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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.