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A brief history

Lezlie Lowe takes a peek under your pants.


Forget the term “unmentionables.” Underwear speaks volumes.

Take fashion—a few years ago thongs were the thing and the more bling the better. Now they’re so when-Paris-and-Nicole-were-pals ago and everything in the lingerie department is low rise, boy-cut and made from organic fabrics.

You just can’t wear a high-cut thong under low-slung jeans and not expect them to peek out and make a fool of you. Plus, softer materials and boy-cut briefs help avoid the dreaded muffin top (that is, flesh spilling out from the tops of too-low trousers).

Underwear and fashion go hand-to-butt cheek. But underwear says a lot about its wearer, too. Three examples: if you’re still wearing your thong hiked above your pants, someone must have cut off your cable in 2003. If you own a pair of Agent Provocateur undies, I bet you’re a pro-porn feminist. In this space in the past I have referred to the “white cotton briefs crowd”—I bet you knew what I meant when I wrote it.

What I didn’t know underwear could tell until last weekend was that the comparison between the size skivvies you wear and the size you should be wearing tells whether you’re a man or a woman.

The manager at a Moncton La Senza explained it to me after my step-mother-in-law (we’re a complicated family) lunged from her dressing room exclaiming, “I’m a medium! I’m a medium!” She was guided one size down by an all-knowing lingerie salesperson.

“Women,” smiled the underwear guru, “always buy their underwear too big.”

These too-large panties (oooo, I hate that word, but I’m trying to mix it up here and I abhor “gonch”) travel up their arse. And women take that to mean their underwear are too small. So they go bigger. And bigger again. And again.

“We sometimes have women coming in,” La Senza lady said, clipping a garter back on its hanger, “who are wearing underwear two or three sizes too big.”

While LaSenza may be the land of babydoll nighties and the Strapless Ultra Push Up with Sequin Straps, for just over one year now the Canadian-based underwear retailer has been selling men’s skivvies through its LS Uomo line.

So, I ask, are men falling into the same cracks?

“Oh yeah,” she said. “But it’s different.”

First off, she claimed, men don’t even know what size underwear they wear.

“Their mothers buy their underwear. And then their wives buy them,” she said, eyeing the two pairs I was clutching.

My god, it’s true. And, I admit, I’ve never had a man actually ask me to buy him underwear. I suppose I’ve always foisted underwear upon them. In my defense, though, every boyfriend I’ve ever had wore past-the-expiry underwear. They wore underwear until they hung like rags and turned to underwear dust. (For legal reasons, I am unable to discuss my husband’s underwear at this time. Or, probably, like, ever.)

This the-wife-buys-the-underwear thing applies to gay couples, too, an informal survey of my friends tells me. But, the La Senza manager admits, there are a small number of men who come in to buy their own boxers and Y-fronts. Their problem?

It’s another body image issue, but a different one. Solo-shopping men consistently buy too small. “They always think they still have a 32-inch waist,” she says.

Unmentionables they may be, but sometimes I think underwear tell us way too much about ourselves and about the way we see our bodies.

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