Specifically, when did people start wearing short underpants in addition to trousers? Loincloths and breechcloths have been worn since at least the neolithic, and various types of skirts since ancient history - but I can't find any historical accounts these being worn specifically as underwear. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, early trousers-wearing peoples like the Scythians and Xiongnu specifically did not wear undergarments beneath them.

When did "underpants" in the modern sense first appear? And if people had lived just fine without them up until the 18th century or later, why did they start wearing underpants in the first place?

(Inspired by a similar question about socks.)

  • 1
    No way to know specifically as clothing seldom survives.
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 20:17
  • Probably after they were debreached and started wearing trousers again Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 23:12
  • 1
    That would be middle school wouldn't it?
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 18:45

3 Answers 3


This is really different for men and women, and varies enormously between regions or countries. If it is just meant to describe a base-layer around the private parts then in England for example some higher up men wore braies or then 'trouses', whereas most would use an extra long shirt that "wrapped around" for that purpose.

enter image description here enter image description here

In the late middle ages or early renaissance Italian noble women had the fancy idea of wearing underpants and Caterina de’ Medici (1519–1589) is commenly seen as the first woman to introduce this style into courtly France.

But until around 1800 generally a woman would not wear these. This changed for the upper classes up around 1840, when upper class women had to have it, while lower classes still went commando.

Modern looking briefs or panties were introduced to Germany in 1914.

And in the "modern sense" means really as well "changed daily". Instead of weekly or even less frequent, by the vast majority of people. That brings in some other prerequisites: cheap availability and washing machines, delaying the use of underpants in the modern sense well into the 20th century.

And a story my grandmother used to tell: "Those disgusting peasants! When I was young they didn't wear any underpants. And never changed their trousers either, since they usually only had one! And those they didn't wash, wearing them daily except for Sunday church and when they showed too much sign of wear and tear after years they would bury them in a field. Made apparently good fertiliser by then!"

The above I took with some salt.

Source: Cecil Willett & Phillis Cunnington: "The History of Underclothes", Dover: New York, 1992 (1951).

Caroline Cox: "History of Panties" gives some indications for "why":

Underpants or drawers, known colloquially as "panties," were first worn during the Renaissance for function but were also used as a chastity device. They were described at the time as "helping women keep clean and protecting them from the cold, they prevent the thighs being seen if they fall off a horse. These drawers also protect them against adventurous young men, because if they slip their hands under their skirts they can't touch their skin at all" (Saint-Laurent, p. 65).[…]
By 1841, however, The Handbook of the Toilet suggested that French drawers were "of incalculable advantage to women, preventing many of the disorders and indispositions to which … females are subject. The drawers may be of flannel, calico, or cotton, and should reach as far down the leg as possible without their being seen" (Carter, p. 46).

Caroline Cox: "Lingerie: A Lexicon of Style", London: Scriptum Editions, 2001.

Jennifer Craik: "The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion", London: Routledge, 1994.

In the beginning, there was the loincloth. Well, 7,000 years ago there was, as the remains of leather loincloths have been found by archaeologists. Resembling a nappy, the basic style was a long strip of fabric that prehistoric man passed between his legs and tied around the waist.

King Tut was buried with dozens of fine linen loincloths cut in a natty alternative style – a triangle of fabric with strings on the longer ends. The garment was tied round the hips with the material hanging down the back, and it was then pulled through the legs and tied. The Ancient Greeks had loincloths, although there is speculation that only slaves wore them; citizens went commando under their chitons.

Once the Romans came along, choices began to diversify. Their subligaculum could take the form of shorts or a wrapped loincloth. By the 13th century, loose pull-on underpants were invented. Called "braies", these baggy, calf-length drawers, often made from linen, were worn by peasants and kings. Knights wore them underneath their armour. Richer men also wore "chausses", which only covered the legs.

Come the Renaissance, as the chausses became tight hose, the braies got shorter and were fitted with a convenient flap for urinating through. That buttoned or tied flap – the earliest codpiece – wasn't actually covered by outer layers, so Henry VIII, never one for modesty, began to pad his. Historians have suggested that beneath Henry's appendage may have been hidden the medication-soaked bandages needed to relieve the symptoms of his syphilis. Men free of venereal disease, meanwhile, used the tumescent codpieces as a handy pocket. ("New World cigarette?" "Ah, not for me, my lord, no.")

The cocksure Tudor pants were followed by several centuries of more demure smalls, with men opting for long cotton, silk or linen drawers. The most common were knee-length with a simple button flap at the front. They were the precursors of the "union suit", an all-in-one that would evolve into long johns, the ankle-length skin-tight underpants issued to US soldiers in the Second World War (and named after the 19th-century boxer John L Sullivan, who wore them in the ring).

After the Industrial Revolution, cotton fabrics democratised pants. The invention of the bicycle spurred the development of the jockstrap, first crafted in 1874 by the Chicago sporting goods company Sharp & Smith to provide protection for cycle "jockeys" on cobblestone streets.

"A Brief History Of Pants: Why Men's Smalls Have Always Been A Subject Of Concern", Independent, 22 January 2008.

  • @R. Burton The above is preliminary, as I understand the question to be really a bit too broad. If you can narrow down the question I will update. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 23:09
  • So... panties in Germany coincides with the start of WWI? I'm no history expert, but is there a connection there?!
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 0:24
  • So eurocentric!! so accurate!! Aren't you thankful langlangc that without europe and europeans there would be no history! not making fun of you at all. But I am saying history itself is very ethnocentric.... and it is the job of some people (full time historians) to study (ahem sometimes make up) interesting facts about the past for the present day audience (who by definition are people who share the same language as the historian). Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:21
  • @sofageneral It is eurocentric, I have to admit. But I also requested a clarification and narrowing from OP. That is to avoid writing an overly long answer that also uses sources no-one follows up and many seem to disdain here. If the accurateness leaves so much more to be desired it looks as if you should write another answer, or detail your critiique? Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:24
  • @LangLangC: I agree with you that the question is super vague. if the question was: when did italians first started wearing silk panties... it is one answer. If the question was: when did people start wearing 2 layers of pants or more... that's a totally different answer (and probably one that predated written history) It is hard to imagine that people who built the pyramid didn't figure out the advantages of underpants. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 15:38

I don't know when people started wearing underpants but I know that for much of the middle ages in Europe men did wear sort of medieval underpants or equivalents.

For much of the middle ages men wore long hose that reached up onto their thighs, but didn't go all the way up to the waist or connect with each other to form tights like they did in the later middle ages or renaissance. Thus a man's private parts were not covered by those long hose and if they weren’t wearing their jackets and shirts they would be exposing themselves if they didn't wear equivalents of underpants.

This illustration of a beheading, for example, shows the victim wearing what looks like medieval versions of undershirt and underpants.


And this illustration:


And this one:


And this painting:


So such illustrations lead me to believe that at least some medieval men sometimes wore undergarments that resembled modern underpants to some degree.

However there is a book Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: a Writer's (and Editor's) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free From Common Anachronisms, Errors & Myths. And chapter 2 says that in the Middle ages men wore undergarments called braies or breeks that resembled loincloths or shorts or underpants. But women did not wear any type of underpants for reasons that are explained there.


  • 1
    Braies, and more obviously Breeks owe their name to the Bracae worn by the Celts and later adopted by the Romans. These were originally woolen trousers and may have included built in socks. At some point the single legged hose took over the function of the breeks which were themselves reduced to being underwear and made of linen. Going full circle, the hose became higher as tunics became shorter and were eventually joined. Presumably breeks kept the concept of legs joined together because the later garment became the breeches worn until the early 19th century (and longer for boys).
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 20:28

Isn't it more likely that humanity invented the underpants first?

Maybe the question is when did humans invent the over pants. :P

if you look at early human development...

Humans started with a grass skirts or just some random stuff around the waist..

And then they added something to wrap around the bottom

Then isn't it possible that some other early humans with more resources started having the piece around the bottom, AND a colorful skirts of many feathers... etc. etc.

Maybe that was how the fig leaf became the underpants

  • 3
    umm if you think about it.. I am right. Underpants only became underpants after pants were added on top... to reach the truth sometimes we must ask questions. but we can't stop at just questions. we have to question whether the question itself is correct/well formulated Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 21:00
  • 1
    i don't agree with your answer but I cannot fault your defence of it. Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 8:49
  • 2
    @sofageneral I think I agree with your logic, but not your semantics. You could argue that "under" can only make sense relative to something else. But rather than "pants" becoming "underpahts," if the "pants" from single-garment times remained into double-garment times, you could fit new underpants under them or new overpants over them, but they're still the "pants." I guess it depends on which layer was added anew.
    – mightypile
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 17:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.