By Dia Ascenzi
Underwear is considered to be “mandatory” in our prudish western society. Practically everyone wears them, and those few who prefer to go ‘commando’ most likely wear underwear most of the time too. It’s a simple enough concept: underwear serves a very simple and necessary purpose. However, you may be surprised (and a little grossed out) to know that underwear as we know it today is actually a pretty modern invention. While the thought of “ancient underwear” evokes images of loincloths and toga-wraps, the fact is that these were functional outerwear bottoms. Our poor, poor ancestors had no idea what their junk was missing.
Your underoos have a pretty interesting history—one that explains why they go by several names such as drawers, briefs, boxers, knickers, panties, Long Johns, and tighty whities. Underwear as we know them are small, compact, and cover only the area we feel the need to cover. Most importantly, they are comfortable. However, this wasn’t always so. In the not-so-distant past, undergarments took on many different forms from what we use today. Some of these varieties throughout history are stranger than others. “Chausses,” for example, were two leg pieces, but didn’t even cover the crotch!
These types of “half-pants” were not the old-timey version of ass-less chaps, but rather designed so that you could wrap a diaper-like piece of cloth around your waist underneath. As became more common in the 17th and 18th century, one would tuck or tie their ‘longshirt’ between their undercarriage, like a sort of gross, adult onesie. At this point, underwear (if you could call it that) wasn’t worn for aesthetic value, as they are today. Instead, they were more hygienic, or used as a protective garment due to the discomfort of the clothing of the time. Keep in mind that until the Industrial Revolution, all undergarments were made by hand, so honestly, they couldn’t possibly have been that comfortable to wear. When the Industrial Revolution hit however, the cotton gin made clothing much easier to manufacture.