What do we think of when we think of women’s undergarments: Pantyhose, stockings, tights, knee-highs, Spanx (or that sort of thing), control top anything, underwire bras, knee socks. Lovely though many of these items are (like ice cream, made to seduce) they are also prone to running, tearing or ripping in three wearings (lucky if you made it to 3). Then there is the binding factor – just below the knee, at the waist, around the thighs, digging under the breasts. What is the male equivalent? Frankly, I can’t think of one. I believe there are some Spanx-like undershirts that can smooth things out for men but based on anecdotal evidence, they don’t carry the same percentage of elastine (or whatever that is). Ever spoken to a woman after a normal-ish lunch wearing Spanx? What she really wants is to get her hands on a sharp object to cut herself out. It’s mind-boggling how these brave women put up with being squeezed, having underwires cut into their underarms, and religiously invest hard-earned dollars in pantyhose where it’s a crap shoot if you get out the door with that brand new $20 pair intact. Interestingly, among Boomers and Gen X (think Michelle Obama) spending on pantyhose has declined, whereas Millennials have picked up the mantle (think Kate Middleton). If women spend on average twice what men do on underwear per year (ours cost more) and if they maintain the pantyhose habit, consider the financial drain knowing that we still outlive men and should really be scrutinizing every penny to save for a long and well-funded post-work life.
The tyranny of the undergarment has certainly loosened its grip on women. But have we gone far enough? Should the great woman take one step further and eliminate all such undergarments from her wardrobe? We know she would be more comfortable, likely boost her circulation, free her to move with ease, and comfortably digest a delicious lunch, but that’s not her only concern, is it? She has to think about how she is perceived by society and particularly by employers because perception plays such a large part in economic value. As much as we would like to believe the Western woman exists in a meritocracy we know that’s not true. If it were, there would be the same number of women in the C-suite, sitting as CEO’s (currently 4.4% of Fortune 500 companies) and holding board positions. And there is the lingering notion that dressing in a traditionally ‘female’ or even ‘feminine’ style assuages the insecure male ego. (I happen to think better of men but perception can be a trap for us all.)
So why, I ask, does the great women not shed herself of these physical and financially debilitating traditions? One answer is that a fundamental change to underwear would by necessity trigger a fundamental change to the overall wardrobe. Think of men’s suits: beautifully designed so that you can’t see what lies beneath – neither the man himself (a few pounds gained or loss discretely covered) or whether he’s a boxer or brief man. A carefree life without nary a thought for pantylines or coloured bras showing through. Their white t-shirts and cotton boxers – all loose, sweat-absorbing, 100% cotton – hidden beneath a flattering silhouette that signals authority, reliability, no-nonsense. The perfect disguise.
The closest retailers have come to mannish underwear for women is the boyshort. Having personally investigated I can tell you – don’t let them fool you – these have virtually none of the features of their male counterparts. They sit too low, ride up and don’t cover your butt, often feature a seam running from front to back (creating yet another place to dig in) and are not in my experience produced in the same quality fabric. A disappointing sham at best.
So why wouldn’t the great woman take the plunge? Rid her dressing room of the thongs, push-up bras, single-wear stockings and control top anythings in favour of fit, comfort, and most importantly rid herself once and for all of the distraction that discomfort brings that may in fact be preventing her from realizing her ultimate and glorious potential? Might there be room for a whole range of women’s undergarments that bring the same fabrics, structure and utility to women that have so long been the purview of men? I say yes. Bring them on.
What say you?
Is it cheaper to be a woman – or a man?
Why pantyhose sales are still surprisingly strong