Men's and Boys' Underwear and Nightwear

SIC 2322

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing men's and boys' underwear and nightwear from purchased woven or knit fabrics. Knitting mills primarily engaged in manufacturing underwear and nightwear are classified in SIC 2254: Knit Underwear and Nightwear Mills; and those manufacturing men's and boys' robes are classified in SIC 2384: Robes and Dressing Gowns.

Industry Snapshot

Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, a particularly important force shaped the $2.2 billion U.S. nightwear and underwear industry: economic globalization. As foreign competitors' share of the domestic market expanded throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century, U.S. firms adapted by basing an increasing share of their own production outside the United States. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) continued to bolster these trends. The ATC served as a 10-year transition period that ended trade quotas in January 2005. The apparel industry suffered a decline, as World Trade Organization (WTO) countries began the phase-out of quotas on clothing and textiles that was part of the original agreement between the original member countries. Even though all quotas were eliminated, China and the United States came to a three-year agreement in November 2005 to limit the deluge of apparel imports into the United States, enacted per a WTO safeguard. However, when this agreement ended in 2008, China's Ministry of Commerce officially declared it would not place any licensing requirements on textile and apparel exports beginning in 2009. Although China did monitor its imports in 2008 under pressure from the European Union, and had actually suppressed textile and apparel production that year, the result was that one-third of the textile and apparel manufacturing plants in China shut down, putting hundred of thousands of people out of work. These same people protested in the streets, calling for their unpaid wages. Such social unrest made Chinese officials rethink their stance on the issue, and Sheng Lu in New Cloth Market predicted that "The Chinese government is less likely to compromise on any major trade restrictions in 2009 compared with 2005."

According to Dun and Bradstreet's 2009 Industry Reports, 60 establishments employing 3,957 workers operated in the men's and boys' underwear and nightwear manufacturing industry in the late 2000s. New York accounted for 92 percent of the total.

Background and Development

At the beginning of the twentieth century, underwear was designed only as apparel to be worn under more stylish outer garments to protect the wearer against seasonal elements. During severe weather, a man could choose from several different styles and weights of either one- or two-piece long-sleeved and long-legged knitted wool underwear. For the summer months, the wearer changed to underwear that was lighter and cooler, although it was also designed in a long-sleeve and long-leg styles. A popular two-piece outfit was made of French knitted balbriggan and featured an undershirt with a fancy collarette neck; pearl buttons; ribbed, close-fitting cuffs; and a fine silk-like finish. The matching drawers came with a sateen band and pearl buttons. It was available in either ecru or camel hair color. Though interest in silk underwear was growing on the margin, due not so much to its aesthetic or status-symbol value as to its superior drying quality, underwear made of knitted wool dominated during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The one-piece union suit arrived in the early 1920s. The union suit featured an athletically tapered look and came with long or short sleeves. Made from a knit of long staple combed cotton yarn and sewn with smooth, flat-locked seams, the union suit was especially designed to eliminate the feeling of tightness around the crotch area. The union suit was tailored to fit different body lengths and was available in long, medium, and short sizes.

The next innovation was athletic underwear, which was cut very brief and was available in a variety of staple and fancy woven cloths. It came with a trouser seat designed to make no contact with the body when opened. The sleeveless athletic shirt, which was popular throughout the 1930s, was adapted from the top half of the tank swimsuit worn by U.S. men during the early years of the twentieth century. It was replaced in the 1940s by the short-sleeve T-shirt worn by World War II servicemen. The soldiers found these garments so comfortable that they continued to wear them when they reentered civilian life. By the 1950s, the T-shirt had been transformed into a popular outerwear garment. It was propelled to national consciousness by rebellious movie idols such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, who wore T-shirts with their blue jeans rather than the more traditional sport shirt.

Perhaps the biggest sensation to hit the men's underwear scene was the 1934 arrival of jock-type underwear shorts. Advertisements proclaimed their virtues, noting that jock-type shorts, designed with the male figure in mind, featured a "no-gap" opening with gentle support, elastic fabric, no buttons, no bulk, and no binding. By 1936, lightweight jock-type underwear was available in open weave and netlike fabric, with very high porosity. During the early 1940s, boxer shorts, some of which were made with grippers, continued to gain in popularity but never displaced jock-type knitted underwear, which by 1946 was available with an inverted Y-front construction accompanied by advertisements that proclaimed them to be scientifically perfected for correct male support.

Synthetic fabrics appeared in the 1950s. Nylon underwear took the spotlight and was soon followed by polyester and cotton blends in a variety of colors. Men's fashion critics dubbed the 1960s and early 1970s the Peacock Revolution. During this period men's underwear fashions showed regard for style and color that had been historically reserved for outerwear apparel. Undershirts and shorts, for instance, were color coordinated and were made in a broad assortment of colors, patterns, and fabrics.

With respect to consumer tastes and demands, little had changed in this industry by the mid-2000s. In a 2005 survey of 20,000 respondents that was commissioned by, the majority of male consumers still preferred briefs (32 percent) over boxer shorts (25 percent) with 4 percent preferring thongs.

Until the 1920s, when central heating became widespread, the standard boys' sleep apparel consisted of a one-piece body suit with attached feet. For men, a muslin nightshirt designed as a collarless pullover with long sleeves and side vents was standard. It usually extended below the calf and had three buttons in the front and a chest pocket.

By 1925, as central heat became increasingly commonplace, the switch from men's nightshirts to pajamas gathered full force as the warmth factor was no longer paramount. The tendency to discard nightshirts in favor of pajamas was evident everywhere, and pajama manufacturers sought to portray the new product as a vastly preferable alternative to the staid nightshirt.

At the close of the 1920s and in the early 1930s, broadcloth competed with sateen for the most popular sleepwear fabrics. Pajamas with large bold stripes were the style of choice. By 1936, pajamas designed with extended waistbands and pleats for added comfort were, for the first time, promoted not just for sleepwear but also for at-home leisure activities.

In the early 1960s, the distinction between sleepwear and men's leisure-wear grew even more blurred. Men's pajamas regularly incorporated fashions and designs from sportswear and dress shirts. By the 1970s, the transformation of sleepwear into sporty leisure or lounge wear was complete. The leading sleepwear manufacturers put together mix-and-match coordinated packages of similar or contrasting fabrics. Even the once-maligned nightshirt made a comeback as Pierre Cardin marketed a lightweight floral-striped version design especially for the holiday season. Marketing buzzwords such as "unjamas" and "kimojamas" were created to emphasize a pajamas dual loungewear and sleepwear characteristics. The prevailing wisdom of the time appeared to be that whatever proved popular in sportswear was immediately adapted to sleepwear.

Downsizing domestic production and increased offshore production were prevalent trends in this industry in the late 1990s. Fruit of the Loom, for example, laid off 95 percent of its U.S. workforce by 2000, moving the bulk of its jobs to Central America. Packaging operations followed in order to expedite delivery. One reason for the move overseas was that underwear manufacturers were not experiencing the same price increases as other segments of the apparel industry. Cost control became a primary concern. Industry shipments were valued at $1.85 billion in 2000, down from $1.94 billion in 1999. Over the same period, the cost of materials increased from $879 million to $1.04 billion.

Manufacturers also faced a shrinking customer base due to the consolidation of department stores. As a result, many companies developed Web sites so customers could order online without visiting a retail outlet. Web sites also were introduced for distributors to use for ordering and inventory.

Twenty-First Century Developments
U.S. production in the overall apparel industry continued its eight-year decline in 2005, dropping to 2.2 billion garments, for a 14.1 percent decrease from 2004. From 2004 through 2006, record amounts of worldwide cotton production (the most prevalent fabric used in underwear garments) created an economic challenge for this industry, as imported underwear products undermined the labor price of domestically manufactured products. Cotton continued to be the fabric of choice for underwear products, but as domestic mill use declined, competition in the global market remained high. Designer and specialty underwear still enjoyed captive sales. For example, Tiger Apparel went online in 2004 with its one-of-a-kind "industrial strength" (double-seated) brief, which brought eBay bids over $100 each. Focusing on men under the age 35, mass manufacturers introduced more variety in designs, colors, and fabrics, in order to compete with designer brands such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

In 2006, U.S. production of cotton underwear for all categories was about 30 million, down considerably from the 2000 figure of 104 million. Meanwhile, cotton nightwear and pajamas production was at 366,000, a drop from the 2000 total of nearly 1.2 million.

Current Conditions

Domestic output in this category of the apparel industry continued to drop in the late 2000s. According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, U.S. production of cotton underwear in 2007 was down to 14.6 million garments. Because U.S. consumption equaled 179.3 million garments, the import penetration was almost 92 percent (164.7 million garments). This followed the trend of the apparel industry in general, which saw increasing numbers of imports from overseas, especially China, throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century. U.S. production of men's and boys' underwear specifically was valued at only $1.6 million in 2007, down from $2.8 million in 2006. A study from Research and Markets reported that, in 2008, the value of imported products in the men's and boys' underwear and nightwear manufacturing industry was approximately 4,640 percent of U.S. production.

Many in the industry lobbied the U.S. government to impose some kind of restriction on Chinese apparel imports. In March 2009 the National Council of Textile Organizations (NTCO) stated that just two months earlier, Chinese imports of apparel products formerly under quota--which included underwear--had increased by 36 percent and that Chinese exporters had reduced prices by as much as 20 percent. NCTO President Cass Johnson stated, "As subsidized Chinese exports pour into the United States, we are witnessing a new wave of textile and apparel closures in the United States. Twenty thousand textile and apparel jobs have been lost during the first two months of the year." Although officials from China and the United States met in mid-2009 to discuss the trade issue, no agreement was reached.

Industry Leaders

One of the leaders in the industry in the late 2000s was Fruit of the Loom Inc. Based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Fruit of the Loom brands included Fruit of the Loom and BVD, with Funpals, Fungals, and Underoos children's lines featuring a variety of children's characters, including Spider-Man, Batman, and Scooby Doo. Various events led up to the company filing for bankruptcy in December 1999. By the late 1990s, the company and its CEO, William Farley, were in serious trouble. After hastily moving its headquarters to the Cayman Islands and most of its workforce to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America to save money and avoid taxes, the company suffered a severe inventory shortage. The largely untrained workers made inferior products, forcing Fruit of the Loom to hire subcontractors and to pay its employees overtime to meet the shortfall. In August 1999, Farley was relieved of his responsibilities as CEO, and in January 2000 he was ousted from his position as chairman of the board. He was replaced by Sir Brian Wolfson, a businessman and eight-year Fruit of the Loom board member from Great Britain who helped steady the company until John B. Holland took over the position. In 2002, Berkshire Hathaway purchased Fruit of the Loom, saving it from bankruptcy. By 2004, Berkshire was touting a 23 percent gain in pretax profits from its apparel business, largely boosted by Fruit of the Loom sales. By the mid-2000s, Fruit of the Loom had annual sales of $983 million and 23,000 employees.

Another significant player was Hanesbrands Inc. of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, spun off from parent company Sara Lee in 2006. Popular brands included Hanes and Champion as well as several brands for women. With 2008 sales of nearly $4.3 billion, the company employed 45,000 employees in 25 countries.

Jockey International, based in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and inventor of the classic men's brief, licensed and distributed its products in 120 countries in the late 2000s. Founded in 1876, by the mid-2000s Jockey had annual revenues of approximately $550 million and employed 5,000 workers.

Founded in 1985 and based in New York, Joe Boxer Corp. was a popular producer of boxer shorts. The company designed its products in the United States but subcontracted all manufacturing to firms in the Far East. In 2005, Joe Boxer was acquired by Iconix Brand Group. Bridgewater, New Jersey-based Calvin Klein, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen, also was an industry leader with about $52 million in annual sales.


Industry employment data reflected a trend of steady job losses beginning in the 1980s. Underlying this trend were automation in the industry and the tendency of U.S. producers to relocate apparel establishments abroad or to outsource to foreign locations work formerly performed within U.S. borders. When compared to employment figures by gender and race for the entire U.S. manufacturing sector, women and minority workers were a greater presence in the apparel workforce than in most other manufacturing industries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the overall apparel manufacturing industry in the United States dropped another 4.7 percent in January 2009 to reach 173,000 employees. This represented a 13.8 percent decrease as compared to January 2008 and was the most significant decrease yet.

In 1995, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union merged to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), which in 2004 combined with the former Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) to become Unite Here. Unite Here's primary focus in the 2000s was campaigning, or "organizing," on behalf of its members for acceptable working conditions as well as for fair wages and benefits.

America and the World

Imports in the entire apparel industry increased at least 10 percent a year in the late 1990s. As barriers to imports continued to fall in the wake of the implementation of NAFTA and ATC in the mid-1990s, competition with foreign manufacturers continued to shape the U.S. nightwear and underwear industry. Meanwhile, the lifting of import quotas in keeping with the World Trade Organization's (WTO) member agreement depressed the textile and fabric industry in the mid-2000s, with U.S. apparel imports increasing to 18.3 billion garments in 2005, including a jump of 71 percent by China.

Research and Technology

The most aggressive industry response to its economic condition was to step up investment in state-of-the-art communication systems that facilitated the rapid transmission of sales information back to the producers, allowing for immediate adjustments in production based on consumer preferences. Referred to as the quick response (QR) system, this consumer-driven process finely integrated various phases of the production cycle, shortening the duration of various production steps and reducing inventory levels to a bare minimum.

In addition to the QR system, firms in this industry directed major investments at computer-controlled machinery. Such purchases were undertaken in an effort to increase productivity, minimize waste, and secure efficiencies in traditional apparel areas such as design, cutting, embroidery, sewing, finishing, ticketing, and distribution operations. Independent of the particular area of operation, the overall investment goal was to reduce the amount of labor time per task, which remained high when compared to other nonapparel group industry standards.

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