Tighty-Whities First Hit the Market More Than 80 Years Ago

Even a blizzard couldn’t dampen the excitement from the release of the first pair of men’s briefs in 1935

Le Grand Baigneur (The Large Bather) by Paul Cezanne illustrates the kind of bathing suit that inspired the creation of the modern brief. Corbis

Briefs, tighty whities—whatever you call them, it was more than 80 years ago that the underwear that would make many a Calvin Klein model famous was released to the world.

In 1934, Arthur Kneibler was an executive and designer for Coopers, Inc., a Wisconsin company that sold socks, hosiery, and undergarments. That year, Kneibler got a world-changing postcard from a friend visiting the French Riviera. It showed a man in a short, tight, bikini-style bathing suit—and it gave Kneibler an idea.

A decade before, men had been introduced to boxer shorts, but the loose fit didn’t quite compete with long johns and union suits. Kneibler created a brand new type of men's underwear—legless, with a "Y-front," it was nearly as supportive as a jockstrap. To capitalize on this comparison, Coopers, Inc., chose to call its new product "Jockey" shorts.

Jockeys debuted in Chicago’s Marshall Fields department store on January 19, 1935, with a brief-wearing mannequin displaying the goods from one of the front windows. The day was blustery and cold, though, and store managers weren't sure that such a summery design would sell in winter conditions.

But all of Marshall Fields’ 600 pairs of briefs sold on that first day. Within three months, over 30,000 would fly off the shelves of stores all over the country. The product remained so successful that, by 1971, Coopers would change its name to Jockey.

The next big breakthrough in men’s underwear wouldn’t come until the 1990s, when the boxer-brief was invented. But those who scoff at boxers in favor of briefs have Arthur Kneibler and Coopers, Inc., to thank for all the support they’ve received through the years.

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