Monday, 23 July 2007


As regular readers of this blog will know there are - very occasionally - passing references to gentlemen in underwear (sometimes accompanied by illustrations) that invariable --- and inexplicably --- elicit extreme responses from various readers of a nervous disposition!

For that reason, I have hesitated (for several months!) to post a story sent to me by Jen about the Swedish bike company Kronan launching a line in underwear for men and women...

If the advertisements are anything to go by, these items are prefect for wearing (without anything else) when getting one's leg over a Kronan bike...

I have only decided to post this imformation now as a result of a recent news story that offers a whole new understanding to the cultural influence and historic significance of the undergarment.

Last week, the Canadian newspaper Globe & Mail ran the folowing report:

From rags to reading

Discarded medieval underpants rank alongside the invention of printing in the spread of literacy, says historian

Agence France-Presse
July 13, 2007

LONDON -- Underwear underpins the spread of Western culture, with discarded underpants ranking alongside the invention of printing in the spread of literacy, according to a medieval historian.

Delegates at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, northern England, were told this week that social migration from rural to urban areas in the 13th century brought with it changes in attire.

Whereas rough and ready peasants thought little of wearing nothing under their smocks, the practice became frowned upon in the burgeoning towns and cities, leading to a run on undergarments.

And when the underwear was worn out, it provided a steady supply of material used by papermakers to make books.

"The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags," said Marco Mostert of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who was one of the conference organizers. "These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books. In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased - which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making."

The invention of the movable-type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century is generally credited with spreading learning. Before that, books were hand-written.

But Dr. Mostert said that although literacy did not become widespread until the 19th century, it was more common in the Middle Ages than many believe because of cheap paper made from rags.
"Although the aim of producing a 100-per-cent literate population didn't occur before the 19th century, after about 1100 the need for literacy grew steadily, and from about 1200 ... the number of literates increased dramatically along with the number of schools in urban areas," he said.

Popular reading at the time was the Bible, as well as religious poetry. Histories of Roman emperors and English kings were also bestsellers.
All of which obviously explains why, today, some people are wearing underwear made out of books!


Brian Sibley said...

GILL writes...

Shame on you Mr Sibley trying to dress up [or "undress up"] your predilection for young men with beautiful bottoms as history! Had to look twice at the article to make sure it wasn't datelined April 1st!
Actually I quite like young men with beautiful bottoms too, but this is definitely nostalgia these days!

Brian Sibley said...

Ah, yes nostalgia... I remember that, too...

As for the article, that WAS genuine --- implausible, I admit, but genuine!

Boll Weavil said...

Re the article, I've never come across paper made from rags so maybe it doesn't survive as much as parchment or vellum.With regards to yet another feeble pretext to show undressed gentlemen, the cycle company are obviously following the tradition of the great Raleigh Cycle Company of Nottingham (early plug for my new book on their illustrated history now in planning). During the sixties and seventies, they (and everybody else) used scantily-clad females to advertise ANYTHING so we have large posters of women in bikinis surrounded by bicycle gear mechanisms. Compared to this, your adverts are almost respectable !
As a footnote and because you are interested in advertising generally, I can tell you that the company archives contain an unbroken sequence of advertising material from the 1880's to the present day showing all manner of different styles and designs - a collection of unequalled importance and interest.

LisaH said...

Thanks very much for briefing us on that early recycling initiative.
And the photos were nice too.

Qenny said...

Oh, I do love a good rags to breeches story!

Brian Sibley said...


Brian Sibley said...

LisaH - I'll look out for some more bikes for you...