What IS that garment?

From the 10percent site, an offering aimed at gay men:

The question is: what is the garment the model is wearing? (Not the Cactus Belt Buckle, though that’s what the ad is focussing on and it’s remarkable in its own right, but the thing the belt is attached to.) What’s its function, and what is it called? I’ll give you a minute to think.

The thing is pretty clearly made of denim and it has belt loops (and, in the ad, it has a belt through those loops), so it has the properties of some sort of outerwear, in particular shorts. But if it’s shorts, it’s really really short shorts. Putting aside the material and the belt loops, it looks like either underwear — (bikini) briefs, in particular — or Speedo-style swimming trunks. So it’s a kind of hybrid or chimera; see my posting here on hybrid styles of men’s underwear, including the trunk brief (swimming trunk x brief), boxer brief (boxer short x brief), and jock brief (jockstrap x brief). For these hybrid types, the garments are clearly meant to function as underwear

The people who make the things boldly straddle the functional fence. They label them

Rufskin “ROMAN” denim swim brief

Are they swimming trunks or briefs? (Dessert topping or floor polish?) They’re both! Or possibly, since brief is the head word in the compound swim brief, they’re supposed to be briefs in the style of swimming trunks (rather than swimming trunks in the style of briefs, that is, Speedo-style swim trunks). But denim is an odd fabric for either underwear or swimwear — it’s awfully heavy for either function — and, anyway, what about those belt loops, which belong on pants of some kind? I mean, who puts a belt on his underpants or on his swimming suit?

The garment seems to be a chimera (or chimaera, if you will), combining features of three different garment types, and not really good as any one of the three. I can imagine a use, though — as a purely decorative garment, suitable for showing off your masculine equipment, for the right audience, of course.

7 Responses to “What IS that garment?”

  1. xyzzyva Says:

    Who puts a belt on his swimming suit?

    The guy wearing a heavy water-laden denim Speedo, that’s who.

  2. Z. D. Smith Says:

    I think the more interesting question here is the deeply gendered semiotics of the thing. I mean, to put things bluntly: it’s SO gay. I say this as someone with a more-than-passing interest in menswear. It’s menswear and yet it lies wholly outside the purview of mainstream men’s style. Even in the year 2010, where men’s fashion runs the gamut between ultra-trad and ultra-forward, the individual messages of the specific features of the garment in question simply place it wholly outside of the spectrum of all-purpose, algemeinish menswear. It will never be featured on any menswear blog or magazine article. It is a garment for men, but it is also inherently a garment for GAY men, for the purpose of performance in the context of gay men.

    One the one hand it renders slightly less germane the question posed in the post above—that is, an analysis of the presence of belt loops, and how short it is, and its material, etc., is pushed a couple inches closer to moot by the answer, ‘Well, it’s gay clothes.’ Because it simply doesn’t seem to fully exist in the same context and highly discretized universe of menswear at large.

    But of course the homosexuality of the piece is so allusive, so contextual, so seemingly beside the point—there is of course nothing inherent in its fabric or even design (to be very, very crude, there’s no anal sex hatch or anything) that would FUNCTIONALLY place it in an almost exclusively gay context.

    Then again, one could easily say that the only reason that’s so is due to a deficiency in the current and general conception of garments as a whole. If, that is, one thought of pieces like this as comfortably belonging within the greater spectrum of clothes for men, I suspect you’d very quickly see it assimilated and then it would seem much less alien.

    After all, to put it another way, if there were three sections in the fashion press: men, women, and gay men—then there’d really be no need for a post like the one above. It’s only its queer (sorry) position as a garment for men, and yet wholly outside the recognized menswear tradition, that it draws notice.

    And of course it’s not a public garment at all. Like nearly all gay apparel, it’s an intimate. It’s an expression of one’s minority sexuality and thus never for public display, unless in a gay pride parade. That’s why I always notice those 2Exist square-cut tank tops when I see someone wearing one on the street. It’s really jarring to see someone wearing a garment that seems to be so explicitly homosexual. Partly because, as mentioned above, there’s a whole realm of garments that quite discretely lie outside the realm of conventional menswear, and within the realm of conventional gaywear (if you get my point); but also because gay apparel is almost always an intimate, hidden gesture. Naturally the wearing of a denim bikini bottom crosses more lines of propriety than simple heteronormity. Nevertheless, for those garments which (like the weird ‘gay’ squared-off tank tops) are acceptable according to conventions of modesty and yet still recognizably not within straight/mainstream fashion, it is quite surprising and challenging to seem them worn in the same context as conventional-cum-heterosexual dress.

    I haven’t at all touched on what qualities make a garment recognizeably gay, if there are any, besides ‘it is almost always only worn by recognizeably gay people’.

  3. mollymooly Says:

    A bikini brief belt is potentially useful for holding scuba diving weights; though I’m not sure the belt-holders in the pictured design are robust enough for that.

    @ZDSmith:
    The word I think you meant is “heternormativity”, although “heteronormity” is a coinage with some interesting potential.

    [(amz) Just to make things clear for readers who aren’t entirely up on these things: the word that ZD Smith and mollymooly are aiming at is “heteronormativity”.]

  4. Z. D. Smith Says:

    Characteristically, even when the attempt at correction is in total good faith, another mistake is made. Between your mistake and mine, I think we approximate the real thing.

  5. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Z. D. Smith: “I think the more interesting question here is the deeply gendered semiotics of the thing. I mean, to put things bluntly: it’s SO gay.”

    I thought the gayness of the thing would have been clear in this posting, and in the “Hybrid underwear” posting I linked to. But that wasn’t the focus of this posting. I am very much interested in the topic, however, and have worked considerably on sketching the way a fantasy Gayworld/Gayland (aimed at gay men) has been constructed. There are snippets of this project in two postings that make explicit reference to this fantasy place: “Underwear sociolinguistics” from 2005 on Language Log, here; and “Lifting shirts” from 2009 on this blog, here.

    [There are other postings in which the gay references are backgrounded, but, I think, unmistakable: “Tighty-whities: the semantics” from 2005 on Language Log, here; “Swish exhibitionism”, on Swish Embassy t-shirts, from 2009 on this blog, here; “More sexual back-formations” (following on “to shirt-lift”) from 2009 on this blog, here; and “Pants-lower” (also following on “to shirt-lift”) from 2009 on this blog, here.

    I hope to post more written material from the Gayworld/Gayland project (I’m coming to prefer the second name, with its suggestion of playland) here soon — though it’s not very closely connected to linguistic questions (and every so often I get complaints about what some readers see as my preoccupation with things gay).]

  6. DEFINE “SCRIMMAGE T-SHIRT” « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] fantasy world of 10percent.com (purveyors of goods to the gay), last visited for a viewing of the Cactus Swim Brief. Now this remarkable […]

  7. Underwear gods « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 4/29/10: What IS that garment? (link) [on the "swim […]

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