Monday 16 December 2019

Y-Fronts prove they aren't pants

The humble Jockey Y-Front is seemingly coming back into fashion (Jockey/PA Wire)
The humble Jockey Y-Front is seemingly coming back into fashion (Jockey/PA Wire)

They are the dreaded Christmas present from your grandmother, the underwear you might want to rethink if you are hoping for a sizzling end to a date.

But despite yo-yoing in and out of fashion, the humble Y-Front is celebrating its 80th birthday this year.

More than half a million pairs of the famous pants are expected to be given as gifts in the UK this Christmas, according to Jockey, the American manufacturer of the original Y-Front briefs.

Although sales have occasionally hit the skids in the face of the popularity of boxer shorts, Y-fronts have never been far from the public consciousness - from Tom Cruise cavorting around in a pair in 1983's Risky Business to David Beckham famously posing in his "kecks" for H&M.

Even youngsters find them fashionable - One Direction's Harry Styles was snapped in a pair of grey Y-fronts on a yacht off Florida last year.

Men in Norwich and Ipswich seem particularly fond of them - a survey by John Lewis last month found that East Anglia is the Y-fronts capital of Britain, with local gents per haps paying homage to fictional local radio DJ Alan Partridge, who famously had a penchant for the pants.

And according to Debenhams, the Jockey Y-Front outsold boxers in 2009 for the first time since the early 1990s.

Now a generic name in the UK - coming from the inverted "Y" shape made by the seams - t he Y-Front, or the Jockey brief, as it was originally known, was born in 1934.

Arthur Kneibler, vice-president of marketing at Coopers Inc, which Jockey was called at the time, spotted a picture of a man wearing a sleek, supportive swimsuit and asked the company's design team to create a new kind of underwear - the "brief".

It was unlike any other underwear available at the time, and was so cutting edge that designers collaborated with a urologist to perfect their product.

When it was first introduced in winter that year, it was described as providing men with "masculine support" then only available by wearing an athletic supporter, the "jock strap".

To bring a little discretion, the new underwear was called the Jockey brief.

Early stockists seemed suspicious of the garment, and managers at the Marshall Field store in Chicago banned it from a window display, saying it was ridiculous to flaunt such a skimpy design in the middle of winter.

But 600 pairs were sold before the display could be removed and the Y-Front's fame was secured.

When it first went on sale in the UK in 1936 at Simpsons menswear store in Piccadilly it flew off the shelves, with men buying 3,000 pairs a week.

Y-Fronts became so popular that in 1948 every male athlete in the British Olympic team was given a free pair.

But the ubiquitous pants have occasionally courted controversy.

The famous 1985 Levi's jeans TV advert, in which model Nick Kamen had the ladies swooning when he stripped down to his white boxer shorts to do his washing in an American laundrette, would have seen him in a pair of Y-Fronts if it had not fallen foul of advertising censors for being indecent.

Ruth Stevens, marketing manager at Jockey, believes Y-Fronts remain popular because of their support and wearability.

She said: " Although competition from the boxer is fierce, time and time again the Y-Front has been used in ultra-masculine ads and films, such as From Russia With Love when they appeared on the ultimate man's man, James Bond in 1963, all the way up to 2012 where Zac Efron spent much of his time in them in the film The Paperboy.

"This positioning of Y-Front as masculine yet practical ensures its popularity remains high.

" Increasing competition in the underwear market, along with the fact that maybe the Y-Front was a little slow to catch up to new trends which leaned towards aesthetics rather than functionality, meant they lost out to boxers for a while.

"But as is the way, underwear trends seem to be coming full circle as we head back towards the classics - Y-Fronts are cool."

Cool indeed, so much so that in 2006 a pair of 37-year-old cotton Y-fronts were sold in the UK on eBay for £127. A second pair sold for £90 to a buyer in Hong Kong.

So it might be worth holding on to that old grey pair, stuffed down the back of a drawer with the elastic broken - they might just be a collectors' item one day.

PA Media

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