Before about 1900, many men wore no underwear, using instead the lower sections of their long white linen or cotton shirts shirts instead of drawers. However ready-made linen drawers had certainly been sold as slops for naval and mercantile seamen from the seventeenth century allowing men to choose to wear a lower garment as underwear. The later nineteenth century saw the introduction of woollen jersey long johns made popular by Dr Jaeger, and worn with matching vests. Underpants as we recognise them today appeared after the Second World War, and were at first baggy shorts, sometimes made of aertex fabric, or of wool or cotton jersey. Y-fronts were introduced in the early 1970s, fabric boxer shorts from about 1980, followed by jersey trunks later in the 1980s.
Nowadays men can choose from a vast range of styles of underpants, available at a variety of stores, from Marks & Spencer or Gap to Asda or Tesco. Styles include loose fabric boxer shorts, figure hugging jersey trunks, Y-fronts, briefs, pouches, thongs and specialist supportive sports underwear. The camouflage jersey trunks pictured here, were retailed by Gap in 2003 and are typical of the more decorative men's underwear which, like the purple briefs and black and white boxer shorts also pictured, compete with traditional plain white cotton.
Full item descriptions:
"underpants & boxer shorts" [2004.111], Gap
"underpants & briefs" [1973.228], St Michael, Marks & Spencer
"underpants & boxershorts" [1992.31], Smith, Paul