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How fashion is getting rid of misconceptions about men's underwear

Boxers, trunks or briefs?

How fashion is getting rid of misconceptions about men's underwear Boxers, trunks or briefs?
Y/Project FW22
Blanco
Fernando Lindez for Numero Magazine
Frank Ocean
Harry Styles for Beauty Papers Magazine
Balenciaga FW22
Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2022
Burberry SS22
Dior Homme FW22
Dolce & Gabbana SS22
ERL SS22
Loewe FW22
Ludovic de Saint Sernin SS22
Miu Miu FW22
Prada SS22
Rick Owens FW22
Donald Glover for Interview Magazine

Fashion, more than dressing us, can say something about us. Especially in the case of menswear, clothing has multiple meanings that can refer to age, social status, belonging to a certain culture, professional environment, sexual orientation and identity. In the semantics of clothing, a mostly invisible category has taken on great importance over the years: underwear. Everything a man's underwear can say could be summed up in the divisive question: «Boxers, trunks or briefs?» Usually, briefs are the most hated category, classic American boxers the most appreciated while tight boxers the most popular model. Different meanings, perceptions and prejudices accumulate on each of the three variants - all of which, during the past fashion weeks, fashion brands have tried to sweep away: in its genderless turn, Miu Miu made men wear satin panties with an embroidered hem; Dior and Prada opted for classic striped boxers; Jonathan Anderson came out in favor of white tight-fitting trunks with Loewe, and Balenciaga, Y/Project and Dolce & Gabbana expressed the same opinion in the recent FW22; a white brief has instead made its appearance during the SS22 shows of Burberry, ERL and Dolce & Gabbana as well as in Rick Owens' FW21 while Ludovic de Saint Sernin has included all three types in his SS22. 

Rick Owens FW22
Prada SS22
Miu Miu FW22
Ludovic de Saint Sernin SS22
Loewe FW22
ERL SS22
Dolce & Gabbana SS22
Dior Homme FW22
Burberry SS22
Balenciaga Pre-Fall 2022
Balenciaga FW22
Y/Project FW22

The answer to the question «Boxers, trunks or briefs?» has therefore been multiple and contradictory. It is a symptom of an ongoing rewriting of male identity and aesthetics that is unhinging those prescribed categories that made briefs something at once old-fashioned, effeminate, and vulgar; classic boxers the epitome of masculinity; and trunks the unmemorable middle ground. It is precisely the latter category that remains the most popular: according to projections in a 2019 report, the trunks and boxer briefs were by far the best-selling category in the world as well as the one with the highest growth. It's a type of performance that fits well with Aaron Gell's definition of tight-fitting boxers in the pages of Hemispheres magazine in 2010, namely «one of the greatest apparel revolutions of the century». When they exploded in the early '90s, thanks to Calvin Klein and his menswear director John Varvatos, boxer briefs were the middle ground between boxers, comfortable but associated with the lower classes, and the classic but outdated briefs, linked as much to the Boomer generation as to queer culture. A first example of these tight-fitting boxer briefs, in fact, had already appeared in 1980 with the cult movie American Gigolo in which Richard Gere wore a pair of short, semi-adherent boxer briefs designed by Giorgio Armani that became immediately popular at the time.

The success of the trunks is precisely a result of the prejudice that connoted the two "rival" models - a prejudice that, by the way, is on its wane but has not yet disappeared. In recent years, thanks to the new sense of inclusivity and the desire to break free from gender norms, the rigid classification that separated the various categories of men's underwear has begun to disappear, thanks also to the work of tastemakers who have not been afraid to show off, for example, wearing briefs: Frank Ocean published a photo in briefs in 2020 and in the same year Harry Styles wore them for the editorial of Beauty Papers Magazine, more recently instead Damiano of Maneskin appeared in briefs in numerous photoshoots and live performances, even Blanco announced the start of his 2022 tour by posting a photo in white briefs and combat boots; one of the models of the moment, Fernando Lindez, wore briefs on the cover of Numero Magazine

Harry Styles for Beauty Papers Magazine
Frank Ocean
Blanco
Donald Glover for Interview Magazine
Fernando Lindez for Numero Magazine

Analyzing the role that the various categories of underwear played in the collections mentioned above, however, we see that the brief is always associated with a more blatant sensuality and the ostentation of the male body while the classic boxer shorts remained a garment that suggests a type of masculinity that is both more traditional and more relaxed, with the role of the tight boxer shorts remaining unchanged - unmarked and, therefore, anonymous. Remarkably, however, on the runway, branding on the elastic of the underwear became a visual part of many of the looks. As if to say that, while the old categories are questioned on the catwalk, underwear in general has stopped being something to hide and is becoming the ram's head through which the movement of liberation of the male body from the historical gender norms proceeds.