NY TIMES: A Pair of Boxers for $400? Men’s Underwear Goes High-End

Once, they were known as unmentionables, and it only mattered that they were clean. You never knew, after all, when you might be knocked down by a bus.

“When we were young, you would never show your underwear,” the designer Tommy Hilfiger said recently, referring to an era when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. “Now, if you don’t show your underwear, you’re just not cool.”

Mr. Hilfiger was marking one of those shifts in the culture that lurch along with a tectonic jolt. For generations, American men who were raised wearing generic boxers or Jockeys purchased in three-packs expended little thought or time or post-tax income on the foundation garments worn beneath their outerwear. The whole point of skivvies seemed to be encapsulated in the name given to the category under which they were sold: intimates.

That was before Justin Bieber, of course, before sexting and saggers and artfully lighted, half-clad Snapchat selfies. It was before baldly erotic videos of Rafael Nadal popped up on smartphones or monitors in advertisements depicting one of the world’s top tennis players doing a locker-room striptease in Mr. Hilfiger’s new line of sexy boxer briefs — images that even five years ago may have been flagged as NSFW.

It was also before a trend (most likely inaugurated by Calvin Klein in the prehistory of Marky Mark) that gained considerable momentum over the last dozen years, that of offering so-called premium underwear for men. “Underwear is where jeans were 20 years ago,” Mr. Hilfiger said. “It’s the new denim.”

Proof of that assertion can be found on The Underwear Expert, a startlingly comprehensive website dedicated to researching, testing, reviewing and even curating for sale underpants culled from the nearly 600 labels now crowding the field.

“The options out there are what make men’s underwear a really interesting category,” said Michael Kleinmann, the site’s founder. “It’s not just three packs from Walmart or something out of the back of a catalog anymore.”

Jostling for a position in the retailing “white space” of an apparel category little altered for decades are niche labels like Sunspel, Handvaerk, Hanro, Tani, Zimmerli, Naked, Under and Les Lunes.

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