The display of Jockey shorts in the window of Marshall Field's department store in Chicago on 19 January 1935 revolutionized the men's underwear market. Over the following three months, thirty thousand were sold, and Jockey began "Changing the Underwear Habits of the Nation."
The Jockey short's Y-front with overlapping fly was patented by Coopers Inc. in 1934. Unlike other underwear of the time, it provided men with "masculine support," then only available by wearing an athletic supporter or jockstrap. In order to reinforce the idea that this new underwear would provide support, it was discreetly called the Jockey (JOCK-ey). Advertising played a key role in the awareness and massive sales of jockey shorts, and an underwear-clad Jockey statue was used both in window displays and stores. The success of the Jockey short and its massive brand recognition led the company to change its name from Coopers Inc. to Jockey.
Until the advent of Jockey Y-fronts in 1934, men's underwear consisted of loose shirts, singlets, long johns, and drawers that revealed little of the body's form. Y-fronts were revolutionary in that, owing to the way the fly was angled for modesty when urinating in public, the seams drew attention to the male genitals.
Jockey shorts, however, were not the first revolutionary underwear idea that the company had introduced. In 1910, S. T. Coopers and Sons, as the company was then known, developed one of the first closed-crotch union suits. The "Kenosha Klosed Krotch" had a seat design of two pieces of fabric that overlapped in an X to allow access for hygenic purposes and it required no buttons or ties. This new underwear made history in 1911 after the oil paintings of men in their Kenosha Klosed Krotches by Saturday Evening Post artist J. C. Leyen-decker became the first national print advertisements for men's underwear.
Brief-style underwear quickly caught on, and many other underwear manufacturers began to produce their version of the jockey short. Traditionally these shorts had been made of white cotton, but variety was introduced in the 1950s when manufacturers began to experiment with new man-made fibers such as rayon, Dacron, and Du Pont nylon.
However, it was not until after the menswear revolution of the 1960s, spearheaded by the boutiques in London's Carnaby Street, that colored and patterned briefs and Y-fronts became popular. The increasing popularity of tight trousers in men's fashion led to an increased demand for brief underwear that did not wrinkle under trousers. Skimpier brightly colored briefs began to be produced by the major underwear companies and were overtly promoted for their erotic connotations. Magazine advertisements of the 1970s marketed underwear as a means of sexualizing the body to attract members of the opposite sex.
In 1982, Calvin Klein used an enormous billboard in New York City's Times Square to advertise his men's white briefs. It was an overtly sexual image of a perfectly formed muscular man wearing nothing but white underwear. "Klein's billboard has been credited with heralding a new era in the imagery of men in advertising and with precipitating a new fashion in men's underwear" (Cole, p. 136).
By 2004, major designers had established underwear lines, ranging from thongs to briefs to boxer shorts. Traditional companies like Jockey reacted to the competition by producing new styles and "rebranding," marketing themselves using the now almost-clichéd images of muscular, hairless models in immaculate and revealing white jockey shorts.
Carter, Alison. Underwear: The Fashion History. London: Batsford, 1992.
Cole, Shaun. Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Gay Men's Dress in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Berg. 2000.
Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. London: Routledge 1994.
Griffin, Gary M. The History of Men's Underwear: From Union Suits to Bikini Briefs. Los Angeles: Added Dimensions Publishing, 1991.