[TMI Warning: The following posting contains information, opinion, or reflection that some readers might find uncomfortably or unwelcomely personal, private, or intimate in topic or content: too much information, as the saying goes. As a general observation, I’m willing to go almost anywhere in my postings, including some places that some readers don’t want to go.]
When I went into the hospital for my hip replacement operation, I was told to bring loose-fitting clothes. The instructions could have been clearer, but I suspect the medical staff didn’t want to alarm us about how limited and difficult my movements were going to be (they’re really focused on being optimistic and encouraging). I did come prepared with boxer shorts in a generous size (bought specially for this purpose; I’ve been a briefs guy for many decades), but it hadn’t occurred to me that jeans — or, in fact, any ordinary pants or trousers — would be an almost impossible ordeal to get on and off. On the other hand, I’d been living with high-class slippers, very easy to get on and off, as shoes for some time (note on them in a moment). In the end, I left the hospital in the boxers and slippers, plus a t-shirt and a bathrobe. T-shirt, boxers, and slippers became my basic costume for a while, and visitors entered into an unspoken agreement to think of the boxers as short pants instead of underwear.
Viewed that way, I had already gone commando, in pants with no underwear. Then came the sweatpants, and I definitely went commando.
The story of the idiom. An extended break now for remarks on the idiom go commando [if this is not to your interest, skip ahead to the next section, on the functions of underwear and no underwear], beginning with Paul McFedries’s WordSpy site for 4/9/01, which has 1985 as the earliest attestation and 1999 as the date of spread (thanks to the tv show Friends):
[Definition] go commando v. To wear trousers without putting on underwear.
Example Citation: “Comedian Dave Gorman is also firmly with the traditionalists. ‘I’m never ever naked beneath my trousers. If God had wanted men to ‘go commando’ he wouldn’t have invented polycotton with two per cent lycra! When my zip broke once I was glad to have boxers on.’” — Alison George, “Is your man going commando?,” Mail on Sunday, March 18, 2001
Earliest Citation: Furthermore, colored briefs are ‘sleazy’ and going without underwear (‘going commando,’ as they say on campus) is simply gross.” — Jim Spencer, “Marking the Golden Anniversary of a Brief Success,” Chicago Tribune, January 22, 1985
Notes: I read several reports that claimed today’s phrase came from Britain’s Royal Marine Commandos who, one assumes, often go boxerless beneath their fatigues. I can’t confirm that, but I do know that going commando hit the mainstream when it was used in a 1996 episode of the sitcom Friends [link below]. I managed to find a couple of dozen citations since 1996, but I found only one before that.
Further information from the Wikipedia entry:
Going commando, or free-balling, male, freebuffing, female, [link] the practice of not wearing underwear. The term may be related to the much earlier term “going regimental”, which refers to wearing a kilt military-style, that is, without underwear (see True Scotsman.)
In Chile, the act of not wearing underwear has been called “andar a lo gringo” (to go gringo-style) for decades. [no explanation of how underwearlessness got associated with gringos]
The origins of the phrase “go commando” are uncertain, with some speculating that it may refer to being “out in the open” or “ready for action”. Slate magazine’s Daniel Engber dates the modern usage to college campuses circa 1974 [see OED cite below], where it was perhaps associated with soldiers in the Vietnam War, who were reputed to go without underwear to “increase ventilation and reduce moisture.” [link] The earliest known use of the term in print occurred on January 22, 1985 [citation above]. A 1996 episode of the television sitcom Friends, “The One Where No One’s Ready“, has been credited with introducing the term “into the popular vernacular”.
Finally, the take in OED2 draft additions of Sept. 2006:
slang (orig. U.S.). to go commando : to wear no underpants (beneath one’s clothing).
The origin of this use is obscure; the allusion appears to be to commandos’ reputation for action, toughness, or resourcefulness rather than to any specific practice.
1974 Current U.N.C. Slang (Univ. N. Carolina, Chapel Hill) (typescript) Spring, Go commando, to be without underwear.
1985 Chicago Tribune (Nexis) 22 Jan. [quotation above]
2001 Guardian 7 June ii. 8/2 Thank goodness he wasn’t wearing a pair of sagging Y-fronts or, much worse, a thong. Thank goodness he wasn’t going commando. [note: a different 2001 cite from the one McFedries found]
2004 J. Evanovich Ten Big Ones 186 Unless Ranger kept his underwear in his safe, it appeared that he went commando.
Putting all of this together, we can get the expression back to the early ’70s, with a blossoming in the late ’90s. The practice, of course, goes back indefinitely far into the past; the real quesion there is why people wear underwear in the first place.
Why wear underwear, or not? Wikipedia has a pretty good account here:
Underwear is worn for a variety of reasons. They [anaphoric pronoun choice is somewhat vexed here, but I'd definitely use it in this case] keep outer garments from being soiled by perspiration, urine, semen, menstrual blood and feces. Women’s brassieres provide support for the breasts, and men’s briefs serve the same function for the male genitalia. A corset may be worn as a foundation garment to alter a woman’s body shape. For additional support and protection when playing sports, men often wear more tightly fitting underwear, including jockstraps and trunks. Women may wear sports bras which provide greater support, thus increasing comfort and reducing the chance of damage to the ligaments of the chest during high-impact exercises such as jogging.
In cold climates, underwear may constitute an additional layer of clothing helping to keep the wearer warm. Underwear may also be used to preserve the wearer’s modesty – for instance, some women wear camisoles and slips (petticoats) under clothes that are sheer. Conversely, underwear can also be worn for erotic effect. It is possible to buy underwear made specifically for sexual titillation, such as edible underwear and crotchless panties or thongs [and the ornamental items from Undergear and similar sources that I've posted about on this blog].
Some items of clothing are designed as underwear, while others such as T-shirts and certain types of shorts are suitable both as underwear and as outer clothing. The suitability of underwear as outer clothing is, apart from the indoor or outdoor climate, largely dependent on societal norms, fashion and the requirements of the law. If made of suitable material, some underwear can serve as nightwear or swimsuits.
… Some people choose not to wear any underwear. People may choose to “go commando,” or not to wear underwear, for several reasons; among those reasons include comfort, to enable their outer garments (particularly those which are form-fitting) to look more flattering, to avoid creating a panty line, because they find it sexually exciting, or because they do not see any need for them.
Certain types of clothes, such as cycling shorts and kilts, are designed to be worn or are traditionally worn without underwear. This also applies for most clothes worn as nightwear and as swimwear.
I had hoped for some good discussion of ±underwear in a recent coffeetable book –
Shaun Cole’s The Story of Men’s Underwear (Parkstone Press, 2010), a serious culural history for a general audience, lavishly illustrated … [which has a] lengthy final chapter on “The Big Sell: Underwear Advertising” (with commentary on the themes taken up in my underwear postings here). With a glossary, footnotes, and a considerable bibliography. (link)
What it doesn’t have is an index, dammit (I complain a lot about indexless books). So maybe the topic is in there, but I haven’t found it.
In any case, high on the list of +underwear reasons is protection: of the body from coarse and possibly irritating outergarments and, even more, of those outergarments from the potential insults of the body — in the vernacular, sweat, piss, cum, blood, and shit (listed above more modestly), plus genital secretions other than cum and (menstrual) blood, in particular, “pre-cum” (or pre-ejaculate, link here) and “vaginal juice” (or vaginal lubrication, link here); and anal secretions as well (the lubricating anal fluid sometimes called “ass juice”). (Some of the vernacular terms have a variety of vernacular alternatives, as in the case of cum or come — jism, jizz, spunk, spooge, juice — but many of the bodily secretions are poor in vernacular terminology.)
To bring things back to my situation when I went commando, there were two main protective functions of underwear: protection of my outer clothes from cum and pre-cum and protection of them from shit. In euphemistic vernacular metaphors, protection against snail tracks (from cum and pre-cum) and protection against skid marks (from shit). I gave up the protection because it was so difficult for me to get any clothes at all on my lower body (getting the pants on and off was quite a hassle, even though the pants were generously sized and the pantlegs had open bottoms); wearing sweatpants without underwear at least made it reasonably easy for me to dress to go out in public. Now I can lift my right leg some without special devices and can bend forward more than before, so I can manage two layers of lower-body garments without great difficulty and frustration. So yesterday the boxers returned, and I’m going commando no more.
A note on snail tracks. Snail tracks — on clothing or bedsheets — come about from two source, the first being the discharge of pre-cum when a man is aroused, from dreams, fantasies, jacking himself off, or foreplay before sex with a partner. According to the Wikipedia entry, and my own experience, men differ enormously in the amount of pre-cum they produce. I leak pre-cum like crazy (pre-orgasm snail tracks are pretty much a constant fact of life for me), and in fact produce so much pre-cum from the beginning of sexual activity that I sometimes experience what amounts to a pre-cum orgasm, which is satisfying like an ordinary orgasm, just nowhere near so intense; on occasion I’ve had to explain to partners that what just happened (complete with a little moan of pleasure from me and a brief partial loss of my hard-on) was not in fact orgasm but just a prelude, the main event was still to come (so to speak), just hang on. But when I’ve come the action is pretty much finished for me; I don’t leak much after-cum (so there are few snail tracks from this portion of the program).
My man Jacques was just the opposite: virtually no pre-cum, then a long substantial but slow flow of cum after his orgasm (which has its own charms) — a second, different source of snail tracks (with different composition: very little if any semen in pre-cum, a significant amount in after-cum).
Either way, you get laundry to do. (And then there are the skid marks, especially troublesome for hairy guys and, sometimes, for people given to farting. Life can be messy.)
The new dress regime. At the moment, then, I wear a t-shirt on top, boxers down below, a warm overshirt on top (it’s gotten what counts as cold here, so I’m into flannel and chamois cloth), and those sweatpants down below as well. Plus the slippers.
I got the slippers several years ago at the Palo Alto Footwear Etc. store, because they were warm (lined with genuine Australian sheep fleece) and flexible enough to accommodate my bunions without pain (shoe-shopping is a trial for me). It turned out to be a great bonus that they had soles serious enough for them to be worn as street shoes; they just look like moccasins or Top-Siders with fleece inside.
Since I’ve been wearing the original ones hard, I’ve now ordered another pair, just like the first:
This is the chestnut sheepskin Men’s Byron slipper from UGG® Australia. The ad text:
The Byron is a sophisticated men’s shoe made of leather & sheepskin with plush sheepskin lining. It’s great in the house as a slipper but functional on the street as a shoe. The outsole is constructed with molded rubber for better grip and flexibility. Finished with leather lace detailing for a refined look on a comfortable, versatile shoe.
I’ll second that, while noting that they’re very far from cheap: $139.95, zowie.
Two notes. First, on Footwear Etc. This is a small chain of stores (7 in the Bay Area, 2 in San Diego), offering fine but expensive merchandise.
Second, on the shoe company’s name, UGG Australia, which turns out (despite appearances) not to be an initialism but a clipping: UGG for ugly, as in ugly boots; the company made its initial mark in high-end boots.
A bonus, from the blog of someone who calls himself Australia ugg, this engagingly challenging non-native English extolling UGG boots:
Although some unconventional in appearance, Australian UGG boots have received all social groups and between the age of the great following. Ugg classic boots are the most fashion shoes in the winter for it can let your winter warmer, which are originated from sheep skin boots in Australia. Recent years, it has led a new fashion trend all around the world.
More on the Byron slippers in an upcoming posting. Slippers vs. the sweatpants.