock straps, issued a press release with her tongue firmly planted in cheek. A portion of it reads as follows: "There was no doubt in my mind that DHL would take care of our package the way we have taken care of so many packages for the past 130 years.”

The Bike Web Company, now Bike Athletic, a division of Russell Corporation, invented the jock strap in 1874. It was designed to provide support for bicycle jockeys riding in the cobblestone streets of Boston. The athletic supporter quickly became known as the "Bike jockey strap." Eventually the name was shortened to "jock strap."

During World War I, the first cotton boxer shorts with buttons were issued to infantrymen for summer wear. They were so popular that men insisted on wearing them when they returned home



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