The gender politics of underwear are weird. What makes “men’s” underwear exclusively for men? Is it still men’s underwear if I’m wearing it? Why do I have to look at so many pictures of washboard abs and generous crotches? If clothing is how you express yourself to others, then underwear is how you express yourself to…yourself. Sometimes wearing men’s underwear is the smallest transgression we dare to make. Sometimes it’s the loudest secret we have. Sometimes it peeks out the top of our jeans. Sometimes it’s all we’re wearing.
So come all ye of varying genders, and let’s talk about underwear for the masculine of center.
I’ve always been that kid with hyper-senses. A loose hair between my back and shirt drives me crazy. That ball of fuzz that forms in the toe of the sock after washing drives me crazy. Traditional underwear seams? Used to drive me crazy. It’s been almost a decade since I last wore a pair of traditional underwear. When I started college, my (then) girlfriend wore Hanes boy short underwear and I was excited to get in them. Get in a pair of my own, I mean. So it all started there; with this idea that I was still wearing girl’s underwear. The model on the little cardboard covering was a girl. So when I checked out at the register, it was okay. When my mom saw them, it was okay because they were girls’ underwear.
The next change happened about 4 years after that when I met my now (and forever) girlfriend. It’s another essay and several poems to explain how she changed my life. She taught me everything I know about sexuality and gender. Taught me, really taught me that it was okay to be me; whoever that me is. That’s when I got my first pair of men’s underwear. Actually, she got them for me in a surf/skate shop in Eilat, Israel, where we met. They were Rip Curl and they were teal and they were – and still are – my favorite pair of boxers. Over that year, I acquired several more men’s trunks, but was still wearing my girls’ boy shorts as well. It wasn’t until I got back to the States that I really changed my whole wardrobe.
I started buying everything that made me feel comfortable, and that included more men’s underwear so that I could be wearing them on the daily. I started with Hollister – my brand of choice at the time. Since then, I’ve branched out to American Eagle, Express, Hanes and even Champion. It took some time, but I’ve finally figured out what I like and what I don’t like, and I never realized boxers could be so different.
For anyone just starting to venture into the surprisingly wide world of boxers, I’m here to provide some recommendations. As a size guide, I’m a 32” waist and I wear a size small.
1. Hollister – $16 a pair but can be found for less when they start pumping out good sales deals, like everything else Hollister. I like that Hollister has a white waistband and most of their boxers have stripes – I’m a sucker for stripes. They’re cut a little shorter than I like, and they ride up like crazy. There isn’t a band around the seam of the thigh and they end up riding up and feeling like a traditional pair of underwear. Other than that, they’re light and comfortable.
2. American Eagle – $12.50, but I only buy when they have a 2 for 20 deal. AE has the most cuts: Boxers, slim boxers, briefs, trunks, athletic cut and performance cut. The athletic cut is my cut of choice. They’re longer than the trunks, which I like. The more thigh coverage, the better. Unlike Hollister, these stay in place – no riding whatsoever. I mostly own solid colors, but sometimes they come out with some patterns, which I dig.
3. Express – These are cut slightly shorter like Hollister, but they’re tighter so they don’t ride. Actually, they’re a little too tight; if I had known, I would’ve gone a size up. But they feel nice paired with an Express suit.
4. Hanes – like anything else from Target, they’re cheap, so you can get several in one pack. It’s a good alternative when you don’t feel like spending 10+ bucks a pair. They’re also looser, if you like that fit, and they stretch out over the course of the day. It’s a thicker material – unlike the other brands – so I don’t pair them with skinny jeans, but definitely under a pair of sweatpants.
5. Champion – I recommend these for the athlete. They’re the longest pair I have, and they’re made with a lighter, more breathable material. They’re great under basketball shorts, when working out or going for a run. They air out the sweat more than a cotton pair. Nowadays, I’d check out AE’s performance boxer, but I got these before I knew of them. Also, they’re cheaper because, again, they can be found at Target.
Eventually, I’d like to add a little Calvin Klein (6) to my drawer, but that’s a top shelf boxer for my wallet right now. So if you’re shopping on more of a budget, I guarantee the American Eagle band peeking out above your jeans will be just as sexy to your human-love as Calvin Klein. It can be a little scary walking into the men’s department for the first time and especially purchasing men’s underwear, but it’ll feel so good knowing that you’ve fucked with at least one person’s idea of gender. And it’ll feel even better when you wear them for the first time.
When it comes to my personal preference in underwear, I’m all over the map. My favourite place on that map is where the masculine of centre underwear live: boyshorts, boxers, you name it – if it’s marketed for a man, it’s perfect for me. I have been known to reduce my food budget to make room for an expensive pair of European boxers (or two) while on exchange in France. I wore said boxers under my favourite pink and purple skirt with flowers on it and felt completely like myself – my secret butch side tucked safely away, only to be revealed to those I trusted enough to let in close.
I like pink and frills and makeup and sparkly stickers but when Kate made her butch gift guide, I had never seen a list of items that was more me. When it comes to gender presentation, I don’t want to be pigeonholed and my underwear reflects that. When I get dressed, I want my underwear to contradict my skirts; when I get undressed, I want the layers I peel off to be full of surprises and contradictions much like my body, much like myself.
Bois/Boys/Bois and The Little Boys Department
I like to tell my closer friends, and apparently anyone on the Internet who will listen, that I have a dream to someday revolutionize pants. In my utopian view of the future of the clothing industry, clothes will be made, sized, and marketed based on body type – which may or may not be associated with sex or gender. In the meantime, on a quest to find the most comfortable and rad underpants for my physical and emotional person, I have found myself time and time again in the little boy’s clothing department.
As a member of the population who possesses less than, what I feel, is their fair share in derriere department, I often find myself with extra fabric around the back, resulting in less-than-optimal wedgie situations. That being so, purchasing underwear made for the segment of the population most at risk for outwardly-inflicted wedgies – that is, actual little boys – is a logical choice. My experience only extends to boxers and boxer briefs, as most of the fun boy’s briefs are too small even for my microscopic bum.
For those of you thinking about taking the plunge into the wonderful world of underwear made for little superheros, I have a few words of wisdom. Shopping in the little boy’s department only seems shady if you act shady. Most little boys don’t buy their own underpants and you’re probably closer to the demographic generally present in that area of the store than you would generally assume. Don’t be worried if that pair of super snazzy boxers only comes in up to a size medium: if you stitch the crotch shut, you’ll probably be ok. Because trying on boy’s underwear isn’t generally an option, a good place to start with sizing is to measure your waist, or to look at what size waist people who wear your current underwear size generally have. Honestly, there will be quite a bit of trial and error involved.
For minimum wedgies and maximum comfort, the best fit has the crotch resting against your own, the waistband on the lower curve of your hips, and the bottom of the legs tight enough to stay put but not cut off circulation. This especially applies when wearing tight pants and/or working out/ moving around a lot. My favorites are the kind with visible elastic and the fabric that is kind of ribbed. When the fabric starts to pull away from the elastic waistband, you can either obtain new underwear like a practical person, or see it as a built in handle, like I do!
A good thing to keep in mind is that the tightness of your pants and underwear should directly correspond. You can wear tighter underwear with looser pants, but not the other way around. I do however prefer looser underpants with looser outer pants and also for sleeping. I bought this underwear in XL because I must have been feeling like a big kid on the playground that day, but they turned out to be large enough that I could probably wear them on the outside of my snowpants. Regardless, they are extremely comfortable and if you wear loose pants, I would highly recommend them.
Smaller does not necessarily equal better, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices when it comes to your underwear. It will probably be worth it to wear those underwear made for an eight year old even if they sometimes ride up to well above your belly button just so that you can have the bat signal creeping up above your waistline. You will rock a special kind of courage and attitude that day. Just try to pick that wedgie in private.
Next: Ariel Speedwagon trangresses bravely and Katrina talks underwear-as-outerwear.
Go Forth And Transgress Bravely
by Ariel Speedwagon
There’s something about buying underpants in particular that always make me feel extra self-conscious. People read me 50/50 as a man or a woman, which means I’m never sure how I’m coming across. If I’m buying sports bras, I get worried that people think I’m some kind of weird man buying women’s underpants or conversely will be profoundly aware of the weirdness of how I do “woman.” If I’m buying men’s underpants, I worry they’ll think I’m a freak for wearing them. I’m constantly stressed that someone, somewhere, will find something wrong about what I’m doing and want to talk with me about it.
At this point in my life, I shop pretty exclusively in the men’s section for all of my clothes, and for the most part I’ve gotten over the “oh no, they’ll think I’m an imposter” nerves. But there’s something different about underwear – it’s so intimate, so particularly foundational – that makes me feel extra visibly queer. Buying men’s underpants isn’t just about packaging myself to the outer world; it’s admitting how I package myself to myself and my lovers. It freaks me out a little sometimes.
And I know it freaks all of you out, too, based on the results of the dapperQ underpants survey. Having to deal with underpants judgement – getting caught in an underwear department other than the one you were assigned at birth – was cited almost universally and even quoted sometimes as a reason people make underpants decisions aligned with their birth gender assignment. This is a fear I think most of us who are doing gender differently than the way we were assigned at birth carry around: the fear of getting busted. The fear of being affirmed as a freak or something not-normal is a powerful one. I’ve gotten pretty good at squaring back my shoulders and buying my tighty whities, but even when I’m being read as a dude and therefore getting a pass on the underpants, I’m constantly worried that I’m one second away from some kind of scorn – god forbid I open my mouth to say hi to the sales clerk.
I try my best to embrace this and feel strong in it, not let it control me and feel lucky that I stand on the shoulders of all the masculine-presenting FAAB people who took a lot more shit than I do for the underpants they chose to wear. As one of our respondents put it: “It was initially hard because although I had been buying clothes in the mens dept for a while (im a dapper queer lady), getting underwear felt like another line to cross. I finally did it, and haven’t looked back.”
I mean, we’re all in a struggle – even those of us who aren’t struggling in this particular way – between our shame and our desires. And this is a queer blog – so of course I am going to say things like DESIRES SHOULD ALWAYS WIN and GO BRAVELY INTO THE SCARED PLACES. You can stop reading here if you just want some affirmation, but I want to go on.
I want to go on because I know that courage isn’t easy and sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. Sometimes all this is exhausting. Given the comments and the way they focused on underpants transgression fatigue, sometimes – or even all the time – it’s a matter of weighing the risk vs. the reward. We’re all constantly working through our own shame and anticipations of bad responses and sometimes it’s just too much to deal with. Sometimes in the end certain transgressions just don’t feel right. Sometimes it’s Tuesday and you got the stink-eye in the gym locker room.
So yes, go forward and be brave and wear the underoos of your dreams. Put your head high and wear whatever the eff it is you want. Push your growing edge. But also, don’t give into that particular queer pressure to GO ALL THE WAY, unless, of course, you want to. I don’t want everything I’m writing to create some kind of tension for the people who are making different choices. I don’t want to add to what I know can be a real cock-off regarding who is the most very most masculine of all in all their choices. Courage isn’t just about swaggering up to the men’s underoos counter and getting a jockstrap that you wear with a hard pack every day of the week. It’s about standing on your own two feet and feeling good about the choices you make.
So experiment. Have fun. Figure out what works for you by taking the long way, making funny choices. Don’t give into the weird kind of pressure we can sometimes impose on ourselves. To quote Mister Rogers – an icon of a certain kind of masculine-of-center fashion if there ever was one – we like you just the way you are.
I was about 19 when I came storming loudly and publicly out of the closet. I was at that stage of queer adolescence where one can be both awkward and slutty at the same time, I was at my first New York City Pride, and I think I was a little bit drunk off what was likely an unpleasantly warm vodka drink stowed unconvincingly in a Tropicana bottle. As was in fashion for me at the time, I had lied to my parents about my location and in that moment, surrounded by topless women in the middle of Washington Square Park, I did what any semi-inebriated and fully excited new queer would do:
I took off my pants.
I didn’t realize in that moment that the Removing of the Pants would become my own personal Pride tradition, but it did. My underwear wasn’t particularly masculine-of-center at that point, but then again, neither was my identity. I wore black-and-white striped Victoria’s Secret boyshorts with a studded belt, because who even cares about belt loops when you’re not wearing pants?
I took off my pants the next year, and the year after that, both in red American Apparel briefs. I stripped down to those same briefs for this Autostraddle article, though I can’t really remember why. That Halloween, I wore a baseball jersey with the now-retired UO buttonflys. Just last month, I donned a football jersey and a pair of grey Hanes boxer briefsto commemorate the Super Bowl, an event that I could not possibly have cared less about (except for you, Beyoncé, but that goes without saying).
Masculine-of-center is a term that took a long time to resonate with me not because of the things it was, but because of the things that I thought it wasn’t. I felt like I couldn’t have nice things. Or pretty things. Or sexy things. Being MoC, I spend a lot of time being covered up – my whole torso lives under a binder, and in the summer, my shorts tend to be on the longer side, and I love all those things. Running around with my ass out isn’t a break from that, it’s a part of it. It’s a secret accessory, only to be broken out on special occasions.
I don’t know when my next pantsless romp will be. Maybe I’ll finally start my career as a male stripper. Maybe I’ll be dancing on a table. Maybe I’ll be staring wistfully at the sea. But whatever the occasion is, I’ll probably go with my two latest choices.
TOPMAN – $14 or $20/2
I’m an American, and TopShop is a European brand with only a few stores in the US which makes me feel like I’m snugly hugging the curve of fashion. TopMan is gigantic men’s department that I highly suspect caters intentionally to “female bodies,” as evidenced by sizes that run down to XXS and by the fact that they’re usually playing something like The Blow or Tegan and Sara – only in the men’s section – every time I go into the store. The boxer briefs, labeled “underwear,” as they only have one style, are fitted but not too tight and sit a little bit above mid-thigh and the band is thick, meaning it won’t let itself get folded over by your girl hips. The black shorts with the gold band are good for feeling like an actual boxer.
Urban Outfitters – $12 or $20/2
Just like most giant corporations, Urban Outfitters is, like, pretty problematic, but I want to subvert the gender binary in a store that actually cares about the way men’s asses look, and UO has a pretty generous men’s accessories section. The trunks are short and tight and come in patterns ranging from bicycles to dinosaurs to hot sauce bottles, but I don’t prefer them for outdoor usage since they seem – this is going to seem ridiculous – a little too underwear-y. The solid or colorblock trunks are a good choice for public display since they just look like extremely small shorts, and – this might also seem ridiculous – the bright colors will be great for the spring.
[You can read about plus-sized masculine-of-center underpants here, and further boyshorts/girltrunks/boxer-brief guides exist here.]