When Y-fronts were invented in 1934, left-handed men found themselves at a disadvantage because the pants were all made with a right-handed opening. Various wiseacres came up with a simple solution, though: wear them inside-out. The trouble is, it actually doesn’t work.
In an era of freezing cold lavatories, the problem of easy-access underthings was a long-running preoccupation for inventors. In 1909 Horace Johnson – ‘The Edison of underwear’ – created the Klosed Krotch union suit, a one-piece with an X-shaped flap which could be drawn apart when required. The Y-front was a refinement created by a designer named Arthur Kniebler who worked for Coopers Inc., a company which was on the verge of bankruptcy. Y-fronts (which were called ‘Jockey shorts’ in the US) were an instant success and saved the company, which was re-named ‘Jockey’ after the pants (which were themselves named after the jockstrap). The bias in favour of right-handed men persists to this day, although in 2009 Swiss company Hom produced ambidextrous pants with a horizontal slit, which they say can save a left hander ‘up to three, often vital, seconds’.
Y-fronts are said to sell better than boxers during a recession; in March 2009 Debenhams reported that they outsold boxer shorts for the first time since the early 1990s, the last time when Britain was in recession. A spokesman attributed the effect to the ‘greater sense of security’ that Y-fronts provide.
Humility is like underwear: essential, but indecent if it shows.
Andy Warhol only wore green underpants.
The Heidelberg Electric Belt was invented during the late 19th century fad for electrical cures. Sold as an invigorating electric belt, it had the option of a ‘sensory appliance’ which converted it into an invigorating electric jockstrap. According to the advert it cured ‘nervous and general debility, lost vigour, decline, and the whole train of gloomy attendants’ - standard code for impotence. The theory of 'seminal economy' warned against wantonly jettisoning too much ‘nervous substance’ (i.e. semen), but the electric jockstrap held out the prospect of a simple remedy: plug yourself in to the mains and restore all the vigour lost through your shameful lack of restraint.
The quest for ever more sophisticated pants never ceases. Swiss manufacturer Isabodywear sells pants with a Faraday cage made of silver thread around the groin to protect the wearer’s testicles from harmful mobile phone radiation; the US military has designed Kevlar pants to protect soldiers' genitals against improvised explosive devices; and Professor Joseph Wang of the University of California has invented a pair of pants which monitor heart-rate, glucose levels and blood pressure.
According to jockstrap manufacturer Russell Athletic, the original ‘jockstrap’ was the ‘Bike Jockey Strap’, made in 1897 for the bicycle jockeys of Boston Athletic Club to address the chafing associated with riding on cobbled streets. The US high-school term ‘jock’ (meaning ‘athlete’) comes from the jockstrap – i.e. they’re the people who wear them.
In 2012, Daniel Craig’s pants sold for £44,450 at a James Bond auction.
A pair of Queen Victoria’s bloomers sold for £360 at auction in 2012.
I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.