Jockey Y-fronts hit New Zealand shops

16 March 1940

Advertisement for Jockey underwear, 1940 (Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-E-COSTUME-1940-04)

‘If old-fashioned underwear makes you squirm, switch to Jockey.’ That was the message from clothing manufacturer Lane Walker Rudkin when it began marketing the Jockey Y-front to New Zealand men on 16 March 1940.

The Canterbury firm had successfully bid to manufacture Jockey’s new range of underwear, making New Zealand one of the first four countries in the world to make the iconic American brand.

Before the Second World War, men’s underwear was ‘all-wool and all-enveloping’, extending to the ankles and elbows. Given the obvious disadvantages of the traditional undergarment, especially in summer, the Y-front quickly established itself as a market leader. Newspaper advertisements praised Jockey’s ‘sleek and fitting scientific designs’ and ‘real masculine comfort’. Jockey soon had the market covered.

Despite increasing competition from other brands and styles, Jockey products continued to sell well in New Zealand. By the 21st century, Kiwis were buying around one million pairs of Jockey men’s underwear a year. On a per capita basis, New Zealanders purchased more Jockey products than the men of any other country.