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A brief case full of hues

Published Jul. 24, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

It's an issue that is being debated by some of the greatest minds of our time. From the economic summit in Houston to the latest dramatic re-enactments on Unsolved Mysteries, scholars, pharmacists and other thinkers of deep thoughts are pondering the same agonizing question: Just what kind of underwear are men wearing these days?

If you watch a lot of TV and read insightful publications such as People, Us, Self, He, She, Me, Mine, and Pronouns Illustrated, you already know that bikini underwear _ the briefs so brief that 12 of them are sold in a plastic tube the size of a golf tee _ is the latest rage in men's under-fashion. And instead of standard, military-issue white, men are opting for daring colors such as red, black and Day-Glo orange with leopard spots and little pictures of Charles Bronson.

But is that what's really going on? How can you know what is popular in men's underwear when the only drawers you have seen in public lately were worn by: A. movie star Tom Cruise in the film Risky Business; B. former baseball star Jim Palmer in the Jockey ads; and C. bulbous cartoon star Homer Simpson in several episodes of The Simpsons.

Then there's the problem of verification. You could take a poll and ask 100 men what kind of underwear they wear, but how can you be sure they're telling the truth?

And just what do you think would happen if you, a total stranger, walked up and said: "Excuse me, but would you mind lowering your trousers so that I may take note of the make and style of your underpants?" Actually, all you can do is make an educated guess based on personality. (Examples: Mike Tyson probably wears burlap boxer shorts, while Donald Trump probably has little dollar signs adorning his silk skivvies, and Dan Quayle undoubtedly wears something from Fruit of the Loom's Flintstones Collection.)

To find The Truth, I called the center of the fashion world, which is located in Room 3C of the Hotel Felix on New York's lower East Side, and talked to a certified fashion person _ Tom Julian, associate director of the Men's Fashion Association. "We're definitely experiencing a return to the classics," he said. "We're finding more and more men returning to boxer shorts."

Great, but that's New York, hub of the universe. We all know that before trends get to Florida, they have to trickle down Interstate 95, stop and buy rubber tomahawks at South of the Border, and load up on fireworks and peach wine at a Stuckey's in Georgia. By the time the trend reaches Florida, it's not only tired and smelly, it's old enough to vote. For instance, we're just now discovering leisure suits.

So I called a couple of department stores here in the area to find out what Florida men are wearing underneath those lime green polyester slacks and plaid Bermuda shorts.

"About half the underwear we sell is the basic white briefs, and about half is the fancier stuff," said Nick Didenko, who works in the menswear department at Maas Brothers in the Countryside Mall.

That seems about normal, until you find out who buys a lot of men's underwear.

"I'd say 65 percent of our sales are to women," said Thomas Kingery, who works in the menswear department at Belk Lindsey's East Lake Square Mall store in Tampa. "They generally buy the basic, classic briefs for their husbands and boyfriends. The guys come in and get the skimpier underwear."

That means situations like this probably occur every day:

"Here Harold, you'll wear these."

"Yes, dear."

"And don't let me catch you in those ridiculous Charles Bronson things again."

"Yes, my pet."

Then I asked about the boxer rebellion. Has the trend reached Florida yet?

"We sell boxer shorts," Nick said, "usually to older, fatter men.

"But I'd say about 25 percent of the boxer shorts we sell are to women. They buy them to slip over their bathing suits or to wear around the house."

So there you have it. Nothing is sacred. Not only do women wear the pants in a lot of families, they also wear the underwear. And if you want to know what's popular in men's underwear, you probably could just ask that woman over there loading up on the Hanes 38-40 for her man.

I don't know why, but I suddenly feel a need to go home and lift some weights and hang around my power tools.

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