Most gay guys will think of this as designer underwear rather than designer underpants but there is a crucial difference between the two that goes to the heart of why only underpants matter: underwear includes undershirts. The undershirt is worn only to keep perspiration off a real shirt, or to be lifted above the abs in personal-ad photos. Undershirts are thus not particularly important in the gay guy’s wardrobe. Even the first case isn’t as frequent as a straight person might think since in general, gay guys prefer to go to events where as few men as possible will be wearing shirts at all. Note, however, that this will not stop gay guys from complaining bitterly that only the “wrong” guys are wearing shirts.
Underpants, on the other hand, are more than appropriate for any occasion, and on that special occasion when a gay guy has met a new, let’s say “candidate for boyfriend status”, designer underpants are the exclamation point at the end of the sentence.
The phenomenon appears to have begun in the early 1990s when Calvin Klein charged $15 for the underwear that Mark Wahlberg wore in a 100 foot tall billboard in Times Square. (The photo was taken by Herb Ritts, who will be discussed in an upcoming post.) Gay guys flocked to Nordstrom and Macy’s to buy those underpants, and then flocked to Mark Wahlberg book signings and public appearances to ask him to sign them (which he did, and quite graciously), giving birth to an entirely new mode of conspicuous consumption.
It’s difficult for non gay guys (and even many gay guys) to keep up with the neverending parade of designer underpant brands. First there was Calvin Klein. Then there was 2(x)ist. At some point California Muscle became sufficiently fashionable that is homepage became almost NSFW. And now AussieBum ads are popping up all over. What makes keeping up with designer underpant brands particularly challenging is the same feature that makes them particularly exciting: you almost never get to see what others are wearing.
At this point readers may have the erroneous impression that gay guys are shallow. Designer underpants do the same thing as cheap underpants but are expensive, and since they’re only seen by a select few people (boyfriends, tricks, cleaning ladies and the occasional stalker/burglar), perhaps a little ridiculous. But there are two distinct advantages. First, designers have to advertise their underpants, and let’s not mince words here. Gay guys don’t particularly mind subsidizing billboards and magazine spreads full of men in their underwear. And second, a straight guy’s underwear drawer is like his diary. Underpants bought last year. Another pair bought by a girlfriend two years ago. Perhaps some boxers from college, and yes, maybe even one or two pre-college pairs that his mother got at Sears. Gay guys’ preference for designer underwear that begin to go out of style as soon as the purchaser leaves the checkout line encourages gay guys to throw out old underwear, which may not seem like a big thing, but ask your mother how she’d feel if you were hit by a car and taken to the hospital wearing a pair of Fruit of the Looms she bought in 1991 and then ask yourself if throwing out all your 2003 2(x)ists and replacing them with new Dolce and Gabbanas is all that bad. Plus, she may not admit it, but your mother probably doesn’t mind those billboards either.