THE NOTION OF DESIGNER UNDERWEAR strikes many people as more than a trifle silly. These people contend that the significance of the "designer" in designer clothes, whether manifest in a signature, a monogram or an animal insignia, is sheer status, and they are correct. They further reason that unless you are grossly inept or the subject of peculiar conspiracies by your peers, almost no one ever sees your underwear. The act of communicating status through clothes relies on visual verification. If you can't see Mr. Jones's skivvies, they can't impress you. And if he whispered to you across the picket fence separating your lawns that he had draped on his chunky haunches a pair of underwear tattooed with the initials of some shrewd Frenchman, you would almost certainly be reduced to uncontrollable laughter. You would never go to neighborhood barbecues, and you would keep your children in after dark.
People who employ such reasoning are intelligent but misguided. This sort of thinking is immaterial: Designer underwear for men is a fact. You should know about it. You should know how to deal with it. You should know how it will affect your life.
The facts are compelling. As reported in The New York Times Magazine two weeks ago, many of the key purveyors of name wear have dipped their digits into the pool of men's under things. These include Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Bloomingdale's. Pierre Cardin, who has been called the ITT of designer merchandise, is readying his line, and even poor cousin Jockey, in an effort to clothe itself in the celebrity which accompanies designer wear has placed shots of largely unclothed Orioles' pitcher Jim Palmer in a number of national magazines.
But the colonization of the lucrative underwear market by the designers might have come to naught, if not for the entry of industry leviathan Calvin Klein, whose energetic marketing campaign has made designer underwear for men a fait accompli. Any recent visitor to New York has seen the virtually ubiquitous advertisements plastered by Klein's operatives on the sides of bus shelters. They depict a body reminiscent of something out of Mussolini's art collection in blissful, practically naked repose. All indications point to the probability that such advertisements will soon proliferate throughout the land.
We should examine some of the ramifications of this upheaval. It is probable that as the panty market burgeons, public personalities, and even politicians will join the rolling mass of support and publicly endorse designer underwear. Such developments will undoubtedly cause the recasting of the class edifice and substantially alter the norms of behavior in Western society.
AT THE MOST BASIC LEVEL, underwear will become the primary marker of class position. Other, older markers will quickly become ancillary. Further, class barriers will harden because of the methods involved in recognizing these class markers. The following scenario illustrates one kind of behavior we can expect to find in the new age of designer underwear:
An elegant, youngish man strolls through the brooding gloom of evening. The collar of his Burberry trench coat is flipped up against the damp mist which rolls through the streets. His foulard neck tie is confidently tied and asserted with a simple pin, and his Bally slippers make only the slightest squishing noise as he makes his way to his club for a few hands of whist, for talk of the Malaya network and of what new moles have been rooted out of it. At the door, he is greeted by the doorman, a fine, silver-haired chap clad in a waistcoat which prominently displays his regimental tie.
"Good evening, Mr. Higginbottom."
But something untoward irks the doorman and he takes a cautious step forward.
"Uh, sir..." he says, sending a swift shot to the rake's midriff and pulling his coat down from his shoulders, thus locking the charlatan's hands in his pockets. Instead of disarming the sap as Bogart does at a moment just like this in The Maltese Falcon, Henry sends the bum sprawling into the gutter with an efficient trip. He flips up Higginbottom's coattails and, performing a maneuver familiar to most 11-year-olds as a "wedgle," pulls the elastic of his victim's underwear far into the pitiless sky.
"As I thought--King Specials! Scram, scum," he cries after a quick examination of the jockeys. With a swift kick in the shins he rolls the fop across the cobblestone lane, secure in the feeling of a job well done.
This sort of vehement class consciousness is only one of the likely manifestations of designer underwear's invasion of our society. We can also expect to see the rites of courtship and seduction radically altered, as the mamba dancers of sex and class twine in ever more perverse ways. Women will use the new class markers to find themselves suitable mates and lovers. For instance, in "fast" cultural sub-groups we might expect to find men sidling up to women at bars and, instead of buying them drinks and flashing large billfolds, performing quick pirouettes followed by a hiking of the shirt, a dropping of the trousers, and a flashing of the underwear label. In more traditional groups this kind of behavior may be shunned in public, but in such situations analogous behavior will occur in private.
A displaying of the label could become de rigeur in the early stages of a relationship--possibly during advanced "foreplay." In those ethnic and hyper-traditional groups in which a suitor asks for a woman's hand in marriage, he might be required to bring a sampling of his under things for the parents to peruse. And, in the case of seduction, underwear will probably prove the source of considerable stress and depression. A woman who wakes to find that her paramour wears Caldor generics could experience severe self-doubt and fear of ostracism from her peer group. Psychotherapists should take note.
OTHER MANIFESTATIONS of the underwear fixation will appear in a wide variety of circumstances. We can safely predict that an inverted snobbery will develop, particularly among Ivy League and other "prestige college" students. Those students who come from affluent families and from Eastern elite private schools will shop for their under things at the very cheapest department stores in order to declare their independence from the accepted norms. Some will wear "Daddy's discards"--stretched out and sufficiently worn hand-me-down underwear. This will replace the traditional passing-on-of-the-tweed-jacket ritual. Less-wealthy students, on the other hand, will spend inordinate amounts of cash on top-of-the-line underwear in an effort to secure their class position.
Even at the acme of the class structure underwear consciousness will figure prominently. Scenarios like this may become common:
The Contessa de Boca Raton stands, leonine in her splendor, arms akimbo, before a room of unconscious noble men and women. Overcome with the ennui which plagues her class, she had stepped outside for a smoke while the guests of her sister-in-law, the Grafina Spielstein, chattered pointlessly. Her husband, the Duke de Imbroglio is off in search of young children, as he is wont to do after a drink or two. The Contessa has reentered after only a few minutes to find her fellow nobles blitzed on some non-medicinal herb. She is disgusted and lonely. She spits on the nearest insensate pate and sets off into the cool, hopeful night. She will search for a man who might love her, for a man with the dirt of experience beneath his fingernails, for a man who might rekindle her lust for life--for a man who wears Hanes underwear.
You may find this far-fetched. It isn't. You should prepare yourself for these eventualities. It will take the sum of your cunning. Be ready.