In the first (and only true) season of True Detective, a bewigged Matthew McConaughey says:
“Time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again…forever.”
He was paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche on the concept of “eternal recurrence,” which states more or less that our existence will replay itself on an infinite loop, since time and space are infinite. But he might as well have been talking about the history of men’s underwear.
Back in the 1910s, men still had it pretty good. Long Johns with handy holes designed to accommodate one’s bodily functions were de rigeur, combining all the comforting schlubbiness of an adult onesie with the freedom of not wearing anything at all.
A decade later, the Long Johns had disappeared, leaving the male population with what is essentially a Prohibition version of the much-derided romper:
And then, something snapped. Some Depression-era hipster sent hosiery designer Arthur Kneibler a postcard of a swimsuit model on the French Riviera. The ever-enterprising Kneibler realized the swimming briefs would work just as well as undergarments, and “Jockey shorts” were born.
Stripes were added in the ’50s. Groundbreaking. (Those calf garters ought to make a comeback, though.)
The ’60s were just a striped throwback to the ’30s, thus beginning our first iteration of the time loop.
And we have repeated the same actions over and over since then, going through the same motions and causing the same events to happen, unable to effect the one critical change that will break us out of this eternal convolution:
Changing the body type, race, and age of the man in the underwear has proved ineffective:
What happened? What has trapped men in this endless cycle? Women have their pick of thongs and boyshorts and hipsters and garter belts and boxers, and more choices abound once we move to bras and bralettes and slips and corsets. So why are the designers of male underwear so hell-bent on recycling that same pair of ball-cradling “Jockey shorts” ad infinitum?
Perhaps, like a third season of True Detective, an answer will never come.