"A Peoples History of the Loincloth" will be an ongoing series here at Fundoshi 4 All, where we take a, errr, deeper look into the loincloth. Where did it come from? Where has it gone? How is it that a garment that is thousands of years old and was worn across the globe came to be transformed into an item of shame and fetishism? We'll be starting off with a brief overview of the possible origins of the loincloth.
In the beginning, there were no clothes. Chances are, humankind's early ancestors had little need for clothing -- they were hairier and their fur warded off scratches from brambles, the hot rays of the sun, and dishonorable social situations (i.e. poorly-timed erections). As human's evolved toward our modern form, most of the body hair retreated. From equator to pole, mankind was smoother and more exposed. The world was heating up after a glacial period, and fur was no longer necessary. The new human body was leaner, taller, faster, and more adaptable to swimming in water.
There is even a "water ape" hypothesis that suggests our downward facing nostrils, smooth flesh and streamlined hair are artifacts of a semi-aquatic existence.
With this new exposure came some new concerns. There are some African societies that have no nudity taboo. It is simply considered rude and unacceptable to become aroused publicly. These societies have developed a control ("mind over matter") that allows them to freely associate among the sexes without displaying sexual arousal!
That type of behavior is the exception rather than the norm, and we can easily speculate that early homo sapiens struggled with their newly-evolved smooth surfaces, broken only by obvious genitalia. It can be deduced that loincloths developed to address not only evolving social norms through concealing arousal, but also to provide protection and comfort from the sun, insects, and injuries. Binding the penis to the belly, wrapping the delicate vulva; it is quite possible that what is now a marker of the male warrior was once a unisex item.
In the absence of agriculture, there is no textile or weaving to speak of, other than gathering grasses and laboriously weaving them. Early nomadic man subsisted on hunting moreso than on gathering. The arts were yet to flourish. So it can be surmised that the first loincloths were tanned animal skins draped or wrapped around the body and waist. So our hypothesis is that the loincloth appeared for primarily utilitarian purposes, secondarily to help young men save face, and probably also to avoid male encounters fired by jealousy over females -- after all the weapon-of-the-day was the club or cudgel, and nothing destroys social fabric faster than head-bashing and revenge killing...and nothing fuels such rage more efficiently than jealousy.
Next came refinement and aesthetic concerns. No doubt the first few loincloths were roughly hacked out of animal hides, tanned and tied around the waist as best as possible. Leather being leather, the tanning was no doubt time-consuming and inconsistent, and the results less than appealing to the eye. Looking like you have a dead animal tied around you is, well, not very sexy. As handicrafts and body adornments began to take off, no doubt the making of loincloths fell to the matriarchs, whose patience and attention to detail was likely greater than that of the hot-blooded warriors. Tailoring a loincloth to fit a specific man and working the leather to its ultimate softness were two improvements the men no doubt enthusiastically appreciated. The art of fashion was born.
If, as I am presuming, women took a hand in dressing the early man, it follows that loincloths became slimmer, more streamlined. Still modest, but no doubt suggestive. Similar to the arousal cycle in females, which is more based in suggestion, and less like that of males, which is visual and seems psychologically tied to anger and ambition. Woven grasses, grass skirts, and various paint and ornamentation came into evidence.
Loincloths exist on every continent, in one form or another. Northern Europe being the possible exception, where climate favored trousers or cloaks -- yet even here you see a predisposition toward the visual magnetism of the groin, evident with the fascination with larger and more ridiculous codpieces. Outside of that slight anomaly, loincloths exist among nearly every culture, from South Sea islands to North America to ancient Egypt and Greece. In fact, we can probably thank the Egyptians, in part, for popularizing the use of fabric. Linen, derived from the flax plant, became the material of choice for the triangular, penant-like loincloth all Egyptians wore beneath their kilt-like schenti. No doubt South Pacific islanders, pounding the soft inner bark of mulberry trees into cloth-like tapa initiated this fabric revolution at about the same time. Minoans wore the perizoma, going otherwise topless regardless of gender. Romans had the subliga culum, a waist-wrap worn by everyone from gladiators to household servants. In India, the minimal langoti and the more voluminous dhoti conveyed dignity and piety onto the wearer. In the Americas, every civilization wore loincloths: The Aztecs, Inca, Mayans, and all the tribes of North America are widely depicted in artwork wearing an apron-like loincloth -- simply cloth or hide passed between the legs and secured with a string or belt.
Perhaps the most elegant solution in containing the loins was Japan's fundoshi, derived and evolved from the simpler cache sexe loincloth worn throughout the Pacific islands, which would later evolve into the bahag. One of Fundoshi 4 All's readers has astutely observed that the fundoshi is an "origami-like" solution to caging the male force, imbued throughout with the fastidious and thorough nature of Japanese traditionalism. A garment of ultimate utility, ultimate sensuality, grace, and humility. This simple strip of fabric catches up the penis and scrotum in a secure, lightweight "basket," and uses the body's own curves and hollows to cinch and braid a waistband that no amount of exertion or tugging will loosen. Like the best knots, only deliberately untying the fundoshi will loosen it.
This economy of dress prefigured a more affluent time, when trading ships would spread the wealth of the world from continent to continent. The art of textiles would explode, and with it would come all manner of new garments. Along with commerce traveled religion and politics -- a new climate of shame would be enforced everywhere traders, colonists and pirates set foot. Conquest would necessitate fuller clothing, even armor. And even in the absence of war, the social armor obscuring the body -- and the prevailing concept of sex as sin -- would never again come off.
We're looking for creative, original photographs, drawings, paintings, etc. that depict the fundoshi, preferably never-before-seen. If you would like to participate, please e-mail us (look in the "Contact" section at the top of this page for our e-mail address) your best images. You need to be eighteen or older to submit images. We'll publish the best stuff in future blogs!