Wednesday, January 05, 2011

History of Men's Underwear - Part One!

By Erastes

Being a writer of Gay Historical Fiction, I find I have to research the subject of what was worn under the overclothes pretty often.

This reminds me of the old joke:

Woman: (to Scottish soldier) Tell me, Sargeant, is anything worn under the kilt?

Scottish Soldier: No, ma'am. It's all in perfect working order!

So I thought you might like to share in my researches in this fascinating study!

underpants-loin

Loincloths might still be around (roll on global warming) but they have been found in burial sites on the bodies of men living over 7000 years ago. Who knows what sparked man to start covering his bits – it would hardly be warmth, after all. It would offer some level of protection from thistles I suppose, but not if a sabre toothed-tiger was coming at you at groin level.

Tutankhamen was buried with 145 loincloths. This seems either a lot, or not enough, depending on your point of view of how long the afterlife is going to be. Of course by this time, the loincloth was worn under a skirt. Still – roll on global warming.

underweargreek

The Ancient Greeks obviously didn't have to worry about sabre-toothed tigers, and consequently didn't wear any underwear at all. Good for them! Φοβάμαι τους Έλληνες όταν είναι πηγαίνοντας καταδρομέας!**

The Romans did, though – big sissies. Possibly because their empire stretched into chillier areas. They'd wear something called a subligaculum, which in modern terms means a pair of shorts or a loincloth and was worn under a toga or tunic.

underpantsroman

Oh yes, I know - probably NOT an accurate picture of underwear but is anyone complaining I'm showing this picture from a recently restored version of Spartacus?

Pull on undergarments were invented around the 13th century, large baggy drawers called "braies" made from linen were worn by men under their clothes. This style of undergarment did not really change in design for 500 years, other than to be fashioned from better, finer fabrics and to have ornamentation.

They shrank considerable during the Renaissance as the familiar image of cod-piece and hose emerged. The hose themselves were an open garment – not like our tights or hose of today.

underpantsbraies

Tight on the legs and open at the front and back which could not be worn openly as the privities hung lose. As the doublet became shorter somthing else was needed! The braies shrank to show off the hose, and the codpiece was developed to protect the wearer's modesty.

Or at least at first.

Gradually the codpiece evolved, became padded, shaped to fit and as some clearly showed were frankly showing off- and obviously exaggerating. Some of the most "impressive"are those belonging to Henry 8th and shown at the Tower of London, where other Crown Jewels are protected too!!

codpiece

What is interesting is that the fashion of today – that of showing off one's designer underwear, is not a new thing at all. The rich would commission the most exquisite undershirts,and underwear- fabulously expensive fabrics and meticulously embroidered. Why, they reasoned, am I paying for such incredible work that will never be seen? This led to the "slashing" fashions that we see in the Elizabethan period, where the overclothes had slits in- the better to show off the gorgeous clothes being worn beneath.

underslash

After these excesses calmed down, and waistcoat shirt and breeches took the place of doublet and hose, men returned to wearing braies or "strossers" – during the English Civil War the only difference between undergarments and overgarments were the weight of the wool they were made from.

**I fear the Greeks going commando

Next time - from 1700 to the mid 20th century.

Erastes writes gay historicals, and her first book for Carina is "Muffled Drum" (set during the Austro Prussian War) and will be out in July 2011. It's full of soldiers, horses, angsty love and many many buttons.

21 comments:

Keri Stevens said...

Until this moment, I had honestly never considered the history of men's undergarments. I figured--eh, pouch. But now I will be (yet again) that woman who talks people's ears off at cocktail parties. And they'll listen to me, because (a) they didn't know this either and (b) we all secretly want to be there when the train wreck begins.
Looking forward to part 2!

Erastes said...

*LAUGHS* Thank you Keri - in fact the history of men's knickers has been a lot more interesting than women's because mostly women just didn't bother! The design and redesign of men pants - specially when the hose became shorter and shorter and shorter and over trousers had to be brought in to promote decency!

Stephanie Dray said...

The fact that the Roman version is called a subligaculum is the main reason I would never mention it in a romance novel. It sounds like some horrible disease ;)

Erastes said...

Hi Stephanie, I agree - me too, I think I would go for "undergarment" if I were to write in that era, which I'm planning to at some point.

Thanks for commenting!

Susanna Fraser said...

Interesting, Erastes. And it doesn't really surprise me that the Romans wore underwear and the Greeks didn't--seems in keeping with their national characters at the time. ;-)

Shelley Munro said...

Excellent post, Erastes. The codpieces have always made me smile. I've seen painting where some of them appear very intricate and comically large.

essayel said...

Φοβάμαι τους Έλληνες όταν είναι πηγαίνοντας καταδρομέας!

*cries laughing* Some of the contemporary advice to boys about modest deportment is rather sweet.

This is a fun article as well as informative.

Janni Nell said...

Fabulous post! Funny as well as informative.

Taryn Kincaid said...

Fun! Fabio in a diaper! How old is THAT?

Jenny Schwartz said...

Such a fun post. Thanks for sharing your research (and photos!), Erastes.

Patricia Preston said...

I loved this post! It was very informative and I've always enjoyed costume research. Looking forward to part II.

Wendy Soliman said...

I love it too. Especially the bit about judging a man by the size of his codpiece.

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Rebecca Rogers Maher said...

So funny and interesting! But now I want my own codpiece.

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