‘I want a comfortable fit for my best friend’

2009-09-12 13:37

UNDERWEAR in all its variations has always been a girl’s thing. But with the advent of metrosexual men like soccer hunk David Beckham and that ­sarong as well as the introduction of three-step daily facial treatments and skinny jeans for guys it really doesn’t come as a surprise that ­men today have as much choice when it comes to underwear as ladies do.

This is major stuff considering that in ancient times wearing the right underwear wasn’t much of a big deal as long as it covered the bare essentials.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the evolution of men’s underwear, as showcased at the recent Arise Cape Town Fashion Week by designers Craig Port and Undercova, it is important to look at the ­history of male undergarments.

Undercova’s creative director, Chris Kilchling, and designer Ephraim Molingoana of Ephymol Underwear believe that men’s underwear tastes have become more experimental over the years.

“Although some of the stuff we showed on the ramp at the fashion week won’t even make it to the stores because they’re not practical, there are still some men who want exactly those unconventional pieces,” says Kilchling.

Molingoana adds that “men are proud of their sexuality and want underwear that will show their goods in the best possible light. That’s why they like experimenting in different materials, styles and fits.”

Most men were not too keen when the thong or G-string emerged a few years ago, City Press discovered ­after vox-pops on social networks Twitter and Facebook. Most of the online respondents preferred the more comfortable traditional boxer shorts.

One man, Kevin*, who prefers cotton briefs, says: “Men are prone to get excited at least 10 times a day. This is regardless that you get it all every morning or got it all an hour ago.

“I tried silk but the elastic fails ­after the fifth wash! And this is not about the value or brand.”

He adds: “Size ­really counts. You don’t want to hurt your thighs with your weapon if it’s too loose. I found that women don’t really fancy boxer shorts. They tend to kill the mood.”

Another guy, Vusumuzi, says he prefers going commando but makes exceptions when he is showing off his body at the beach.

Shadrack*, who prefers boxers, says style is important when choosing underwear but all he looks for is “a comfortable fit for my waist and my best friend”. However, he adds that his girlfriend prefers ­seeing him in white briefs.

In recent years the underwear market has been inundated with ­aggressive marketing by designer brands using famous faces like ­Armani and that notorious ad of a half-naked Beckham decadently ­exposing his arguably padded front.

Could men be under pressure to buy undergarments with the idea that they will achieve the same droolworthy status of the soccer star?

Apparently after the Beckham ad appeared on various billboards across America the luxury brand’s sales were boosted by more than $100?million (about R700?million).

When ­briefs went out of fashion a few years ago, guys started wearing their CK (Calvin Klein) undergarments with their low-rise pants.

These days you would be hardpressed to see any hip-hop star’s sagging jeans showing non-branded ­underwear.
“The trend of wearing your ­underwear with the brand visible over the top of your low-rise jeans is a bit passe now but people still do it.

“Then again there are those who will wear branded underwear to show off to other guys,” says ­Molingoana.
However, both designers say that as much as South African men might be willing to test the waters with the latest trendy underwear they still refuse to compromise on the “comfortable fit”.

A new trend seen on international fashion ramps and stores – mainly in Japan and Europe – is that of men wearing underwear with finishings of softer and more delicate materials and sexy patterns.

“Thankfully, the African man is still conventional. He would rather stick to good, old-fashioned, tight whiteys or maybe try some other colours,” says Kilchling.

* Last names withheld to protect the identity of the respondents


SOME of the earliest male underwear dates back to the cavemen and the Khoisan, who wore a thong-like leather loincloth to cover up when they realised they could hurt themselves running around willy-nilly while hunting.

In the period before Christ, the Egyptians followed with cotton covers after discovering that cotton was a more comfortable material. The competitive Greeks went one better than the Egyptians and used wool, which was considerably warmer in the harsh European winters. Their underwear was a woolen cloth wrapped around the body from the neck to just above the knee. The side was open for easy access and could be fastened by some type of pin.

Ancient Romans wore nappy-like underwear called a subligaculums, as seen in the movie, Gladiator. It could be worn as a loincloth wrapped around the lower body or as a pair of shorts. During the 13th century the underwear went from form-fitting wraps to braies (baggy drawers) made from linen. It was at this point that men, especially Regency era guys, started becoming fashion conscious.

By the time of the Renaissance, braies had become shorter so that the fashionable guys could wear longer styles of chausses (stockings that covered the legs and feet).

The Renaissance braies were tied with string and came with a codpiece, a little pouch at the crotch in the front held closed by string or buttons that allowed a guy to urinate without having to remove the braies.

As time went on they took it a bit too far and used the codpiece as a bullseye to the crotch and enhanced the guys’ packages with padding, with the culprit-in-chief ­being King Henry VIII. Fortunately, that fashion trend didn’t catch on – probably after many a woman realised they had been tricked.

In the more genteel Victorian era guys’ ­underwear was coming out in materials like linen, wool, silk and cotton. During the colonial period in America flannel was the common underwear option.

For both continents – Europe and America – the common underwear style was knee-length with a button overlap in front and a drawstring.

Later in America, when the industrial revolution hit, the standard underwear for both men and women was in the form of an overall suit called the “union suit”, which covered a person from the wrists to the knee or ankles.

It came with or without sleeves and a drop flap in the rear for you-know-what.

The 20th century made way for boxer shorts, elastic waists replaced button-and-tie closures.

Then Jockey started making briefs in the 1930s and later introduced the Y-front briefs that truly revolutionised men’s underwear.

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