The history of the underwear as outerwear trend goes back a long way – longer than you might think. As far back as the 16th century, women were starting to wear their corsets in full view. By the time the roaring twenties had come round, bloomers and stockings were on full show. The 1980s gave us Princess Di wearing slip dresses, and the 1990s gave us – well, every female celebrity famous for literally 15 minutes giving us whale tail, or at least that’s how it seems when we look back. Now, as the whale tail comes back in fashion, I thought it was time to look inward, and start asking ourselves the big questions: can men participate in the underwear as outerwear trend?
Men’s unmentionables on parade
Unlikely as it seems, men actually have been participating in this trend, notably and for hundreds of years.
In the excellent book “Fashioning Masculinities: the Art of Menswear” (review to follow soon) accompanying the V&A exhibition of the same name, Shaun Cole talks about the history of the undershirt, which from the sixteenth century was fashioned from white linen and regarded as underwear. When the era of the iconic screen rebel – think James Dean, or Marlon Brando – comes around, the under-shirt simultaneously becomes an item of outerwear and a symbol of rebellion, and we come to know it as the t-shirt.
We also see how, a few years before Britney and Christina’s thongs were poking out above the waistband of every outfit, Calvin Klein was serving images of male models with the waistband of their briefs and shorts proudly on display. This trend was believe to originate in US prisons, where belts were forbidden in case they were used for suicide attempts (or, possibly even more likely, strangling other inmates?). Franco Moschino, distinctly unimpressed, produced his own version with a waistband slogan reading ‘To Be Shown In Public’.
Do men even have the choice of underwear to wear on the outside?
But apart from Marky Mark, Marlon Brando and James Dean, which is surely the first time any sentence has started with those three names, can you think of another example of men’s underwear being shown in public? No, me neither. I think some of that has to do with one of my favourite rants – the paucity of men’s underwear options.
Traditionally over the last half century or so, men have had underpants in either briefs or shorts, and vests, and that’s really it. The more adventurous may even add a corset to that list but apart from that, men really haven’t had many pieces to choose from (unless you count sock suspenders. I don’t.). On top of that, mens’ underwear has been purely functional for so long that you can’t blame men for thinking that no one would want to see it. It’s exactly why I started looking at men’s lingerie, unisex lingerie, etc. – I was literally bored of looking at my own skivvies.
In which I ask an unbiased audience for their opinion
So I asked a hardly disinterested demographic – the subscribers to r/PantyReviews4Men on Reddit – whether they would ever be tempted to participate in the underwear as outerwear trend, and this is what they said:
And here are my thoughts:
- I personally voted for the second option, although as you see from the photos below I had trouble figuring out exactly what ‘subtle’ meant and will need to revisit it. But even doing that gave me more ideas about how I could do it.
- Almost two-thirds of respondents are expressing reticence; either they’d like to but just daren’t, or they’re waiting for someone else to go first. That’s quite sad, and not just in the sense of, “it’s sad that people don’t feel comfortable wearing anything that makes them happy.” It’s suggestive of hiding a part of their personality, which is never going to be good for one’s mental health.
- I’m interested in why people on this sub felt that Hims and Thems shouldn’t be showing off their undies this way. I don’t know whether that means that men shouldn’t be showing off their underwear this way; or no one should be doing it.
Styling underwear as outerwear for Hims and Thems
My own vote was for, “Yes, definitely, but in a more subtle way.” I thought about how we might style men’s lingerie, taking a cue from how women wear the trend.
- Black Autograph bodysuit under ASOS dungarees
- XDress Valentina set under denim jacket
- Black lace bralette under white shirt
- Black Hustler harness under chambray shirt
- Black and blue lace bodysuit under biker jacket
- Black Ann Summers lace suspender bodysuit
Of these (very much a first attempt!) I’d be happy to start with a harness under a shirt or v-neck sweater. I have the Bluebella Marlowe harness in rainbow/black, and I think that would be a good starting combo. Of the rest, I’d love to wear one of the bodysuits… but maybe not as a first attempt.
I think part of the problem is that men simply don’t have enough underwear as outerwear pieces, at least for the average fashionable guy on the street. If you’re the sort of person who might wear just a vest top or mesh t-shirt with jeans and a jacket, then there’s always something like the Josephine bodysuit from Moot (which is on my must-buy list, once a single kWh of electricity costs less to buy than an apartment in Chelsea).
The other part of the problem, of course, is my own lack of fashion sense.
Whaddya think? How would you have voted?