As a blizzard engulfed Chicago on the night of 18 January 1935, the manager of Marshall Field's department store was having second thoughts about a window display. It contained 36 pairs of a new men's undergarment called the "French jockey short", along with a poster featuring a chap sporting a pair of the same, standing proudly with his hands behind his back. They were billed as being for sport, leisure, work, and play – but would you want to wear them in sub-zero temperatures? Were they too skimpy? The display, it was decided, would be changed in the morning.
The Wisconsin hosiery firm Coopers Inc had chosen Marshall Field's for the unveiling of its product, and the head of marketing, Arthur Kneibler, was banking on a successful campaign. The Great Depression had not been kind to the firm, but Kneibler was convinced there was a market for smaller underwear. He'd designed the shorts himself, based on a postcard he'd received from the French Riviera depicting a man in a bathing suit. His patent application described a garment that was "snug and smooth fitting", and avoided "bunching or gathering of the material of the garment in the crotch or at any other place".
The staff at Marshall Field's never got around to changing the window display. The following morning, 600 pairs quickly sold out at 50 cents each, and eager shoppers ended up dismantling the display themselves in pursuit of the last remaining pairs. Coopers Inc couldn't churn them out fast enough.
On 25 March the New York Times remarked how "this new type [of] underwear has swamped manufac- turers with orders from every part of the country". When they eventually went on sale in Britain in 1938, Simpsons of Piccadilly was shifting 3,000 pairs a week. The Y-fronted underpant had arrived.
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