OPINION: Decade of Man

When the first dedicated men’s underwear store, Aware Soho, opened its doors a decade ago, the sector was a very different place than it is today. Founder Olivier Gazay gives LI an exclusive glimpse into how men’s underwear has changed over the past 10 years.

“When Aware opened the first ever men’s underwear shop in London ten years ago, men’s underwear was a commodity that women would buy their partners in packs of five. All that was available then was identical white underwear and baggy boxer shorts under different brand names and the market was dominated by three major brands.

Ten years on and few guys will now let anyone else buy their precious trunks for them. Men’s underwear has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the fashion industry; new brands are springing up everywhere from Australia to Columbia, the UK, Spain and Brazil. Their creativity goes far beyond that of giants such as Calvin Klein, M&S or Sloggi as smaller brands can experiment with new fabrics, new colours, new shapes and even new packaging without undermining their existing customer base.

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Brands such as Aussiebum, Aware, James Tudor, Andrew Christian, XTG, etc. were all born in the 21st century and unlike big designer brands whose focus is on their main collection and not so much underwear; they are proper underwear specialists who want to bring excitement and fun to every British man’s underwear drawer.

Over the last 10 years, British men have become more aware of their body and their appearance and, with society promoting a healthier lifestyle, men now pay more attention not only to their clothes, but also to what goes underneath them. One place where underwear gets seen is the gym and whatever they may say, men do check each other out in the changing rooms and they will definitely notice a nice pair of underwear on another guy. This kind of emulation at the gym filters out to the rest of society through men’s magazines. There is not a single month that goes by without one of the major mags featuring the latest trends in men’s underwear.

In 2000, the fashion was still very much baggy boxers, whereas nowadays there is a greater variety of shapes, some of which are much more figure-enhancing, such as briefs, shorties and trunks. With the increasing interest in sports, jockstraps are also making a surprising comeback.

The first noticeable evolution in men’s underwear over the last ten years is in its colour. When Calvin Klein revolutionised the world back in 1982, it was with a pair of white cotton briefs. Colour was only for boxer shorts then. Those came in all sorts of tartan patterns and stripes, but coloured briefs? No way! How things have changed. Nowadays, even though white is still the best selling colour for any underwear brand, seasonal colours have made a breakthrough in the last five years, from candy pink to deep purple, lagoon blue to sunshine yellow, army green and vintage orange, every shade in the Pantone® reference book is now a potential colour in any man’s underwear drawer. Daring colour combinations are also bringing a lot of fun to what was an all-white world only ten years ago.

“We sit for hours deciding on colours”, says Aware head designer Alessio Crepaldi. “If we use slate blue for the body, then how about having the binding in solar yellow? Or maybe we can just use a different colour thread for the stitching? The combinations are endless.”

In the mid-2000s, Ginch-Gonch of Canada successfully introduced wacky prints, but the trend only lasted a few of years and now it is back to solid colour, although some brands may also include one of two prints in their collections.

Another major change has been the use of new fabrics. Back in 2001, everything had to be 100 percent cotton which resulted in unwanted sagging and stretching of underwear that was worn throughout the day. Nowadays, stretch cotton dominates. With its shape recovery properties, even after several washes, it is a must for any man who doesn’t want to put on tired looking briefs in the morning.

Other innovative materials such as tech cotton that dries the sweat away from the body, mesh that will let the body breathe better, environmentally friendly fabrics made of bamboo or tree bark (Modal), etc. are all being used extensively. Some brands are even offering underwear that is specifically designed for sports or for travelling for hours on an aircraft, as every man knows that ill-fitting underwear can ruin your day.

Elastic bands have also had a bit of a facelift with brands introducing colours into them. Gone are the days when the brand’s logo appeared in boring black letters on a white background. Now elastic bands can be red, blue, pink, striped in all the colours of the rainbow, silver and even gold. Logos are stretched, curved, over-sized, moved on the side, stylised, encaptioned, muticoloured, accessorised with stars and other geometrical shapes, all of which makes men’s underwear a proper segment of fashion and not just an accessory anymore. Some elastic bands even have the New York or Sydney skylines printed over them. Aware’s Buckingham range for Spring Summer 2012 features the iconic Union Jack on the elastic band, a tribute to the imminent London Olympics.

Just the same way as lingerie often helps define the figures of women, more and more men’s underwear is engineered in such a way that it will provide a lift to those who need it, where they need it… Figure-enhancing men’s underwear is a huge trend at the moment. With cleverly concealed stitching on the back designed to make any bottom pert or even chicken fillets or padding tucked into the front pouch or on the buttocks, men who may feel a bit shy in the underwear department can now feel confident thanks to those figure boosters. Some brands even offer t-shirts that will get rid of love-handles and give more definition to any chest. Some others boast that their elastic band will minimise the love-handle effect.

Packaging has also been totally re-juvinated. The cardboard box that used to adorn the shelves of every department store is fast becoming an endangered species, with soft packaging or even industrial looking tins replacing it. A lot of underwear is also sold on hangers nowadays; a great way for customers to feel the quality of the fabric, test the softness of the elastic band and check all the different colours in one go rather than painstakingly opening (and ruining!) boxes after boxes of underwear. Retailers love it as they are no longer left with ripped boxes that nobody will want and customers tend to buy more when they see the products on hangers anyway.

All this novelty has a price though and men’s underwear has gone up in the last few years, but so has the budget that men dedicate to their underwear. They also buy more, more often. Men who look after themselves and exercise regularly want variety and would rather buy single pairs regularly than 3-packs. Young guys who like to show off their waistbands will also rather invest regularly in funky underwear rather than be seen in basic white Y-fronts. And women, who still buy a lot of men’s underwear, are happily embracing the change and willing to pay more for better quality and sexier underwear for their partners.

After all, they are the first ones to appreciate the positive effect the noughties have had on men’s underwear and if they invest in sexy lingerie, it seems only fair that men should also sport better pants.”

For more information on Aware Soho, visit awaresoho.com or email wholesale enquiries at sales@awaresoho.com.



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