The revolution in men’s underwear

I start with yesterday’s Daily Jocks ad, with a Black Friday sale:


Knocked Down

They put him on a Black Friday
Half-off sale, he felt

(The briefs in the photo are apparently 2(X)IST Sweats Briefs, which are in the Daily Jocks sale in Earl Grey and Very Blue — normally $28 each, $14 on sale — but not in the vivid red shown above.)

Daily Jocks offers a number of lines of what have come to be called premium brands, emphasizing not just comfort but also style and sexiness, and in cost a step up from basic brands like Fruit of the Loom and Jockey. In fact, the world of men’s underwear has undergone a kind of revolution, from the days when 75% of men’s underwear purchases were made by women to the current scene, where only 25% are; men have become fashion-conscious and are shopping for themselves these days. Meanwhile, underwear modeling has gone from just a routine specialty in male modeling to a high-fashion specialty; men with good looks and hot bodies vie with one another for modeling jobs, and celebrities in sports and entertainment are courted by premium brands (for big bucks) to represent them in advertising.

Now the next stage: from premium brands to luxury brands. On to a wonderful piece by Guy Trebay in the NYT‘s Styles section on the 26th:  “As Personal as Luxury Gets: Men’s underwear goes premium, entering triple-figure territory” (head in print), “A Pair of Boxers for $400? Men’s Underwear Goes High-End “ (head on-line).

Some highlights — well, quite a few — from Trebay’s piece:

Once, they were known as unmentionables, and it only mattered that they were clean. You never knew, after all, when you might be knocked down by a bus.

“When we were young, you would never show your underwear,” the designer Tommy Hilfiger said recently, referring to an era when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. “Now, if you don’t show your underwear, you’re just not cool.”

Mr. Hilfiger was marking one of those shifts in the culture that lurch along with a tectonic jolt. For generations, American men who were raised wearing generic boxers or Jockeys purchased in three-packs expended little thought or time or post-tax income on the foundation garments worn beneath their outerwear. The whole point of skivvies seemed to be encapsulated in the name given to the category under which they were sold: intimates.

That was before Justin Bieber, of course, before sexting and saggers and artfully lighted, half-clad Snapchat selfies. It was before baldly erotic videos of Rafael Nadal popped up on smartphones or monitors in advertisements depicting one of the world’s top tennis players doing a locker-room striptease in Mr. Hilfiger’s new line of sexy boxer briefs — images that even five years ago may have been flagged as NSFW.

It was also before a trend (most likely inaugurated by Calvin Klein in the prehistory of Marky Mark) that gained considerable momentum over the last dozen years, that of offering so-called premium underwear for men. [Language Log and this blog have tracked these developments for some time; see the “Underwear postings” Page on this blog.] “Underwear is where jeans were 20 years ago,” Mr. Hilfiger said. “It’s the new denim.”

Proof of that assertion can be found on The Underwear Expert, a startlingly comprehensive website dedicated to researching, testing, reviewing and even curating for sale underpants culled from the nearly 600 labels now crowding the field.

… Priced in a broad range from $24.99 (the figure at which men’s underpants are considered “premium”) to the $470 the French luxury-goods house Hermès charges for a pair of woven boxers are briefs whose virtues are sometimes described in terms better suited to the aerospace than the apparel industry.

… Teaming up with Frigo, a premium underwear brand developed by Mathias Ingvarsson, the Swedish entrepreneur who helped transform Tempur-Pedic from a no-name mattress brand into a global powerhouse, [Curtis Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent] last December helped close an $80 million licensing deal for a brand apparently pitched at the so-called urban market.

… The marketing of Frigo tends to favor innovation over style as a way to lure consumers to a product that costs up to $100 a pair. Like the patented AussieBum Wonderjock, or the SAXX Vibe “articulated contour pouch,” or 2UNDR’s “Joey Pouch,” or the “keyhole comfort pouch” made by the label MyPakage, Frigo briefs also feature a patented interior pouch designed to lift and display a man’s anatomical endowment to maximum benefit.

(On this blog, on pouch-enhancing underwear: “The Xmas package 2” on 12/17/10, “Bulges” on 4/17/11.)

Pouch enhancement predictably leads Trebay to material on codpieces (see this recent posting of mine, which has a section on codpieces).

Trebay’s piece is amply illustrated. The first photo:


Matthew McGue, a model, auditioning for an event to celebrate the debut of a collection of high-end Parke & Ronen underwear. (photo by Deidre Schoo)

Back to basics. Basic lines continue, but even they have fashioned up some. The Fruit of the Loom site offers only three styles of men’s underwear — boxers, boxer briefs, and briefs — but the briefs come in several styles (in particular, there are bikini briefs, without flies, in many colors).  These are offered in 4-packs, 5-packs, and 6-packs (mostly at $18.99 per pack, which is way below premium prices). For instance,  a 6-pack of stripes / solids fashion briefs (with fly) for $18.99, a 5-pack of assorted-color bikini briefs for $15.49.

Meanwhile, Jockey has moved into fashion world. The Jockey site for men’s underwear offers eight styles:

string bikini, bikini, brief, trunk, boxer brief, boxer, midway brief (essentially a lomng boxer brief), quad short (even longer, covering the thighs)

in three fits (as described on the site):

classic fit (full coverage styles that offer long-lasting comfort), low rise (tailored underwear in fashionable colors and styles), sport (underwear designed to keep you cool and comfortable)

These are available in 2-packs, 3-packs, and 6-packs, all well under premium prices. For example: Elance String Bikini (2 for $19.50), Pouch Boxer Brief (2 for $25),  Elance Brief (3 for $19.50),  Classic Brief (6 for $36).

A different marketing strategy. While most menswear has moved in the direction of style, fashion, and sexiness, one firm, the Duluth Trading Company, has gone for a marketing strategy that elaborately pushes working-class masculinity, with pants (that is, trousers) claimed to be super-durable (even a grizzly bear couldn’t take them on), and the like. In the men’s underwear department, they offer their Men’s Buck Naked Performance line:

Boxer Briefs for $22.50 each, Boxers for $22.50, Briefs $19.50, Extra-Long Boxer Briefs $24.50

Just under premium prices (and, nice point, prices set to correspond roughly to the amount of fabric in a garment).

A commercial (obviously meant to be funny) can be viewed here. The print ads are elaborately folksy-masculine:


No sweat. No stink. No pinch! “Almost feel as if you are wearing no underwear at all!” says Ric from Richmond, VA. If you’re like most men, you’re still wearing the same kind of ‘tighty whities’ you grew up with. Our Buck Naked™ Briefs (previously known as Performance Underwear) are making working guys all across the country change their underwear. They’re stretchy, yet supportive too, for extra ease when you’re climbing or kneeling. (“Great comfort and gentle control of all my parts” as Doc from Michigan so carefully put it.) They also wick sweat far more efficiently than any cotton skivvies out there to keep you drier. Plus they’re treated to fight odor.

None of that fancy-pants stuff, but underwear for Real Men!

One Response to “The revolution in men’s underwear”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Aric Olnes in Facebook:

    What I want to know is how long has BVDs been a term for men’s undergarments. I have an old song, Hard Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah), that references BVDs. The term seems to go back to at least 1924:
    To tease ’em, and thrill ’em, to torture and kill ’em,
    Is her delight, they say,
    An evening spent with Hannah sittin’ on your knees,
    Is like travelin’ through Alaska in your BVDs.
    She’s Hard Hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah, GA!

    Reply by Ned Deily:

    “BVD is a brand of men’s underwear, which are commonly referred to as “BVDs.” The brand was founded in 1876 and named after the three founders of the New York City firm Bradley, Voorhees & Day (thus “B.V.D.”).”

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