The History of Underwear - Part 8

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

The Eighties and Beyond

Things calmed down in the eighties. Most college protesters chose to cut their hair prior to entering the professional work force. When that decision was made, up to this point, men went to “barbers” and women went to “beauticians.” Both were now going to unisex shops and being groomed by a unisex “haircutter.”

Women were now entering jobs that, for generations, were traditionally only open to men. Thus, we now begin to see the consolidation of the sexes in many areas of work and play.

The sport of jogging became the craze of the early eighties. It was a perfect activity for both men and women who wanted or needed to maintain their cardiovascular system it tip top shape. This type of physical exercise was not costly – no club memberships or expensive equipment was involved.

It was a solo sport whose basic requirements included a good pair of running shoes, a t shirt, undershirt, trunks, shorts and support wear for the women and an athletic supporter or jockstrap for the men.

This sport, was made popular, in part, by the track and field successes of Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter. It is still very much alive today as is evident by the many joggers that still dot the roadside of virtually every American community. Not to mention the long distance runners that participate in the annual marathons sponsored by almost every major city in the nation.

Jogging was just the beginning. It would, like many other individual sports, allow people to utilize their leisure time in a beneficial and health giving way.

That premise would literally throw open the door to the vast line of creative and functional sportswear and men’s underwear that we have today. Few could argue that, in the eighties, this all began at the heavy duty gyms that were popping up all over the world.

Some say it all started with two men who had, at that time, last names that were nearly unpronounceable – Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the beginning of the decade the former was in the middle of his hit TV series The Incredible Hulk. That series ended in 1982, which coincided with the terminator’s blockbuster debut as Conan the Barbarian.

A few years earlier both of these soon-to-be actors were heavily featured together as rival bodybuilding competitors in the highly praised, independent underground documentary Pumping Iron.

This low budget production gave audiences their first look at, what was then, the underground world of professional bodybuilding. It took them the inside a dank and pungent independently owed men’s gym in Venice, “Muscle Beach” California.

Audiences were exposed a small collegial group of men referred to as muscleheads. Their sculpted bodies were minimally covered with old sweatshirts with holes, torn t shirts, saggy trunks or makeshift men’s shorts worn over jockstraps as well as any other form of swimwear that other men would have gladly given to the Salvation Army years earlier.

Arnold entered the scene via motion pictures and the Lou did the same on broadcast television – but the eighties also brought us as many as a hundred different cable tv channels in most service areas throughout the nation.

That would allow an entrepreneur named Vince Mc Mahon to take advantage if the new medium while Lou and Arnold were doing their thing elsewhere.

Mc Mahon’s stable of WWF’s (now WWE) professional wrestlers appeared regularly on as many at six different cable television stations in the same week during this period.

Interested viewers, especially the young ones, were saturated with colorful cardboard characters with names equally as colorful – Hulk Hogan, Sergeant Slaughter, Andre the Giant and The Killer Bees.

Professional wrestling’s premise for a standard match was to pit a hero against a villain. The latter would frequently appear in a freakish Halloween costume – like The Undertaker. His opponent, the hero, would be a minimally clad, oiled down, suntanned, super buffed bodybuilder wearing a form fitting men’s swimsuit or colorful men’s trunks.

Given the amount of body slamming in this sport, all of these characters were additionally equipped with genital protection within their jockstraps.

Cable tv also provided viewers with ESPN, one of the most financially successful stations to this day. With twenty-four hour coverage on multiple channels there was now plenty of time to air what some were calling “fringe sports.”

Bodybuilding competitions were among those telecasts. Up to this point, bodybuilding was lucky if it got a twelve-minute time slot once a year on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

It made no matter that ESPN aired these competitions at “off hours” during the middle of the weekday or in the wee small hours of the night because, by this time, the VCR was now in most homes

Those that watched those bodybuilding competitions saw massively built young men posing on stage in the briefest of briefs. It was not a pair of conventional men’s briefs that we know today. It was a men’s thong that had evolved from the standard men’s swimsuit that was worn during the first Mr. America competitions of the 1950’s.

The bands of the thong that embrace the rear end were now even narrower than those found on the conventional jock strap or athletic supporter.

Even that small amount of coverage disappointed one bodybuilder who placed lower than he would have liked in one competition. He was overheard telling his wife, “The damn strap on my thong covered the best part of my glutes. (He was referring to his gluteus maximus or butt.) It’s one of my best muscle parts.”

Some popular culture historians find it humorously ironic that the weekly sports events that lead up to, and include, the Super Bowl, NCAA Basketball Championship and the World Series are still aired free of charge on broadcast tv.

All these games are played by men wearing colorful uniforms. At the same time, bodybuilding, wresting, boxing and kickboxing have all switched over to the financially lucrative pay-per-view audiences.

Each of the latter contains men who compete with unclothed legs and torsos. For the most part, they wear a variation of the contemporary men’s swimsuit whether it is a pair of men’s trunks, men’s shorts, or a men’s thong.

Are we now just like the Ancient Greeks? Is there something about the semi-nude male body in athletic competition that is so strong it will now attract millions of viewers who are willing to pay to see it?

This attention to the male body came about, in the eighties, as a result of the impact of motion pictures and television, particularly cable tv. But the music industry also played its part.

This decade introduced the world to MTV, which had little conventional restraint in portraying the glories of the partially clad human anatomy of both young women and men in the music videos that they aired.

To that end it should not surprise anyone to know that, according to the Billboard charts, the biggest pop hit of 1981 was Olivia Newton-John’s cry for everyone to get “Physical.”

That song not only held at number one for ten weeks but, Billboard tells us, it was the it was the biggest hit of that entire decade because it remained at the top of their chart ten times longer than any other song of the 1980’s.

If Newton-John were to chart her “Physical” hit again she might do it as Olivia “Neutron-Bomb” because things were about to explode with creative design in this new era of men’s underwear that we began to see in the nineties.

No examination of contemporary men’s underwear would be complete without mentioning the name Calvin Klein.

His bold and provocative advertising brought the subject of men’s underwear out into the open in the mid-eighties. His men’s underwear line has now been available for a quarter of a century.

In 1982, Calvin Klein introduced his men’s underwear line, which turned the perception of men's underwear to one of a fashionable item.

Men’s underwear was no longer just a practical product, rather one that suggested sex appeal. It also told men that they too can look like male Calvin Klein Underwear models, Antonio Sabato Jr. and Mark Wahlberg.

Not only a fashion visionary, Klein has also become known as a marketing genius who changed advertising by continuously pushing the envelope a little further.

Mr. Klein has become notorious for the nudity, obvious sexuality, and use of young prepubescent models in his ads, which have not hurt his success in the least.

Known in the industry as "Calvin the Conqueror," he was named one of Time's 25 Most Influential People in America. Thanks to his minimalist designs for urban dwellers, provocative advertising, and visionary ideas, Klein has become a twentith century icon.

Klein’s entry to the scene resulted in an explosion in the increasing availability of stylish and more creative men’s underwear designs.

Examples include C-IN2’s “sling support system” which uses an adjustable elastic sling that lifts your private parts up and brings them forward or the “Wonderjock” which has a fabric layer that pushes everything out in front instead of down towards the ground

It doesn’t matter if today’s man routinely buffs up his body at a gym; whether he jogs or works out at home on a Bowflex or Stairmaster or has not yet found the time or motivation to do anything at this point in time.

With the added option of over night delivery via internet sales and service, there are now thousands of creative and functional men’s underwear designs can be on the mind of a man one day and clinging to his waist the next.

Lines such as those currently available from 2xist, Andrew Christian, C-IN2, Dickies, Diesel and Justus Boyz and many others are just the beginning. Today it’s all about comfort and creativity; without losing the age-old purpose of form and functionality.

Sometimes it’s just simply getting down to the basics – just like the gourd wearing tribes in western New Guinea still do today.



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