What are Tighty Whiteys?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Since the introduction of jockey briefs in the 1930s, the acknowledged workhorse of men's underwear has also gone by the memorable slang term tighty whiteys. Tighty whiteys have been the default style of functional male underwear for decades, especially for young boys. As boys mature into men, however, many of them choose more fashionable styles of underwear, such as boxers, bikini briefs, boxer briefs or bike shorts.

The design of tighty whiteys allows for easier access when urinating.
The design of tighty whiteys allows for easier access when urinating.

Many men choose between two philosophies of underwear: boxers or briefs. Those who prefer the looser construction of boxers sometimes choose to wear a support device known as a jockstrap. A jockstrap provides support and compression for a man's groin area, thus reducing the chances of injury during exercise or sports. Boxer underwear itself is not as restrictive, a sensation many wearers prefer to the constrictive nature of briefs.

Jockey briefs, on the other hand, eliminate the need for a separate supportive jockstrap. The design of tighty whiteys builds in an element of support and constriction, providing a sense of security and stability for the wearer. It is this sense of constriction, however, which provides the "tighty" in tighty whiteys. Some men may find jockey underwear to be too confining, while others prefer the sensation of compactness over the free-range aspect of boxers.

Tighty whiteys are white because they are usually made from white cotton. Cotton provides the breathability and absorbency necessary for a comfortable pair of jockey underwear, since the material must come in direct contact with the wearer's skin in a decidedly intimate space. Cotton underwear can wick away sweat and other irritants from the area, reducing discomfort and chafing. Basic tighty whiteys are also designed with a special Y-front, which allows for easier access for urination.

While tighty whiteys may be functional, inexpensive and supportive, their association with childhood and adolescence does not exactly make them fashionable. In a number of circles, the wearing of tighty whiteys into adulthood indicates a lack of personal style or fashion sense. Tighty whiteys are often viewed as strictly utilitarian and stodgy compared to the more fashionable boxer briefs, satin boxers or bikini underwear worn by many adult men. Even wearing colored jockey briefs is considered preferable to the continued use of tighty whiteys.

There are those who suggest men who continue to wear tighty whiteys into adulthood may simply prefer economy and comfort over fashion and trendiness. While others may view basic tighty whiteys as a style faux pas, some men still prefer the comfort and support of high-end jockey briefs to other forms of underwear which provide neither. The oft-maligned tighty whitey will most likely not go completely out of style for decades to come, especially for young boys and adolescents.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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