Underpants, designer unknown

Underpants, designer unknown

Designer unknown
Great Britain
Machine-knitted silk, with pearl buttons and silk loops for braces, machine-sewn
Museum no. T.169-1960
Given by B.W. Owram

Vests and pants were worn next to the skin, under the shirt or trousers. Throughout the 19th century drawers had been worn, made of similar materials to the vest, including stockinette, cotton and wool; but by the end of the 19th century the distinction between drawers and underpants was recognised. Pants were either ankle-length to the mid-calf, drawers were either just below or just above the knee.

Some underpants were knee-length, to go under clothes for sporting wear: short pants of absorbent stockinette, for example, were worn for cycling. The loop of tape outside the waistband through which tongues of the braces were passed became general towards the end of the period. Many men preferred to have the vest and pants combined in one. These were known as combinations and became very popular in the 20th century.

Underpants were made in linen, cotton and merino, but machine-knitted silk was fashionable with the wealthy and also for summer wear. Underpants of natural coloured wool or cellular cotton were also popular as these fabrics allowed the skin to breathe. Such materials were seen by dress reformers as the healthy alternative to silk, which they claimed trapped harmful chemicals close to the skin. By the late 19th century vests were available in a range of colours, including peach, flesh tint, lavender, light blue and heliotrope.

A typical gentleman probably owned several sets of vests and underpants. They were often initialled with the name of the owner so they could be recognised during the laundry process. By 1906 the vast majority of men dispensed with underwear altogether in the summer months.