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Why, Oh Y-Front? The Men's Underwear Explosion

I have spent the last few days staring at men's crotches.

In department stores and online I have been scrutinizing underwear, pondering the confusing explosion of choice in men's underpants. Have men's crotches really changed that much in the last 10 or 20 years that it should be so hard to find the Y-fronts of my youth?

It used to be that the American male had to answer one simple question (and, please, by all means, answer it):


Then the same impulse that gave us 1.6 million latte combinations infected the underwear world. When I was at the Macy's in Wheaton yesterday, I was confronted with such a startling array of choices I had to make sure I wasn't in the women's department.


This all started when some mad genius created the "boxer-brief." I can imagine him in the top chamber of a castle, a pair of tighty-whities on one stainless steel table, a pair of loose-fitting plaid cotton boxers on another, the two joined by an array of wires and tubes. Outside, lightning rends the air. The inventor throws a switch and there's the smell of ozone and singed fabric. The result: an unholy union, not quite boxer, not quite brief. Dr. Jockey shimmies into his still-warm creation, then shouts, "It's alive! It's alive!"

The boxer-brief I can accept, but many of the other innovations I can't understand. Take a look at the well-illustrated Jockey Web site. Should any man be wearing a string bikini? A thong?

Even the more traditional undergarments have evolved in strange ways. The "pouch" seems to be an important, if disturbing, feature of 21st-century men's underwear. And by my estimate, half the selections no longer open at the front. Talk about your no-fly zones. Does today's man no longer need to urinate? Or are we expected to do it like women? Even worse, though, are buttons on briefs. Buttons! What kind of abomination is that?

Then there are the color and fabric choices. Just as Henry Ford would let customers have a Model T in any color they liked, so long as it was black, so men's underwear used to be available only in white. There was something unpleasantly European about colored underwear.

The scene in "The Fully Monty" when the various would-be strippers pulled down their trousers, exposing hues and patterns more suited for drapes, told you everything you needed to know about Thatcher's Britain. But that same choice is now available in the United States. "Ruby," "gulf blue" and "grey heather" are just some of Jockey's offerings. As for fabrics, microfibers seem to be hot. I'm sorry, but it's the rare man who will admit to having microfibers down there.

Is the Jockey Web site safe for work? I suppose so, as long as you don't spend too much time moving your cursor around and enlarging the photos. The customer comments make for weird reading, though. That's where men review the underwear.

For example, "Kevin" from Orlando says of the Elance bikini briefs: "I wore these in the late 80's and loved them, but I switched to boxers and never went back. I recently bought two packs of them and fell in love all over again!" Ah, isn't that sweet? "Tim the Realtor" from Maryland loves his Elance Boxer Briefs: "I am a Realtor and Auto Adjuster, so I am in and out of houses and sometimes under cars, they never get bunched up!" Good for you, Tim!

I don't even want to know what's going on with Stamford's "A mature young man," who wrote of his Modern Classics Boxer Brief: "I am 17 years old & truly appreciate this brief. I am wearing them right now. That is all I am wearing right now!"

What's even weirder is that you can send in a photo of yourself wearing the underwear, as "Mark H." from New York did.

It's enough to make a man go commando.

Where in Washington?
Last week's contest winner was Jody Carlson, who was the first to correctly identify the District Building, or what's known now as the Wilson Building.

Here's this week's image:

contestjan11.jpg

Be the first to e-mail the correct name to me at kellyj@washpost.com and you'll win a Post Pulitzer winner's autograph. (Thanks to David Stinson for the historic postcard.)

By John Kelly  |  January 12, 2009; 9:31 AM ET
 | Tags: contest, polls, underwear  
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Comments

I have been a boxer brief guy for a while now with a few pairs of "trunk" style in my dresser. There are a few guys at my gym who wear either the bikini or thong style and most have the body that goes with it. Still, they really don't look all that comfortable nor are they inexpensive.

If you really want to see where men's underwear has gone you should check the Undergear (http://www.undergear.com) website. They have thongs, jocks and "shape enhancers" that I can only imagine being worn by the Chippendales. FYI, some of this may be NSFW.

Posted by: skipper7 | January 12, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

John, you still wear underwear? That's so retro.

Posted by: tomtildrum | January 12, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I wear boxer briefs pretty much because you can wear them with anything and not worry about "the bulge" that boxers give you at times.

But this new stuff coming out? Please. I saw a guy at a bar one night and as he sat down his G-string began to show. Needless to say we didn't know if he was doing it for the ladies OR the guys! The laugh our table had was rib breaking!

So, just boxer briefs for me....not need to justify how sexy I am just from what I wear underneath my slacks or jeans.

Posted by: cbmuzik | January 12, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I switched from tighty-whiteys to boxer-briefs because of my weight/legs. It's more comfy, and I couldn't adjust to plain boxers. So sue me. It's no unholy alliance; more like great creation along with sliced bread and Cherry Coke.

Posted by: peabody | January 12, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

You were at Macy's in WHEATON??? My Spanish isn't that good and I hate dodging bullets when I shop. Were you looking for Kevlar Boxers?

Posted by: snowbucks | January 12, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

My guy friend commented that men's swimsuits are also a perplexing choice. It seems the only options are speedos or big billowy shorts that balloon when you jump into the pool.

snowbucks: Your racist comment is not a surprise with that user id. Or are you a cocaine dealer? There are plenty of folks who frequent the Wheaton mall that look just like you.

I for one am boycotting the Westfield Wheaton mall because of their bungling of the Montgomery Cinema and Drafthouse.

Posted by: iikamo | January 12, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

What's with the Wheaton hate? That's a pretty nice mall, and there are good, affordable places to eat in that part of MoCo.

Plus, I challenge you to find fresher produce around here (rotten produce is the Washington Metropolitan Area's greatest travesty) than at the Wheaton Super-H Mart.

Posted by: MattinSW | January 12, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

"And by my estimate, half the selections no longer open at the front. Talk about your no-fly zones. Does today's man no longer need to urinate?"

Open your pants fly as normal and then just lower the waistband on your underwear, lifting your junk over them, and fire away. The only difficulty would be when closing things back up if you tuck your undershirt inside your undershorts.

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 12, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

smartwool boxer-briefs for the win!

Posted by: HardyW | January 12, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Who knew!

Posted by: Mbyrnepsyd | January 12, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Or you can shove the leg hole of your undies to one side, whip out the hose line, and open fire that way. Either way, men seem to have no difficulty taking care of business in flyless briefs!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | January 12, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The newest boxer "innovation" I have seen is the button at the top like a pair of pants. It serves no purpose yet it is there. Am I going to want to unbutton it too when sitting on the John? Whatever happened to plain old boxers or tighty whities? On another note, flyless briefs are an abomination against all that is male. I do not need to see other gentlemen's rear ends standing at a urinal because they have to pull their pants down. That is all.

Posted by: ThatGuy1 | January 12, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Snowbucks does sound like an "uptighty whitey." But, immigration angst aside, I am "a wee bit" troubled by slitless men's undies. What whiz came up with that?

Posted by: mfromalexva | January 12, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Uh, wasn't it Wheaton Plaza that had the Slavadoren gang fight with them running through Macy's shooting a week ago??? Not much of that in Prince William County anymore!!! I'd need new underware if I shopped there - I'd be scared peeless.

Posted by: wrangler1 | January 12, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"The "pouch" seems to be an important, if disturbing, feature of 21st-century men's underwear."

I like the look but the pouches are too small for me.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | January 12, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I've been going commando since college ... and that was more than 40 years ago.

Posted by: TimJanes | January 12, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

It's no wonder why this country is in the shape it's in! Men are too busy pondering how other men pee-pees if they wear a certain type of underware! John, don't discriminate and do a study of women's underware.

Posted by: justhere | January 13, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Hello, all - This is Mo, PR Director from Jockey. I just had to weigh in and say that we're pleased that John and most of the posters here have noticed Jockey's wide variety, and this is a clear indication of public demand: Men today are asking for a wider array of styles, colors, prints and fits, and we're doing our best to address their needs. In fact, our research shows that 69% of men own more than one style of underwear. Here's a little trivia for you all. Q: Who invented the men's brief? A: The Cooper Underwear Company (Cooper's) invented the Jockey brief 75 years ago in 1934. (Years later, Cooper's adopted the name of its famous invention to become Jockey International, Inc.) Today Jockey offers more than 350 styles of underwear (men's and women's) to choose from. OK, enough self-promotion: Just thought you'd all be interested.

Posted by: JockeyGuy | January 13, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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