I believe that the string vest was first brought into being in the mid 1930s by a Norwegian army officer, Henrik Brun. It was designed on the principal that it’s string net structure would trap heat in winter and allow the body to breathe in summer. String underwear was marketed for its athletic and health benefits and had its heyday perhaps in the 1950s. I certainly associate it with “kitchen sink dramas”, brooding young men in cinematic poses, and the memory of these iconic garments drying on a clothes horse in front of an open fire in our 1950s family home! Although it’s popularity dwindled at the end of the 1960s and died a death in the 1970s, we can still summon the vision of famous string vest wearer Rab C Nesbitt (played by the talented Gregor Fisher) in the 1980s!
Here is some authentic 1950s string underwear from the shop….perfect for costume purposes, AmDram, dressing up etc. Note the title “Tarzan”. Johnny Weissmuller played Tarzan in films popular through from the 1930s and 40s to the 1950s when they were often screened in afternoon matinées in British cinemas.
(The Strutts Health Vest cotton ad is period marketing and I am unable to credit the photographer.)