Mentioning the Unmentionable
By Patrick F. Cannon
Hard upon the recent decision by the Supreme Court in Jockey, et al vs. the National Council of Purity in American Life, I am at last free to add underwear to my ongoing history of apparel. I can only regret that the American Society of Apparel Historians chose not to submit an Amicus Curiae brief in this landmark matter. I can tell you that my resulting resignation shook that august organization to its very foundations (no pun intended).
My many years of undercover investigations into this heretofore taboo subject may now bear fruit. A full exploration of the subject must await publication of my forthcoming book, Beneath the Surface: Underwear Through the Ages. In this space, I can only hint at the riches to come.
As we now know, the human species (humanous ridiculous) first appeared in what is now known as Africa (named after Scipio Africanus, the Roman Consul who was responsible for introducing Lions to the arenas of the Empire, thus providing the gladiators with more sporting opponents). Early humans didn’t know where they were, but it was generally hottish, so they didn’t need clothing of any kind, much less the layered look. When nature called, they answered it wherever they happened to be without the need to pull their Jockeys down. When the area became too malodorous, they moved on; thus, the beginning of nomadism.
It was only when their wanderings took them out of Africa to colder climes did they begin to consider covering themselves against the cruel winds. We do not know the name of the first human to cover himself with leftover animal skins, but his name if ever discovered should be enshrined in the costume galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with Christian Dior and Robert Hall.
You can just imagine the glee that greeted the slaying of a Mastodon, thus insuring warm winter clothing for the entire tribe. Alas, diligent digging by generations of archeologists have failed to discover any evidence that these early humans wore underwear. It is only with the Egyptians that we begin to see something that appears to be underwear. I must, however, demur. Here we must differentiate between shorts and scanties. Bas reliefs and other temple scratchings from 2,000 BCE show men wearing what appears to be fabric wrapped about their privates and bums. To show how fashion trends come and go, no less a notable than Mohandas Gandhi sported similar apparel 4,000 years later! In neither case, did the subjects wear anything under these wraps, so no underwear yet.
Once again, it was the Romans who were the innovators. As you are surely aware, it was they who invented the arch, water and sewer systems, tenements, and the thumb screw and rack. You will also have noticed that even Roman men wore something very like a dress. Now, for most of the year, this was sufficient, but when the winter winds came down from the Apennines, it tended to find its way under their skirts, causing them to become crotchety. Roman Legionnaires, with their far shorter leather skirts (early kilts?), had another reason for wearing undies – free swinging manhood was an attractive target for bloodthirsty barbarians.
You must await my multi-volume history to learn what happened between Rome and our own day. Let me just say that first it was a process of creating ever more layers of underwear, culminating in the Victorian age. Ever since, just the opposite has happened. Nowadays, underwear is so tiny that it can barely be seen. There are many theories about why this has happened, but I suspect it must have something to do with global warming.
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon