SIC 2322

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.

NAICS Code(s)

315211 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Apparel Contractors)

315221 (Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Underwear and Nightwear Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

By the 1990s, a particularly important force shaping the U.S. nightwear and underwear industry was economic globalization. As foreign competitors' share of the domestic market expanded throughout the first part of the decade, U.S. firms adapted by basing an increasing share of their own production outside of 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 into the twenty-first century.

In addition, larger firms continued to gain market share and were well positioned to invest internally generated funds in state-of-art technologies. These new technology investments resulted in a boost in productivity and lower unit costs of production as the number of employees in the industry declined from 9,759 in 1997 to 5,434 in 2000. Under the weak economic circumstances of the late 1990s and early 2000s, middle and lower tier firms found it difficult to keep pace with larger rivals; some industry observers expected the gap related to productivity and unit cost differentials to widen, placing the continued existence of the less competitive firms in serious jeopardy.

Organization and Structure

In the 1990s, approximately 90 U.S. establishments were involved in the manufacture of men's and boys' underwear and nightwear. Of these, about 70 operated with 20 or more employees. The industry was heavily concentrated in the southeastern United States, with Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Kentucky accounting for nearly three-quarters of all employment in the industry.

Background and Development

Underwear. At the turn of the twentieth century, underwear was designed with one purpose in mind—as apparel to be worn underneath more stylistic outer garments for the simple purpose of protecting 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, though it was also designed in a long-sleeved and long-legged style. A popular two-piece outfit was made of French knitted balbriggan. It featured an undershirt complete 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 the colors of either ecru or camel hair. 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 throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century.

The early twenties witnessed the arrival of the one-piece union suit. The union suit featured an athletically tapered look and came with long or short sleeves. Made from 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 also 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 so that when opened it made no contact with the body. The sleeveless athletic shirt, 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 supplanted 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 on reentering civilian life. By the 1950s, the T-shirt had been transformed into a popular outerwear garment. It was propelled into the national consciousness by rebellious movie idols such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, who wore T-shirts, as opposed to the more traditional sport shirt, with their blue jeans.

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 them made with grippers, continued to gain in popularity but never supplanted jock-type knitted underwear, which by 1946 were 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 could be found in a broad assortment of colors, patterns, and fabrics.

Sleepwear. Until the 1920s, when central heating became more widespread, the standard boys' sleep apparel consisted of a one-piece body suit with attached feet. As for men, a muslin nightshirt designed as a collarless pullover with long sleeves and side vents was standard. It usually extended below the calf, 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 quite as paramount. Men's Wear magazine noted that the tendency to discard nightshirts in order to take up the wearing of pajamas was everywhere in evidence, and pajama manufacturers sought to portray the new product as a vastly preferable alternative to the staid old nightshirt.

At the close of the 1920s and into the early 1930s, broadcloth competed with sateen for the number one position among sleepwear fabrics. Large bold striped pajamas 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 were busy putting together mix-match coordinate packages of either 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. During this time, the prevailing wisdom appeared to be that whatever proved popular in sportswear was to be immediately adapted to sleepwear.

Current Conditions

Downsizing domestic production and increased offshore production were prevalent trends in this industry in the latter half of the 1990s. Fruit of the Loom, for example, laid off 95 percent of its U.S. work force by 2000, with the bulk of the jobs moving to the Caribbean. Packaging operations followed in order to expedite delivery. One reason for the move overseas was that underwear manufacturers were not enjoying the price increases occurring in 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 time 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 that customers could order online without visiting a retail outlet. Web sites were also introduced so that distributors could use them for ordering and inventory.

Industry Leaders

Two firms, Fruit of the Loom Inc. and Sara Lee Corp., dominated the U.S. men's and boys' underwear industry in the 1990s. Sara Lee sold underwear under the Hanes brand, and in 1997 introduced products under a license agreement with Polo/Ralph Lauren.

Fruit of the Loom brands included Fruit of the Loom, BVD, Munsingwear, Botany 500, and John Henry. Fruit of the Loom posted $2.2 billion in sales in 1998. However, by the end of the century, the company and its CEO, William Farley, were in serious trouble. After a hasty move of 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. In December 1999 Fruit of the Loom filed for bankruptcy. A month later, Farley 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.

Joe Boxer Corp., a popular producer of boxer shorts, designed its products in the United States, but subcontracted all manufacturing to firms in the Far East. Calvin Klein was also a force in the industry by the end of the century, with $141 million in sales.


Industry employment data from the last two decades of the twentieth century reflected a trend of steady job losses. 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 the measures of employment by gender and race for the U.S. manufacturing sector as a whole, women and minority workers were a greater presence in the apparel workforce than in most other manufacturing industries.

In 1996, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the International Ladies Garment Union merged to form the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). UNITE's primary focus at the turn of the new century were the elimination of sweatshop working conditions and increased safety for workers. The American Apparel Manufacturers Association instituted a Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) certification program in December 1999 in an effort to enforce bans on forced labor, child labor, and workplace discrimination.

America and the World

Import penetration of the U.S. underwear market has traditionally been relatively low compared to other apparel sectors. One explanation that analysts have offered for this pattern is that underwear production by U.S. firms is highly automated and efficient, reducing the importance of the difference in hourly wages between U.S. establishments and foreign competitors. However, imports in the apparel industry as a whole increased by at least 10 percent per year in the latter half of the 1990s. As barriers to imports continued to fall in the wake of the implementation of NAFTA and ATC in the middle of the decade, all signs indicated that competition with foreign manufacturers would continue to shape the U.S. nightwear and underwear industry.

Research and Technology

By the mid-1990s, the most aggressive industry response to its economic condition was to step up its investment in state-of-the-art communication systems that facilitated the rapid transmission of sales information back to the producers, so as to immediately adjust production to consumer preferences. Referred to as the quick response system, this consumer-driven process more 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 quick response system, firms active in this industry directed major investments at computer-controlled machinery. Such purchases were undertaken in an effort to increase productivity, to minimize waste, and to 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 intended to reduce the amount of labor-time per task, which remained high when compared to other nonapparel group industry standards.

Further Reading

Crowley, Aileen. "Underwear, Activewear, Now Web-ware." PC Week, 10 February 1997.

Franklin, Stephen. "Fruit of the Loom Ousts Farley." Chicago Tribune, 11 January 2000.

Guilford, Roxanna. "Understanding the Challenges of Underwear." Apparel Industry Magazine, November 1999.

United States Census Bureau. Current Industrial Reports. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1996. Available from .

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

U.S. International Trade Commission. Industry and Trade Summary. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1995. Available from .

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