Keep your pants on: Marking 80 years of the Y-front

Actress Joanne Riding in the Witches of Eastwick sported a pair, and left, a Red or Dead model poses in a pair during London Fashion Week Credit: PA

As a Christmas present, they might be a bit pants – but despite dropping in and out of fashion over the years, Y-fronts are now celebrating their 80th birthday.

More than 500,000 pairs of the iconic male undercrackers are expected to be given as gifts this Christmas in the UK alone, according to original manufacturer Jockey.

And while sales might have occasionally hit the skids in the face of competition from boxer shorts, Y-fronts have kept their status as the ‘original’ underwear for men.

From Tom Cruise sporting a pair in 1983 film Risky Business, to David Beckham posing in all his glory for H&M, to Harry Styles sporting a grey pair on holiday in Florida – the Y-front has stood the test of time.

Even Homer Simpson seems to favour a pair, while Alan Partridge was an outspoken fan.

According to Debenhams, in fact, Y-fronts outsold boxers in 2009 for the first time since the early 90s.

Even Homer Simpson has been known to sport the undergarments Credit: The Simpsons/YouTube

While it’s now a generic term for briefs in the UK – so-called because of the upside-down ‘Y’ shape of the front seam – when Jockey first launched the product in 1934 they were an innovative new invention.

They were so cutting-edge that designers actually collaborated with urologists to ensure the pants were perfect, with the pieces providing what they called “masculine support” only otherwise available from a jock strap (aka ‘athletic support’).

It went on sale in the UK two years later at Simpsons menswear store in Piccadilly, and proved incredibly popular, with 3,000 pairs being sold a week.

Indeed, they were so popular by 1948 that every man on the British Olympics team was handed a free pair – and betting shop Paddy Power last year used them as inspiration when launching its ‘Lucky Pants’ hot air balloon.

The Paddy Power 'lucky pants' balloon Credit: PA
Actress Joanne Riding in the Witches of Eastwick sported a pair, and left, a Red or Dead model poses in a pair during London Fashion Week 2000 Credit: PA

But they have not been without their controversy.

Early stockists in particular were reluctant to show off the garment. Managers at the Marshall Field store in Chicago demanded it be banned from the window display, saying such a “skimpy” design was inappropriate during winter.

Then, in 1985, the famous Levi jeans advert featuring model Nick Kamen stripping down to do his washing in a laundrette was originally due to have him ending up in a pair of Y-fronts.

However, advertising censors ruled they were too “indecent”, and Nick appeared on screens in boxers instead.

The model was originally due to wear Y-fronts, but they were deemed too "indecent" Credit: YouTube/Levi

Marketing manager at Jockey, Ruth Stevens, said she believes the “support and wearability” of Y-fronts is what keeps them popular.