Generational Underwear Preferences

Where once there was little available in the way of choice, for males seeking to purchase underwear, males of all ages tended to wear the same styles in underwear. Today, as the underwear choices for men increase with new cuts, styles and designs, the preferences of different age groups now become apparent and play an important role in design, production and marketing of products. Targeting specific wearers is important because differences in age dictate differences in lifestyle and activities, which ultimately affect the choices and fashions for each generation.

Men`s underwear styles, as we know them today have had a progression through long underwear union suits, briefs, boxers, Y fronts and thongs. During the majority of the 20th Century, the “tighty whitey” brief reigned as the comfortable and supportive choice for males everywhere. Both men and boys wore this style with little regard for alternatives. Their use was perpetuated by arbitrary choices – boys wore into adulthood those briefs that their fathers had worn or their mothers had purchased for them throughout their childhood.

New designer underwear producers in the 1970`s and 80`s began a new era for underwear. Briefs became briefer and sported great varieties in colors, fabrics, combinations and designs. Calvin Klein, Sauvage, Ron Chereskin, Tommy Hilfiger, 2(x)ist and Jockey began to use “sex” as the main selling point for major advertising campaigns and customers began to seek out different styles of briefs.

Debate over labeling of fitted boxer briefs and trunks has caused confusion in some circles over the years. True, they are variations on a theme – yet have details particular to each type. Generally the commonalities are their fitted nature in a knit fabric. Differences occur with length of legs (mid-thigh or upper thigh/truncated), fly or no fly, and double vs. single back seams. Perhaps a simpler labeling system could include longer/shorter and fitted/looser wording. At least then buyers could visualize for themselves rather than trying to interpret vocabulary.

Simpler labeling would help to meet the needs of the differing generational choices of underwear styles. Teens in the skateboarding and roller blading crowd tend to favor longer and looser boxers. Whether this is a hold over from the Generation X preference for baggy boxer shorts openly displayed with jeans is unknown. Others believe the attractiveness of the looser boxers for the teen crowd comes with their identification with basketball styles. As the melding of innerwear and outwear design occurs, this trend is likely to continue for this demographic. However, there is a definite shift in preference for the 30`s and 40`s crowd of wearers. This demographic is physically fully developed, and socially, comfortable in their bodies. Shorter, fitted underwear that provides support and coverage, yet also sculpts the lower trunk, as well as defines and flatters the body meet the needs of this group. The appeal of the sleek cut of the fitted boxers is their body-defining look. Guys that have worked out to create impressive abdominals, gluts, quads and hamstrings will be happy to sport this line of underwear to flatter their bodies.

A new underwear competitor, Alenver Inc has identified this pattern in preferences and is adding a new cut to their collection. In February, 2009, Alenver will add a shorter, tighter line of boxer underwear to their longer looser cut already in the market. Being a relatively small entity, means their response time to the major changes and minor trends in preferences is reduced. This enables them to meet the needs of the targeted groups in a much faster time. Other underwear designers have also moved in a similar direction. According to President Michael Kleinmann, low rise “gripper trunks and square cut briefs are doing well in terms of sales for Calvin Klein, 2(x)ist, C-IN2, Ginch Gonch and Andrew Christian.”

Customer choice is a priority in any design category. New designs and additions to collections do not spell the end for previous designs, but rather provide the choice that customers deserve. In the male fashion arena, outerwear clothing choices and lifestyle activities lend themselves to certain underwear styles. For example, depending how tightly trousers are worn will impact the choice of underwear. Relatively loose fitting dress pants may be more compatible with boxers – but others may decide the feeling, support and fit of fitted boxers is preferable. Additionally, hip hugging low-rise pants may favor bikini briefs or boxers with decorative messaged waistbands such as in Alenver`s collection. Sporty active lifestyles may dictate shorter or longer legged boxers, which allow for easy movement for both everyday wear and active sports wear. Personal choice is key. Current and future underwear designers would be wise to consider the lifestyles of their various ages of customers and design for their needs accordingly.

Shape Retention – How Hugging The Curves Has Changed The Underwear Industry

In the shelf life of underwear, it is usually the shape and fit of underwear that gives way long before the fashion and design becomes outdated. Elasticity in the waist and leg bands or thinning of the fabric makes the underwear no longer functional and least of all attractive. Perhaps this was the reason for so few changes in underwear design in the last few decades. After all, if underwear was so short lived, why work to create new designs and styles that appeal, if their staying power did not warrant it? Designers of underwear have been exploring this factor as their designs have found a market niche and created a following among both men and women wearers. Changes in fabric use is now providing for underwear that can retain its shape and fit while still meeting fashion needs.

With the development of fabric engineering, fabrics can be created that meet the various specific fashion needs of different lines of clothing. Perhaps the greatest advancement has been in the area of elasticity use in underwear. As customers seek underwear that contours to their shape, rather than works against it, various combinations of fibers are used for this purpose. Initially, elastic was the only option to be included in underwear to allow for stretch and shape retention. Later, with advances in textile manufacturing, spandex (or elastane) fibers were blended in small percentages with other fabric fibers. Spandex, an anagram of expand, is often called by its most famous brand name title: Lycra, specifically developed by Dupont. It is a man-made elastane fiber known for its exceptional elasticity.

Textile news and analysis sites including Inteletex expound on the merits of elastane/spandex use in clothing manufacturing. Dr Ian Holme states on this site that: “Yarns containing elastane are continuing to make significant inroads into the knitted fabric market. The high stretch and rapid recovery properties of elastane provide unsurpassed elastic recovery properties which have been utilized by fabric and garment makers to provide elastic stretch and impart garment body clinging, shaping and shape retention, and silhouette shaping and slimming properties. Indeed, it’s now estimated that 35-40% of all apparel in developed markets may contain some elastane in filament form.”

To understand the importance of the feature of elasticity, one needs only to wander the sites, advertising sources and product descriptions for various underwear designers to see the many references to this feature. Calvin Klein lists “shape retention” as a feature descriptor of their flexible fit short. JM Intermode describes the “excellent stretch” and “high shape retention after frequent washings” of their Canadian designs. Armani includes “added spandex for additional comfort and shape retention.” Gossamer lists “lycra for shape retention” in their product descriptors. 2(x)ist made a commitment to the public demands for a “fabric with enhanced shape retention and stretch comfort” and developed a liquid cotton collection with DOW XLA in concert with DOW Chemicals. Finally, Alenver describes its collection’s “body defining comfort with 5% elastane providing shape retention and fit”. The difference in fabrication comes in the proportions of natural fibers verses elastane fibers used by the different designers.

Word on the street and customer reports are also important indicators for designers as to whether their products are meeting the customers’ needs. Alenver reports that customers are gushing about their products. After washing in hot water, after washing in cold water – their underwear is maintaining its original shape and fit. Rap musicians who have taken to the unique messaged collection from Alenver also site specific benefits to their underwear. They choose to wear their underwear underneath their swimsuits when swimming. Even with this additional exposure to chlorine and salt water, these customers maintain that the Alenver underwear still maintains its shape and fit. Alenver proudly states this is because of the combination of materials. The mix of 95% pure cotton, from the best cotton sources in Peru, provides comfort and 5% elastane provides shape retention and fit. Additionally, with more than a 1_-inch width, the elastic waistband and bra band stay put, even while they display their one word message. Messages are woven into the fabric of the waistband’s elastic for permanency, yet the elastic is lined for comfort and softness against the skin.

In today’s world, an active lifestyle is par for the course for most individuals. Having clothing that addresses and meets that need is a necessity and not just a preference. Clothing needs to move with the body, meet the physical demands the body requests of it, and then most importantly return to its original shape. Wearers need no longer worry about their underwear losing its fit and shape before losing its appeal and allure.