The Invention of Tighty Whities

JockeyUnderwear635If you mention the term “tighty whities” to any American, they’ll know you’re talking about close-fitting underwear that men wear (see photo) that is most often found in the color white. The term “tighty whities” is an informal term for these briefs. While today men’s underwear is available in many shapes, lengths, and fits, tighty whities are considered classics and continue to be very popular.  (Note that we always use this term in the plural — “one pair of tighty whities,” just like we would say “one pair of pants.”)

In the U.S., tighty whities or briefs are a fairly recent invention (new creation). Before they came along (were created), men wore tight-fitting underwear that reached down to their knees in a soft warm material called “flannel,” and they were often called “flannels” or “drawers.” (There were also other types of men’s underwear, usually worn for warmth called union suits or long johns. While we still use the term “long johns” for warm underwear for men and women that reach down to the wrists and ankles, we don’t use the term “union suit” anymore.)

In 1935, a clothing designer and company executive (person with a high-level position in a company) named Arthur Kneibler received a postcard from a friend. Kneibler’s company made socks and underwear. The postcard he received was sent from a friend vacationing on the French Riviera, a popular place to visit with beautiful beaches. The postcard showed a man in a bathing suit popular in France at the time (see photo here). The tight-fitting lower section of the bathing suit inspired (caused someone to have an idea) Kneibler to invent the underwear you see above. The new underwear did not have legs — as drawers, long johns, and union suits had — but instead had a “Y”-shaped front for the fly, or the opening in the front of a man’s pants or underwear. This new brief gave men support, but was also comfortable.

The company called these new briefs “Jockeys” because of their resemblance to (appearance similar to) a jock strap. The new Jockeys went on sale on January 19, 1935 in a Chicago department store called Marshall Fields. The new underwear was displayed on a mannequin (life-size figure used to display clothes). It was a very cold and windy day and the store didn’t expect many customers. However, all 600 pairs of this new underwear were sold in just one day! Within three months, more than 30,000 pairs of briefs were being sold all over the country. And, as they say (as is popularly said), the rest is history (everyone knows what happened next).

It’s not clear when people started using “tighty whities” as a nickname for white briefs, but it’s almost always used jokingly. For this reason, you wouldn’t, for example, ask the salesperson at the store where you can find the tighty whities, but rather you would ask for “men’s briefs” or “men’s jockeys.” (You’ll want to specify men’s because we also describe women’s underwear with the terms “briefs” and “jockeys.”)

Now why am I talking about men’s underwear? Well, why not? Maybe Jeff or Warren will write a post about pantyhose one of these days.

– Lucy


This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Invention of Tighty Whities

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Lucy and everyone else.

    It’s just me, or underwear it’s funny? especially the one for men. Looking at some pictures I had quite a good time laughing so hard.

    In my opinion the least ridiculous piece of underwear for man is the boxers. Have you seen the photo of the jock strap! I cannot watch that without laughing my head off.

    Hey, i know I am not supposed to reveal what happens in the locker room at my workplace, but there is a guy that wears long johns. We call him big pants. -Mutandone- in Italian.

    I do not know why, but I do not see Jeff posting about pantyhose. It’s just gut feeling. Warren is an expert…

    Thank you Lucy. Who knows, maybe it the future I will find myself in the US and in need of a pair of tighty whities for some reason and this post could end up being handy.


  2. Dan says:

    Hey Pete,

    Since I have not seen your thoughts on the subject yet, I am going to guess that up there you are wearing the Union Suits. Did i guess right?

    Bye, thanks

  3. Alex says:

    Yes, yes, Dr. Lucy, tell about lady’s underwear, pls ) it s much more interesting than men’s one ). Anyway thanks a lot for your article.

  4. peter says:

    Hi Lucy ,
    Thanks for the culture puff piece:)) Very refreshing!
    Hey ,Dan
    But , u r guess is right! Although , we don’t use the term ” union suits.”
    In fact , I m wearing long johns as we speak. I can’t survive without them in winter is pivotal for such bitterly cold winter. They keep u warm!
    U know , I can’t take cold weather. So I always wear long johns underneath my outfit.
    Frankly ,I don’t know what to say about man’s underpants!
    Well, there are a vast assortment of men’s underpants up here !
    Presumably , people go for different styles , shapes and colours as there is no accounting for taste.
    But ,supposedly ,I could tell jockeys are a popular choice around here. The reason I m telling u this is I myself a jockey user. I mean it is my preference!
    The thing is ,every time I go pick up some pairs in the store, they are always out of them which is a good indication of their popularity around here. I always end up getting my second favourite which is boxers.
    U know , I never go commando
    I hate it

    By know

    Pete , an All-Canadian fella from clod Toronto

  5. Dan says:

    Hi Lucy,

    Instead of a comment this is a off topic confession.

    Esl podcast has created a monster. it’s me.

    As I am getting better at writing, I have developed the bad habit of “Trolling” on the comment section of US news outlets.

    I am not evil. It’s just a “form” of entertainment. Is this bad? I do not know. I only know it’s fun!

    At the end of the day I know I am not the only one, and at least I know to have been infected by the virus of trolling.

    Bye thanks ciao

  6. Kevin says:

    I sometimes think I’m the only guy under 30 who wears tighty whities. Dan, I agree underwear is funny! That’s why I can’t figure out why anyone cares if you wear boxers or briefs lol. Tigthy Whities are the least expensive undies and offer a lot of support. Hanes & Fruit of the Loom FTW!

    – Kevin, 29 (Wichita, KS, USA)

  7. Dan says:

    Hi Pete

    I knew it! See, my guessing bar gained a notch.

    I know, that’s childish but makes me feel clever for a few seconds.

    I trust you guys to keep that for yourselves.


  8. Dan says:

    Me again,

    On a more serious note, I was thinking that nowadays they make a Map for anything.
    It would be interesting to see how the different types of underwear is spread around the globe with one of those Maps.


  9. Dan says:

    Good day everyone!

    I was listening to EP. 1087, the one about the windows guy Otto, and it left me kind of mad with Jean, at the end of the Pod. I was insulting her!
    Now I need to go and look at photos of cute animals to relax.

    I guess that kind of customer is the nightmare of every salesman.

    A par for that, thanks for the idiom -call it a day- I did not know its meaning.


  10. Samuel Mendes says:

    Hi everyone!

    First time writing at a english blog, sorry for any miss writing.

    Thanks for the good article Dr. Lucy!

    Because of the cold weather, here in Brazil, we don’t use any underwear. Stay naked as much as possible hihihi. (kidding, God! So hot in here!)

    Beside jokes, I love your podcast scripts.

  11. Dan says:

    Hey Hi,

    I’ll tell you something related to underpants.

    There is this guy at my workplace that is extremely cautious in everything he does because he’s afraid of making mistakes.
    We say that he gets scared by his own shadow.

    Because of that he always says that “he’s wearing underpants made out of cast iron”. Do you get the idea why?


  12. Samuel Mendes says:

    Wow I’ve spent about 20 minutes to figure it out and I guess I’m still wrong about it, right?

    idea: fear of get exposed?


  13. Dan says:

    Hi Samuel

    Picture this: I am facing you, my hand reaches the head for scratching, my eyes rolling to the ceiling, and I am giving you a slow stretched “Yeah” kind of.
    Remember that when touching certain delicate topic we have to communicate in code in order to keep the blog clean.

    Keep in mind that a hypothetical pair of iron underpants gives you super protection, especially on the back “wink wink” Did you get that?

    If the answer is positive, do you use the same iron cast pants analogy in you country?

    Thanks bye wink wink 😉

  14. peter says:

    Dear Lucy,

    The window treatment

    Thanks planty

  15. Tania says:

    Hi! Very funny topic, and the drawing posted, too.
    We have a clothing designer for men’s briefs with a lot of male models posing in all kind of briefs.
    They are very successfully at women in shows, showing their big muscles, their briefs and “organs”.
    I understand that they are invited and at special events, parties,…
    In my opinion, the men’s boxer shorts are the most useful, more practical.
    Even on the beach, where there are a lot of children, it is necessary a minimum of decency.
    And unfortunately there is a big inconvenient for many men. The boxer briefs are not to the advantage of all men.
    I vote for men’s boxer shorts.

  16. Tania says:

    Hi! I have never seen a Jockstrap.
    They seem to be horrible. Very many new words to me in the underwear field.
    It is an useful topic as in all fashion magazines we find the English terms adopted by us, too.
    We have adopted and the phrases “vintage” and “vegan”.
    A vintage aspect of my house with vintage furniture… It is trendy.

  17. peter says:

    Dear lucy ,
    I can’t get over how beautiful is the latest episod on window treatment.
    Man , I have always wanted to know the vocabulary I can use regarding window decorations, Window installations , and window panes!


  18. peter says:

    Hi Dan
    Regarding your riddle 😉
    It beats me
    I m guessing ,He feels like he is on display

    Iron cast with a lock perhaps:)))

  19. Dan says:

    Hey Hi Tania.

    Animals like my cats are lucky. They do not need to wear underpants.

    With their pajama on (I like to thing they are wearing a pajama) they are comfortable and beautiful in every situation.

    Actually, someone come out with some sort of pants for dogs. That way you do not have to pick up its droppings.
    I saw a commercial on YT.

    Bye Salut.

  20. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    After all these nice comments, what else to say? I think nothing. Everyone has made lovely comments. especially Dan, Tania, Alex and Kevin. These people are wise, they have really put out the best they have inside. I always learn something with them and it is interesting to me.

  21. emiliano says:

    I have been using boxers shorts nearly for ever, in fact I don´t like “tighty whities” the few time I have used them
    in the past, when I was sixteen or seventenn and my mother bought my underwear and other clotheing, as soon I started to work
    and I bough my own Clothing never i liked to buy these kind of underwear and it was difficult to find on the sixties or senventies
    men´s boxer, they were expensive and only in the Corte Ingles of Madrid, a very good shop I could find these men boxers style
    of underwerar.
    When time was passing by, lot of men started to use boxers here in Spain so now nearly eight or nine of each ten use the boxers
    style that I was using since the end of the sixties paying a lot of money for them.

    Yes, boxers are ever more confortable for me and even less ridiculous as it is a popular saying tha there is nothing more ridiculouse
    than a naked big belly man wearing this tighty whities, I have alway thought that for a nice girl or woman who has this kind of
    sight does not have to look sexually attractive the man or boy in tighty whities.

    I am remembering now the look of “Bryan Cranston” in the TV serial “Breaking Back” who is wearing this “tighty whities” lot of
    times whe he is at home taking off his clothes, he looks so incredible ridiculouse even without a big belly that could make the
    sight even worst.

    Sorry, but this is my way of thinking, “tighty whities” NO please, always bowers……

  22. Dan says:

    Hi there Aecio

    I’m aware of the fact that I wrote too much.
    I don’t want to be perceived as too invasive.
    That’s why I will not write on this page anymore.
    Oops! I just did it.:-)

  23. emiliano says:

    By the way, here in Spain we call this kind of undewear “Slips” and usually they are White.
    “Breaking Bad” it is one of the best tv serials I have ever watched and Bryan Craston is
    a genious doing his roll.


  24. Dan says:

    Hi Emi.

    I know I am writing again, and I did promise not to again. It’s just to say hi to Emiliano.

    Wow! those high end underpants sure were expensive I guess.

    I have not seen Breaking Bad because of the regional restrictions that websites like Netflix or Amazon have in most parts of Europe I guess.
    In Italy I cannot see those. There are ways to go around that using VPN but I do not wanna do that.
    One other way is Torrent, but again I do not wanna do that.

    I’ll just wait till those websites finally will be able to offer their products in my country.
    It’s not a big problem anyway since I do not watch TV and I am always on You Tube.


  25. emiliano says:

    Hi Dan, I always read your posts that are the most funny I have read here for years.
    Bravo amici you are great.

    Gatufo is great too, he is always on me or on Cuca.
    My poor Cuca that is going worst week after week but with great spirit also.

    Thank you bro, emiliano

  26. emiliano says:

    Dan as soon as you have a chance to see Breaking Bad take it, I think it is interesting to see it.
    Nothink to do with other stories.
    Very hard but very good too.

    Never I have seen a man in Slips so many time as this actor Bryan Cranston
    and may be he won the prize because he was so natural going up and down
    his house this ridiculous way.

Comments are closed.