All The Rage

The Image staff muses on the culture of
keeping up appearances

« Previous Post | All The Rage Home | Next Post »

Tighty whities to turn 75; Jockey gets a leg up on the celebration [UPDATED]**

September 29, 2009 |  3:31 pm


Jockey International Inc. has documented that the first pair of its men's brief-style underpants was sold at Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago on Jan. 19, 1935. And, although it is undocumented, it's more than likely that the first wedgie was administered later that same day in the parking lot of that Marshall Field's.

Today, in the run-up to the 75th anniversary -- of the brief, not the wedgie -- Jockey has launched a media campaign in celebration of the tighty whitey, complete with archival photos, little-known factoids and a host of contests and events, which can be found by checking out, I kid you not, Jockey's Facebook page or Twitter feed.

You may not be the type to follow an underwear maker's Twitter feed, but there's a 25% chance you, or the guy in the cubicle  next to you, wears the brief. Jockey cites a December 2008 report from NPD that says one in four pairs of men's underwear purchased today is a brief. (I don't see a lot of men in their skivvies these days, but I would have actually pegged that percentage as a bit higher.)

Some of the other interesting facts gleaned from today's media blitz:

  • The name has nothing to do with horse racing; the garment was named the Jockey Brief on account of ts jock strap-like "functional benefits."
  • At one point sales were so brisk that an airplane, christened "the Masculiner" (which I'm guessing would so not fly these days), was used to make deliveries around the country.
  • The Kenosha, Wis., company, once known as Coopers Inc., officially changed its name to Jockey in 1971.
  • In 1963, the company created astronaut undies for the Apollo program that included elastic bands on the cuffs designed to loop around the astronauts' palms and prevent a zero gravity wardrobe malfunction.

But the brief has resonance beyond simply its place in the pantheon of underpantaloons -- it seems to be some sort of litmus test. Why else would a student ask Bill Clinton "Boxers or briefs?" in a 1992 MTV interview? (It was briefs.) [** Updated 6:33 p.m. September 29: A previous version of this post said Clinton wore boxers. Consider this a brief memory lapse.] Perhaps it's just part of wanting to know if the famous and powerful are like us underneath.

Which brings me to perhaps the most memorable ad campaign of my childhood -- baseball player Jim Palmer, circa 1976, staring out from a magazine (it was either a two-page ad or I was much smaller then).

The future Baltimore Oriole Hall of Famer reclines on bended elbow, with perfectly feathered hair and a gleaming pair of hand weights. He wears nothing more than a pair of striped Jockey shorts and a wan smile.

I don't think I've donned a pair of briefs -- or picked up a hand weight -- since.

-- Adam Tschorn

Follow the Image section on Twitter

Photo: Major league pitcher Jim Palmer (with some sweet hand weights) models a pair of Jockey briefs in a 1976 advertisement. Credit: Jockey International.