Brief exposure of the smalls rift that separates us from the Yanks

A ‘fashion’ underwear range for American men compels your correspondent to tackle the issue of why British men would never fall for such cock-and-bull hype

George Bernard Shaw famously said that the US and the UK were two countries divided by a common language. Not for the first time, the irascible old Irishman was mistaken: what divides us is common men’s underwear, or, more precisely, our respective attitudes towards it.

According to the New York Times, a reliable newspaper of record of the kind that no longer exists on this side of the Atlantic, “fashion orientated men’s underwear” is a “burgeoning niche”. In support, so to speak, of this arresting claim, it cites a new advertising campaign for a brand of men’s underwear called 2(x)ist. As to how that name is pronounced, your guess is as good as mine; nevertheless, this unspeakable item of men’s netherwear breaks new ground by having as its key components a “luxe contour pouch”. The ads, too, break new ground by featuring models with “dark good looks”. Nothing remarkable about that, you might say, but apparently this goes against a longstanding American preference for “blonde beefcake in most men’s underwear ads”.

One of the men chosen to incorporate his tackle in a luxe contoured pouch and pose for the ads is the boxer Winky Wright, who won his first fight as a middleweight in Las Vegas last month. Note how, once again, our two nations are divided: in the UK the name Winky calls to mind the qualifying appellation Wee Willie, which would immediately render its owner unfit for pouch briefs posing.

Puzzling, too, to British ears, is the American emphasis on what is called the “urban market”. “We always try to be an edgy brand to stay ahead of the curve,” says Mike Tawil, president of 2(x)ist. “We want to make sure that our urban customers do not feel that we’re not paying attention to them.”

Well, we all know that the US is a big country, but it’s news that rural and urban men vie with an edgy, competitiveness in a matter of keeping their private parts private. If urban American males favour cotton underpants, what do they wear in the southern States, hessian drawers fashioned from old hominy grits sacks? That would certainly explain the noise made by Country and Western singers.

Speaking as an average sort of British male, I cannot understand Mr Tawil when he enthuses about “body-conscious, fashion-forward, great-fitting, sexy underwear”, though I confess to making an understanding nod when he explains that “tighter-fitting underwear is hot in every market”. Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? To me, and I suspect most other British men, underpants are of no consequence provided the elastic remains strong and the garment retains its retentivity. If either of those features gives out, the pants are reincarnated as shoe-cleaning cloths.

If you doubt I speak for the average British male, the statistics back me up: we spend only &£15 a head per year on underpants. (Even that strikes me as being a lot, since a good pair should last at least five years.)

Unlike the American urban male, with his enthusiasm for edgy pants, we British retain, at least in this respect, the decent reticence for which we were always renowned.

British men are seldom seen in their underpants, and on those few occasions, it is usually a matter for derision. Who can forget the words of one of Michael Winner’s conquests who, in a kiss-and-guffaw revelation, recalled the awful sight of the great man’s “huge, baggy underpants”. It is surprising that she was able to comment on these items, since one would have assumed that the poor dear was suffering from defective vision: a woman with her eyesight intact would have been down the stairs and safely in the nearest taxi the instant he signalled his intention to remove his trousers.

Be that as it may, Shaw was not entirely wrong. Mr Tawil reveals that, in his ceaseless bid to stay ahead of the competition, 2(x)ist plans to bring out a new line named Flash. Using the theme Flash Forward, he says, it will be sold in colours like “hot red, hot yellow”, as well as black and navy, and feature a wide waistband as well as “wicked performance fabric” which helps alleviate problems with perspiration. Flashers, too, sweat on hot days, which might explain why they tend to prefer overcast conditions. I am reminded of the Playboy cartoon showing a man in a shop doorway throwing open his raincoat as a young girl passes. She glances down and says, “What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing out on a night like this?”

On this side of the Atlantic, where old-world tradition still counts for something, urban, edgy, flashers go pantless, their wicked performance

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