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Mar 4, 2013

The Undeniable Sexiness of Vintage Men's Underwear



Readers, it must be said: there is something about old-fashioned men's underwear that is very alluring.  Or is this a minority viewpoint?

Of course, I'm talking about those old high-rise boxers, ideally with buttoned yoke waistband, not knit briefs.

I have a few vintage boxers patterns, all dating from the 1940's.  My most recent purchase arrived this weekend and includes an undershirt pattern -- basically a woven shirt with no sleeves or collar -- a first for my pattern stash.  I love the envelope artwork, don't you?





Woven undershirts weren't uncommon in the first half of the last century, though knits drove them into oblivion.  I first read about this style on the fascinating blog Unsung Sewing Patterns.



When the top and bottom connected, you had a union suit. These still exist, of course (I once had a red pair from L.L. Bean) but they're full-length and made of knit fabric.





I made a pair of vintage 40's boxers a few years ago out of Simplicity 1960, which dates from 1945.







You can find these old underwear patterns pretty easily in the usual places.  But does anyone sew them up and wear them?  I've never worn mine out of the house for two reasons:  1) I made them from an old cotton/poly sheet and they're not very comfy,  2) The waistband comes at least four inches higher than my highest rising pants.



When men wore their pants at their true waist, the high rise boxer made more sense (and they do tend to camouflage one's love handles).



Today, not so much...



In closing, friends who have an opinion about such things, do you think this vintage type of underwear, undeniably more modest than anything you'd find today, is:

1) Best reserved for community theater productions of "Death of a Salesman."

2) An interesting piece of fashion history, best left in the proverbial dustbin.

3) Still sexy and just in need of a pattern tweak or two (i.e., keep the yoke but lower the rise).

4) Other



Would you wear -- or like to see the man (men?) in your life wear -- vintage-style boxers?  (How about a striped woven onesie?)

Have a great day, everybody!

42 comments:

  1. Those vintage undies are so sexy! True they wouldn't fit well under modern cut pants, but for wearing around the house, or under a robe, they are far more classy than any modern options!

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  2. #3 with provisions. I say yes to the boxers with pattern tweaks, but a big no to the onesie. Striped or not! :)

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  3. 3. Sexy. Alter the pattern so it works better for you. If necessary, wear they only in the house, but, Oh, so sexy. Infinitely preferable to all the lowrise monstrosities that go with abominable low-rise jeans. Please, guys, leave something to the imagination. it is so much more titillating than leaving nothing to the imagination.

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  4. #3 although I can't imagine my hubby would ever consent to wearing them--he's set on his knit boxer briefs. But I think the vintage underwears look classy.

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  5. My partner wears a onesie from Undergear on occasion. And I LOVE IT! He has asked that I make a vintage one after showing him some patterns. Can't wait to share it!

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  6. I think you're onto something Peter, except it's not just the underwear. Maybe designers should stop with the low-rise pant and men (and women) should go back to the high-waisted look. After all, the high waist tends to give the illusion of longer legs, as all of us of shorter stature know. I don't think the silhouette of an elongated torso is attractive on most people - mostly because it visually shortens the leg! Plus, I have a dog in this fight - my oldest needs pants with a longer rise than most low-rise jeans have, otherwise she feels like she's at risk for losing her pants when she bends over. So I say, yes to the boxers and yes to the higher-waisted (or at least natural waist) pants.

    My husband, on the other hand, probably would never wear them.

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  7. I've lately been thinking about the possibilities of woven men's underwear, so I am glad to see your pictures and read the discussion.

    I'm on year 2 of my no-buying-clothes adventure, and my collection of knit boxer briefs is shrinking and getting quite ragged. Pretty sure I'll need to sew some kind of underwear sometime this year, but I don't have much knit in my fabric stash, so I've been wondering about comfort and wearability of woven underwear.

    I think if you didn't put elastic in them and you dropped the rise below the natural waist they might be slipping off all the time. Unless you made yourself a little underwear garter belt and hung the drawers from clips off the garter belt. New fashion opportunity!!

    I do sometimes wear jumpsuits; the onesie undies would be a good match.

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  8. I can't imagine most modern men wearing those button boxers... Having a tight, non-stretchy band around your waist seems so uncomfortable! I guess it would control a beer gut (until the buttons pop off, cartoon-style!)

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  9. #3 I would totally use vintage boxer and union suit patterns as lounge wear. I've never been a fan on woven underwear for day to day wear. With some tweaks to the proportions and the right fabric choices it would be very sexy in a way that is refined and less sexualized than modern lounge/underwear.

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  10. We watched "Singin' In The Rain" this weekend, and those boxers make me think of Gene Kelly's highrise trousers. To me, the yoke looks feminine, like something you would see on a skirt. But I say go with whatever floats your boat!

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  11. Nay on the union suit, but I love the look of the high rise boxers! However I know I could never get Mr. Pattern Junkie to wear them...at 45 he still dresses like a teenage punk skateboarder, wearing his pants around his hips and wondering why they don't stay up without a belt. :)

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  12. Peter - you're just fun on a dreary day. Do you know that? Keep your open curiosity about the world, please. We have so little of that anymore.

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  13. Vintage boxers on my guy? Yes, please!

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  14. Please tweak. I love the yoke and I love when vintage styles are adjusted just enough to be acceptable in the here and now!

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  15. Peter, Until not that long ago Brooks Brothers used to make boxers with what were called French backs. They were cut from a pattern similar to the vintage pattern you show. I used to buy them when I was in college ( 30 plus years ago) when I used to buy vintage clothing. Those Brooks Brothers boxers seemed to be sartorially appropriate. The French back was an adjustable tie in the back so the waist band could be let out or pulled in. The boxers buttoned up the front. I remember that they were extremely comfortable. Suit trousers in the 80's were full legged with pleated fronts. Full cut boxers were
    fine to wear with such pants. I don't wear low rise pants. I think they look ridiculous on anyone except bean pole youths, However most pants today do fit below the natural waist, and are cut slimmer, and flat fronted. I rarely wear woven boxers which tend to bunch up.
    I still lover those vintage boxers though. I have several of the vintage patterns which I've bought for nostalgia's sake. With modifications to the pattern, I'd wear them under fuller cut pants. I think boxers, knit or woven are sexier on most men than tight bikini briefs. Choose foundation garments that fit your form.

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    1. I think Brooks Brothers still makes those. Am I wrong?

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  16. um, sexy as h*ll. no tweaking necessary in my book.

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  17. Why do you try your hand at making a nice pair of high waisted trousers to go with the vintage undies? If they don't suit you I sure Kathy would look great wearing them - a Rosie the Riveter look :)

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  18. Those boxers look great, just need a litle tweaking. I have some women's shorts patterns like that too. Comfort is the goal. I have been considering making tap pants for me, and bikinis, thongs out of silkey wovens. Will be an intersting experiment. I have several vintage patterns for women, and a OOP Kwik Sew one. Cathie, in Quebec.

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  19. I sewed simplicity 1960 and they ended up being too small so The-Much-beloved got them as a gift. I learned how to pivot and trace and now I can make them to fit the both of us. Let the good old days roll!

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  20. I think vintage boxers are rather elegant (especially the ones with the yokes), so I offered to sew a pair for my husband. His response? Absolutely NOT.

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  21. I agree with Oona, Hot! I might just have to make some for all then men in my life!

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  22. Def sexy. But then I think men's trousers worn at the natural waist are sexy too. Hubba hubba!

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  23. there is something about old-fashioned men's underwear that is very alluring. Or is this a minority viewpoint?
    I thought this was a minority viewpoint until I read the other comments. Perhaps I am in the minority in preferring boxer briefs.

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  24. 1) If a man took off his pants and those were underneath it would take at least 10 minutes before I stopped laughing enough that I could actually speak. And once I could speak I would ask him to put back on his pants and leave.

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  25. I prefer high rise pants on guys anyway. I wish they would come into fashion again. I hate low rise pants on everyone. Waists should rule.

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  26. Man panties, in every style, should be prominently featured on coins, paper money, and postage stamps.

    In want of a perfect world...

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  27. Gonna have to go with knit boxers. I cycle most of the time and woven boxers just don't work.

    My boyfriend would laugh me out of the house if I made something high waisted. I've slim-cut boxers (copied from slim-cut J crew) cut out and ready to be finished. I'll stick with these.

    ps.. I'm working backwards through your blog. Enjoying it so much.

    @whackeddaddy

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  28. I think these are smoking, as are you in them, Peter. I hate all these low-rise pants because I think they are only flattering on a very few body types, i.e. the very, very lean and very, very young. The rest of us have succumbed a bit to gravity and have a pooch, however small. In other words, those low rise pants look good on models, not regular people. Whatever happened to the imagination of the beholder being better than the reality? I still think that is true.

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  29. These are hysterical. The onesies look like Man-Rompers.

    Okay, but seriously? All of this low-rise nonsense is going to look so much MORE ridiculous 60 or 70 years from now. As you pointed out, the pants-below-the-hip-bone look is really only flattering on a handful of models and athletes. The rest of us look pretty ridiculous with our love handles and post-baby bellies flopping around above our waistbands, hiking our pants up in the grocery store.

    The other fascinating thing about your vintage undies patterns, beyond the woven instead of knits, is the lack of modern elastic. That's why they had those buttoned yoke waistbands, right?

    Okay, I think this could be an interesting challenge. What if you lowered the waistline slightly, so the underwear didn't stick up out of your pants, and used a more comfortable and luxurious fabric for your next pair of vintage drawers, something like silk charmeuse in a dark paisley print? Silk charm would drape better instead of looking so flouffy, and it would also be more comfortable to wear under pants. Actually, I have a gorgeous lightweight wool/silk paisley fabric in navy and gold that I would be willing to donate to this experiment, since it has been in my stash for long enough that I feel guilty every time I look at it. Let me know if you're interested and I'll ship it out to you.

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    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Yes, I am very interested to have every bit of your stash,
      contact me at wrane1@yahoo.com. Please.

      This is my personal opinion and by no means to offend any other bloggers. I think we both are like minded for you hit the nail's head in your write up. To me you have perfect and great taste except for your opinion on the Man-Rompers ( have you or has anyone in the audience ever thought that it would be great for infants and toddlers. It's neat and comfortable - we call it Jumper during my early years, I am now in late 60's ). Clothes using knitted material really does NOT help breathing of skin unless one wears an over size, it tends to stick unto the skin, sag and rag after time. I think it is also great for children, it is economical, a 2 birds in one stone, It is a hallmark of class in itself ( personal opinion only ). If one would just to re-view the last version of the movie Lolita, the main character Jeremy Irons wore the cotton boxer in one short scene, it is classy and in good taste. Debbie Reynold in the movie Singing in the Rain ( not sure ) wore it in a dancing scene - charmingly fashioned into her figure. I missed the era of boxer short. Never ever thought Peter brought it out again - Hooray to you. Knitted jockey brief in my own personal opinion is not hygienic for it is tantamount to be stained with urine or uncontrolled bowel leaks. The low rise bikini style was patterned after women's bikini where it originated. Men wearing it with bulges do not necessarily shows masculinity but a means of seduction which is Hollywood & commercial advertisement originated - a visual means to allure ( or insecurity ? ), and same thing with now so called knitted brief boxers though a bit better than the tiny skimpy knitted brief/bikini. Could one imagine if Obama or ex-presidents of U.S. or even the now presidents of the other countries wearing a knitted bikini or tight knitted brief, all in one big conference room ? Doesn't one can almost see one's soul when wearing tight bikini brief ? Calvin Klein and other designers - can you come up with better ideas ?

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  30. Skipping over the aesthetics for a moment, I wonder if we could have a moment of silent remembrance for all the housewives, laundresses and maids-0f-all-work who labored so long and hard to keep these things clean and ironed?

    Ironing would have been needed for a neat, smooth fit under trousers, and that would have necessitated more attention to laundering than many people give men's underwear today - you are not going to want to iron shorts that have bodily stains still in evidence after washing. Many men are terribly undisciplined about what they do in their underwear!

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    1. Thank you! That made me laugh out loud.

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  31. I'm looking at those boxers and I can't help but wonder if they could be remade into women's shorts (you know, to wear outside as street wear).....

    Rose in SV

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  32. I think the yoked boxers would pair great with a vintage smoking jacket for summer lounging...

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  33. Peter, Are you familiar with the "A Dress A Day" blog, in which the witty and talented author creates, from time to time, a "screenplay" for vintage patterns? I can only imagine what she'd come up with for some of these.

    http://www.dressaday.com/?s=Pattern+Story

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  34. Andrea here, checking in from Unsung Sewing Patterns. For reasons I've never understood, that McCall's union suit pattern is one of the most popular patterns I've ever posted about, pretty much tied with the Butterick Sun Bonnet. Very mysterious!

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  35. I'm sorry...that union suit is awful! (Well, you did ask our opinion)... Besides the fact that I feel like I'm looking at a giant 18-month-old, the union suit looks like it rides up horribly. All I see when I look at those pics is "Crotch!! Crotch!!" My husband would constantly be pulling at the seams in that thing (he can't stand anything snug in the groin).

    As for the boxers...well, they could have potential. I like how you did them as opposed to the one on the package where they flare out so much the guy looks like he's wearing a miniskirt.

    I think the men's vintage boxers could potentially be sexy...if you lowered the yoke, like you said.

    I'd love to see a post where you remake vintage men's undies into something a bit more modern (and less restrictive...they look a bit uncomfortable around the yoke). And if you can find a way to make a "union suit" sexy, you'll be my personal hero.

    Fun post! :)

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  36. I would also like to know why everyone's standing around in their underwear--with DRESS SHOES on. I know I'm not walking around in my heels as I'm putting my pj's on or lounging on a Saturday morning! Is this some retro fad? LOL

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  37. In the mid-50s wasn't there a designer who changed the shape of menswear? Higher waisted, straight-leg pleated pants; broader shoulders, cinching either at or above the natural waist. Gave any man who wasn't the V-shaped upper body we associate with superheroes in comic books.

    Do you know the shape I mean? What about the designer's name; been driving me crazy for weeks now.


    Are they sexy? Got no idea but I love the way they look and fit. My suspicion is that If I was to wear them it'd be with knit boxer briefs or a liner underneath for, uh, comfort.

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  38. Gosh, this takes me back! I was born in the 1940's, and remember that most of my underpants did not have elastic waistbands. The yoke fronts were very comfortable, but you did need braces to hold them up safely.My shorts at school, and my pants subsequently were cut higher than of today, and kept everything neat and tidy! Today's pants are really too low to wear with braces, but who cares - comfort before style every time.

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