Underwear Makes the (wo)Man

Let’s talk about underwear. No, really. Is there anything more prosaic-yet-titillating than underwear? I remember being about four years old and really liking this one particular pair of underpants because they had a little appliqued embroidered red rose on the waistband. I called it a “rosin” because the shape and texture reminded me of my clitoris, which I called by that name. (Yes, I was a strange four-year-old, just go with it.) I loved the underpants with the rosin because they had texture and color, where all my other underpants were plain white cotton.

That was the last and only pair of really girly underwear I loved.

As an adult I graduated to very plain microfiber briefs from Victoria’s Secret, or athletic Jockey-for-Her cotton bikinis, in interesting colors. Orange, purple, turquoise, striped, python print… And then I never gave them another thought. Not one. They were utilitarian things to protect my more delicate parts from the roughness of denim and the cold bite of brass zippers, or to hold the necessaries in place once a month when I bled. (I don’t anymore, due to the removal of my very broken uterus and ovaries, a subject for another post.)

I can’t explain what it was that made me, a few years ago, buy my first package of men’s boxer briefs. I bought one package with two pairs: one midnight blue, one pine green. Hanes, I think. And it was an epiphany. They were the ones I picked from the clean laundry pile first. I started hating my panties more and more. I bought another package of  knit boxers. At first I told myself it was because the boxers were better made (they were), they were practical (no more practical than the alternative), they prevented thigh chafing (not really a problem of mine). The truth was I liked them best because when I was wearing them, for the first time in maybe ever, I felt comfortable.

Then I had my second epiphany and bought some men’s Levi 501’s, which fit me like a dream, where every other pair of jeans – women’s jeans – had fit me like a sartorial nightmare. I’d go out in my boxer-briefs and my men’s jeans, with my men’s sweater, men’s boots, men’s belt, men’s leather jacket–and I’d swagger. (On a humorous side note, my Old Spice deodorant’s scent is called “swagger” and I kind of love it.)

I bought all new underwear: Hanes and Fruit of the Loom knit boxers and boxer briefs. I bought all new jeans: Levi’s 501 button-fly originals in several colors. I sent my women’s jeans with their generous hips and deep crotches to live with an ex girlfriend who is actually shaped the way the jeans are cut. They always looked ghastly on me, but on her they’re adorable. I filled an entire Hefty sack with the girly underwear and gave it to be recycled. I kept maybe five pairs of plain panties, which languish unworn in the bottommost dresser drawer, and I’m not entirely sure why I kept them at all. Maybe for those rare days when I want to dress in drag.

Then there are undershirts. I wore them when I was a little kid, because I was born in Michigan in January, and I have asthma and CVID (that’s another story for another day) and so was very prone to chest infections. Then we moved to warmer Tennessee, and I didn’t really need the extra layer. Then my body betrayed me and grew breasts. Big breasts. So bras became essential. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I loved the ones with interesting colors and textures – those ecru lace and aquamarine silk lovelies that looked like they belonged on the set of some Raymond Chandler film noir epic. I didn’t wear them, though. I needed much more containment than those frothy little Christian Dior things could offer.

After a good bit of experimentation, the bras I finally settled on are plain, no underwire, cotton and spandex constructions (in some interesting colors) made by Cacique and sold by Lane Bryant for big folks like me. They were the closest in spirit I could get to those plain undershirts of my childhood. So I wear them, a bow to necessity. They’re sold as “sporty” bras, though I’ve also got a few actual sports bras which go to the gym with me. I wish I could find a binder big enough to fit; I think I might have to get one custom made. (That’s yet another topic for another post.)

But undershirts. My dad wears “wifebeater” style (and oh how I detest that term, but that’s the word, so what can you do?) undershirts under his dress shirts (he’s a lawyer so he dresses up for work most of the time) and that’s definitely the iconic undershirt in my mind. My last girlfriend – the same one who got my old jeans – showed up to visit once wearing a black men’s wifebeater to sleep in. I appropriated it. I bought myself some more in black and grey and white. I wear them a lot. I wear them to sleep in, I wear them under dress shirts. When summer comes, I’ll wear them as tank tops. They are hot, and not in the overly-warm sense.

I feel so much more myself in boxers and an undershirt. The bra remains a bow to necessity, an annoyance. In my men’s underthings, I feel more confident, more appropriately dressed. Happier. Except…

Except when I think about undressing for a person who hasn’t seen them before, and I worry – what will she think? I’ve never been overly blessed with feminine allure. I have broad shoulders, a thick waist, narrow-by-comparison hips, no ass at all. I’m fat. But I still present as female. What will a new lover think when I reveal that under my men’s jeans and t-shirts, my intimate garments are just as manly? Will she be expecting it? Will she be appalled? And what about the gym? So far I avoid that problem by changing into gym clothes before I go and wearing them stinky and sweaty back home to shower. If I wanted to swim at the gym, though, I’d have to actually change in the changing room. Probably no one would bat an eye. But still, I worry.


But when I look down at myself right now, crosslegged in my recliner with my MacBook in my lap, at my grey camo-skull-print men’s sleep pants and my black wifebeater, I get a secret little smirk. When I look at my bureau drawer full of neatly rolled boxers ready to wear, and my 501’s, my sweaters, my boots – I’m satisfied. I’m satisfied. And that’s got to be what really counts.


~ by Nezu on 2 February 2010.

10 Responses to “Underwear Makes the (wo)Man”

  1. absolutely – society labels them men’s clothes – we’re just liberating them 😀

    • Heck yeah! I began my career as a clothing liberationist early, liberating my dad’s old dress shirts and a few ties when I was a teen. *grins*

  2. To echo something you said to me on my spaz over my last date — the person who likes you will like YOU, and they will especially like the way you look. Trust that. 😉

  3. I have nothing much to add beyond a fervent hell yeah!

    Okay, and also that it’s amazing how much of a difference men’s briefs make, despite being roughly shaped and constructed like their female counterparts. And yet, mens are somehow sturdier, and sexier, and just plain feel better. Which makes me wonder if it’s purely the male connotation that’s working for me, or if it’s the actual garment itself.

    Probably about a nintey/ten split.

    Welcome to the blogosphere! 😀

    • Thanks, Dude. I hear you on the question of whether there’s anything physical at work here, But man, who cores? Better si better, right? *fist bump*

  4. For your information–“Wifebeaters” are also known as A-shirts. And I don not understand for the life of me WHY boxers are not “women’s” undergarments! They are the most comfortable things in the WORLD. Though that could be because I wear men’s jeans…

    • A-shirts. I shall remember that, thanks. *grin*

      They have these very non-functional boxers for women called “tap pants” I think. All lace and riding up, and meant more for under a skirt, I think. And there are “boy shorts” which are sorta boxer like, in an abbreviated way. They always seem somehow more ironic than functional.

      I don’t know if men’s boxers work better under jeans for everyone, but they definitely do for me. I think men’s jeans really only work well for those of us shaped for them. My curvy friends, even the very slender ones, complain about how men’s jeans gap at the waist if they fit their hips. I had the opposite problem, women’s jeans that fit my waist had yards of extra fabric flapping around my hips and ass. I am so glad I made the switch to men’s jeans.

  5. Hey Nezuko,
    Yes! I am clad in a man’s flannel shirt and 501’s at this moment. Never considered experimenting with underwear though! Have to give that a try and see whether I like it. Never occurred to me, for some reason. Do I wear wifebeaters? nope, because I don’t feel like airing my unshaven pits in the world, but that’s just me. When you discussed the friable nature of gender, it intrigued me. Have always thought of myself as a woman, despite occasionally being mistaken for a guy, and despite wearing some male items of attire…and gold earrings. Ovals. Regarding those scary moments when first undressing with a lover, well, aren’t those moments always a bit scary, vulnerable, daunting? I’d encourage you with this: anyone worth your time is going to be attracted most to something inside, and the outside is just a vehicle or an excuse. That’s just this minute’s opinion, and it’s true that people search outside for clues and take their cues from what they see, or think they see. Guess there is no easy way to deal with it.

    • Hey Vicky,

      Oh man unshaven pits. I haven’t shaved in twenty years, but I’m luckily somewhat blond beneath the arms, and sparsely haired, so I just go with it. I’m more embarrassed by my too-plump not-muscular-enough arms, which I decided to be brave about and show off anyway.

      I am intrigued by people who have never felt uncertain about their gender, in some of the same ways I’ve been intrigued by people who have always had a strong preference for one sex or the other. Actually it was talking with my sister about her unshakable heterosexuality that helped me understand that I wasn’t just being wishy-wshy and refusing to make up my mind, I really did fall in the middle zone.

      And yes, that first undressing is fraught for all kinds of reasons, especially in our body-shaming society.

      What you say: anyone worth your time is going to be attracted most to something inside, and the outside is just a vehicle or an excuse is something I know I’ve said to others, and yet it’s such hard advice to take for myself. It’s good advice though. So thanks!

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