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If you’re a guy, then your underwear is changing. Men are tossing aside bland basics in favor of new colors, styles and brands. This newfound interest in undergarment experimentation is the result of increased options, growing awareness of those options, and the confidence with which men can spend hard-earned money in a resurging economy.
Throughout more than a decade of work in the men’s underwear industry, I’ve watched one of the most exciting developments ever to affect the modern apparel business. In the early 2000s, guys were restricted to white and black boxers, briefs or boxer briefs from department stores. The average man didn’t mind – he didn’t need more options. Now, men are seeking out new styles.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group Inc. said that “For the last couple of years, men gave women a run for their money at retail, with growth in sales of men’s apparel consistently outpacing growth in women’s.” Cohen continued, “Men took fashion more seriously by adding colorful casual wear to their wardrobe.”
For large, popular brands like Calvin Klein, this development has led to the introduction of high-tech products and new, colorful designs.
“For years the underwear business has centered on basic cotton underwear, but today there is a real focus on innovation through technical fabrications that offer unique features and benefits. We have also seen an expansion in the breadth of color and prints offered in men’s underwear,” said Bob Mazzoli, chief creative officer of Calvin Klein Underwear.
Mazzoli believes that men’s underwear has moved beyond its traditional role as a “replacement commodity.” It’s now a medium for expression, an extension of the self and an essential component of a man’s style.
Dustin Cohn, the chief marketing officer at Jockey, concurs. “Men now expect more from their underwear – and they should! We’re constantly pumping new technological advancements … into the market.”
Technological and design advancements were made possible in large part by the strengthening economy. In 2012, men’s underwear sales went up 13% according to NPD Group. Compared to the dipping underwear sales at the beginning of the recession, that leap is considerable. When men have more money, they’re willing to pay for high-performance pouches and stylish waistbands. The Calvin Klein Underwear Super Bowl ad and the David Beckham Bodywear for H&M collections show that brands are willing to fight hard for the spending power of eager consumers.
The top-selling brands tend to give credit to increased awareness rather than the economy. In a world where a guy can learn about a new style online and buy the underwear instantly, he’s more likely to experiment with different looks than he was in the bleak, department store days.
Read more about the state of men’s underwear after the jump!
According to Mazzoli, this trend of heightening awareness is far from over. “Men will continue to show greater receptiveness to choice in their wardrobe and underwear will play an increasingly large part of that mindset,” he predicted.
A host of new brands are hoping that Mazzoli’s right. In the past few years, I’ve seen dozens of start-up companies appear on the map. Most of them focus selling specialty styles online to curious customers who take the time to look.
Jim Christopher is the founder and CEO of Jac5, a Hong Kong based brand launched in 2011. He said that men’s underwear is where running shoes were 20 years ago. Like they did with sneakers, men will continue to develop style preferences ranging from athletic to fashion-forward.
“Men will want to choose between gym-suitable underwear, running underwear and suited-up underwear, along with hip and casual styles,” he said. “One style won’t fit all.”
Garcon Model, a brand established in Vancouver last year, has succeeded in selling underwear to men with newly-wetted appetites for “cooler” undergarments.
“People are spending more than ever on fashion,” said Mehdi Mebarki, the brand’s co-founder. “We can hardly keep up with demand.”
Our industry’s development is exciting for designers, retailers, consumers and, of course, all of us at The Underwear Expert. Men are asking for better underwear, and brands of all sizes are happy to oblige. Thank the economy, thank the Internet and go buy some new underwear.
Photo Credit: Aydin Arjomand, Cyle Suesez and Louis Rafael for The Underwear Expert