“Wear clean underpants. What if you’re in an accident and the doctor saw your dirty underpants?”

That quote could likely belong to any number of mothers. Moms, at least mine and from my generation, always seemed concerned about the condition of their children’s underpants. Probably because a kid wearing dirty underwear says something about the mom — at least to the way that many moms think.

And it was always said in reference to doctors. I always understood the order to wear clean underwear when there’s a doctor’s appointment because I was definitely going to see a doctor and the doctor was definitely going to see me in my underwear.

But wearing clean underpants because I might be in a wreck and may have to see a doctor never made sense to me. If I’ve been in a wreck, dirty underwear seems the least of my worries. Depending on the wreck and whether or not a person had to “go” before the wreck, it’s possible even the cleanest underpants are dirty by the time the doctor sees you.

And why drag a doctor into one’s dirty underpants anyway? ... So to speak.

Seems like wearing clean underwear is just plain good advice with or without involving a doctor.

Clean underwear feel better than dirty underwear. They are more hygienic. They look better. Besides who knows who you might meet? Or you could get pantsed by someone in the middle of the grocery store, and you definitely want to be wearing clean underpants if caught pantsed in the frozen food section.

But the warning always mentions a doctor. I remember as a kid asking why? Why is it so important for me to be wearing clean underpants if I’m in a wreck and the answer was always because a doctor might see you. And occasionally the answer included that’s what my mother told me so I’m passing it on to you. Or just be quiet and make sure your underwear is clean.

Mothers aren’t fond of too many questions.

Then I read a passage recently in a book on Winston Churchill. Sailors were preparing for battle. 

“All hands were ordered to ready their battle gear — life jackets, flashlights, helmets,” write William Manchester and Paul Reid in “The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm,” “and were reminded to change into clean underwear, to prevent infection from shrapnel wounds.”

That’s all they have to say on the underwear question but it makes a whole lot more sense than worrying about what the doctor thinks of the condition of your underpants.

If a person could risk infection in the pre-antibiotics days, clean underwear wasn’t just an undercover fashion statement, it was a sanitary choice that could save your life.

Even without the shrapnel, if a person was in a car wreck then, same thing. Possibility of infection when infection was not easily treated and often ended in death. Dirty underwear, given the reasons why underwear are usually dirty, increased the chance of infection.

So, in my mind at least, why one wants to be wearing clean underwear in a wreck has been resolved.

Perhaps, my theory has a hole or two in it. I don’t know. Just as long as my underwear doesn’t have any holes. As for underwear holes, well, that’s a mystery for another day.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.

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