Mighty tighty-whiteys celebrate their 80-year anniversary

  • Checkout
  • March 17, 2015
  • Elly Strang
Mighty tighty-whiteys celebrate their 80-year anniversary

The peerless pants were originally seen as revolutionary as they were far skimpier than what blokes were used to.

Before World War II, men’s underwear was described as “all-wool and all-enveloping” as it extended all the way to the wearers’ ankles and elbows. Cosy.

An early Sears catalogue for men's underwear circa 1890 - 1910

It wasn’t particularly sexy, either, as the underwear was heavily ribbed and only came in natural, skin-like colours.

Then in 1940, Kiwi blokes’ grundies were in for a shake up.

A Canterbury company called Lane Walker Rudkin won the license to manufacture Jockey underwear.  

New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to make the iconic intimates.

Y-front underwear took the market by storm for obvious reasons: you could wear them in the summer without any sweating or bunching discomfort, for one.

Advertisement for Jockey from the 1900s

Newspaper ads boasted of the Y-front’s “sleek and fitting scientific designs” and “real masculine comfort.”

Some advertisements were even more daring, coyly saying, “If old-fashioned underwear makes you squirm, switch to Jockey.”

Talking about underwear in public in those days was unheard of, so this was bound to grab people’s attention.

New Zealand Jockey advertisement via Flickr/Archives New Zealand

In Jockey’s place of origin in the US, 600 pairs flew off the shelves in the first afternoon Y-fronts went on sale.

This was despite other retailers’ criticisms that it was too cold to wear them (the underwear was first launched in the wintertime).

The infamous undies are still popular worldwide, despite boxer shorts gaining considerable popularity.

In New Zealand, it’s often forgotten Jockey isn’t a Kiwi brand – it was actually founded in 1935 in Chicago.  

In 2003, New Zealanders bought nearly a million pairs of Jockey men’s underwear, which equates to one pair for every one and half males aged 16 and up.

On a per capita basis, New Zealand purchase more Jockey items than any other country.

It probably doesn’t hurt that men who are acknowledged as sporting icons, such as David Beckham and Dan Carter, strip down and model for the brand.

Before the Carter years, Kiwi sports stars including Zinzan Brooke, Chris Cairns and Matthew Ridge all modelled for Jockey.

But Carter has undoubtedly made the biggest impact out of the models, becoming a bit of an underwear icon himself in the process.

In 2004, Dan Carter’s near-naked 16-metre billboard in Christchurch reportedly stopped traffic.

Women drivers were too busy ogling Carter in his undies to realise the traffic lights turned green.

The infamous Christchurch billboard

A year later, Carter broke download records with a video of him doing sit-ups in his Jockeys.

Then-spokesperson for Jockey, Paula Newbold, said that the sports star bridged the male–female interest gap by appealing to both genders.

Movie stars also bring considerable brand exposure to the tighty whiteys.

Marketing manager at Jockey, Ruth Stevens, says although competition from boxer shorts is fierce, appearances in “ultra-masculine” ads and films keep the Y-fronts popular.

She mentions James Bond’s From Russia With Love in 1963 and Zac Efron’s 2012 The Paperboy as examples.

“This positioning of Y-Front as masculine yet practical ensures its popularity remains high,” Stevens says.

“Underwear trends seem to be coming full circle as we head back towards the classics - Y-fronts are cool.”

Have a look at the gallery below to see how many times Y-fronts have cropped up in popular movies and TV shows.

From Russia With Love, 1963
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975
Top Gun, 1986
Waynes World, 1992
Seinfeld, 1992
Malcolm in the Middle, 2000
American Psycho, 2000
Orange County, 2002
Breaking Bad, 2008
The Paper Boy, 2012

​ ​

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