Not-so-brief history of Y-fronts

It is the Y-front's 60th birthday and advertisers are cashing in on the festive mood by urging men to forgo their boxers and tangas for the old favourite.

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".