Who'd have thought that a world on the brink of war would create an underwear revolution? We take a look at World War 2's most notable developments in the nether regions...
Y fronts on the Home Front
Inspired by a postcard picturing a man in a skimpy swimsuit he received from a friend holidaying in France, Arthur Kneibler designed the Y-Front in 1935, providing a racy alternative to the traditional Long John. When they first went on sale in London in 1938, they sold 3,000 pairs a week.
The golden age of nylons
Despite being introduced as the cheap and easy to mass produce alternative to silk, even nylon became a precious commodity at the outbreak of war. Women often had to resort to painting their legs with makeup or gravy, which, if leaving an alluring aroma of Sunday lunch in your wake wasn't enough to put you off, were liable to run in the rain.
Women often had to resort to painting their legs with makeup or gravy, which, if leaving an alluring aroma of Sunday lunch in your wake wasn't enough to put you off, were liable to run in the rain
Understandably, many ended up tracking down a Private Walker-style salesmen for black market stockings.
Be a knock out
Boxer shorts were first invented by Jacob Golomb, founder of Everlast, in 1925. Taking inspiration from the shorts worn by boxers (surprise!) the heavy belt was replaced with an elasticated waist and they were available in an array of colours and patterns.
The future is sanforised
Preshrunk, or "sanforised", fabric was designed in the 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1930s that it solved the problem of popping clasps and buttons that had plagued the nation for years. Soon buying underwear one size larger was a thing of the past, and the advertising of the era had a ball: "Whee! Pop some more buttons, Daddy!"
The death of the corset
As corsets were a low priority use of precious supplies during the war years they were largely abandoned. Instead many women turned to bras, which became the underwear standard due to the fact they used much less material, which leads us nicely to…
Portsmouth Evening News, 25 November 1943 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Bringing sexy back
Unsurprisingly, women's underwear was one of the first casualties of fabric shortages during the war. Previously knee length knickers became briefs, corsets were rare and bras became more basic and, in some cases, smaller.
Make your own underwear
Buying new underwear was a chore during World War Two. Soldiers were prioritised in the receipt of new supplies and many simply couldn't afford to use their rations for them. Some people knitted their own, while others used parachute silk. An unlucky few constructed theirs out of boiled down draughtsman's paper, the result of which is just better left undescribed.
Technicolor dream pants
World War Two saw the production of coloured briefs for the very first time. Admittedly these were in shades of drab khaki greens so that white underwear wouldn't attract enemy attention while hanging out to dry, but this would ultimately lead to the colour and pattern revolution of the 1950s.
Elastic became increasingly common in underwear, replacing the buttons and clasps of previous years and making everyone sing in the streets like a scene from the Billy Elliot musical. Unfortunately in many cases it wasn't actually sewn into the underwear, simply threaded through and held together at a single seam. This meant many people had the unfortunate experience of a seam popping and their underwear falling to the floor.
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