The underwear brand Sloggi is trying to make the humble Y-front sexy with an advertisement featuring the slogan "Sloggis for women" alongside a muscular male torso clad only in a pair of Y-fronts.
The Y-front was patented in September 1935 by the US hosiery firm Coopers. Sceptics said the Y-front, produced in knitted fabric with a sturdy elasticated waistband and the inverted "Y" opening, would never catch on: men were just too conservative. But sales rocketed and by the Fifties it was the standard undergarment for a generation.
During the Seventies, chain stores such as Marks & Spencer launched Y- fronts emblazoned with racing cars or footballers, in garish colours with contrasting nylon trim. They were bought by a well-meaning army of wives, mums and aunties because men were incapable of buying their own (31 per cent of men claim not to buy their own underwear).
Today, Y-fronts are a dying breed. Marks & Spencer says the undergarment accounts for only 13 per cent of sales, despite costing pounds 10 for a set of three, while boxers (from pounds 5.50) and the increasingly fashionable Calvin Klein-style "trunks" (from pounds 6.50) make up 19 and 20 per cent of sales respectively. The M&S spokeswoman Carol Richardson says: "Y-fronts are bought by older men. Younger men are much more vain."
Sloggi concedes that Y-fronts are one of its least popular styles, but its spokeswoman Sue Loder says: "The Y-front is being hyped as a trendy garment, and like all high-fashion items it is worn by the minority." Despite this, Y-fronts were chosen for the advertisement above any other style "because they most definitely looked the best on the model".