Drop 'Em

A look at the viscious boxer-brief conflict

A day does not pass during which I do not hear the argument over boxers and briefs. Strangers curse at each other. Commercials blare out conflicting messages. Roommates quarrel while doing laundry, each vying for moral supremacy. There is never a middle ground; each camp swears it will never compromise. Party identification is often part of introductions as a litmus test for personality. The question is foremost in the psyche of American pop culture: boxers or briefs?

It is scary how little each side understands the other. Ignorance abounds, and there is no desire for a real discussion of the issues. The 90s have seen negotiation about the great issues of the day as enemies realize that there is something to be gained by talking things through and searching for a solution. In Israel and Northern Ireland, opposing camps have at least opened up a dialogue, creating the possibility of finding long term solutions. But the boxers versus briefs conflict seems to be one of perpetual mutual hatred, with both sides determined to show no signs of weakness.

People who wear boxers should be happy enough with their choice of underwear and should not feel the need to put down those who choose briefs and vice-versa. Each side must understand that there are positives and negatives for each type of undergarment and that two rational people can arrive at different conclusions. I will lay out the issues, and hope that strident proponents on both sides will reconsider laying down their arms.

The boxers camp has been the most vocal and seems to have had the upper hand in recent times. Advocates have claimed that boxers are more comfortable, and that the tightness of briefs is unbearable. They point to medical evidence that briefs can lead to a low sperm count. Moreover, they see boxers as more fashionable; they contrast the wide array of colors and patterns of boxers to the traditionally white briefs.

While these reasons are interesting, they do not lie at the heart of the reason why these men prefer boxers. Men who are temporarily infertile from briefs are a small percentage of wearers, and the percentage of men who are currently trying to conceive a child is small anyway. The main reason men wear boxers can be summed up in one politically incorrect phrase: chicks dig it.

Of course, women are not monolithic in their preference, but men are constantly bombarded with this generalization. One plainly state to me that "briefs just aren't sexy." Is it merely coincidence that on "Seinfeld," the swinger Jerry wears boxers while the bald, unseemly George wears briefs?

Of course, for all but the most promiscuous man, underwear is a garment not subject to public scrutiny. However, in dorm life, where unannounced guests pop in at all hours, one may find his underwear suddenly on display. In such a situation, boxers, which are less revealing than briefs and which more closely resemble outerwear, are more socially appropriate.

Underwear does not exist merely for fashion; after all, men have to live in these things. For athletics, briefs offer important support; similarly, few women would consider running without a bra. Boxers can be uncomfortable in other everyday situations, too. The looseness which boxer enthusiasts rave about can cause them to ride up; nobody wants to have underwear halfway up his chest. Also, the thick waistband typical of boxers can cause irritation. A friend of mine said that while he preferred boxers in general, when he wore them with jeans he experienced great discomfort. Surely, for this man briefs are the logical choice, and yet current pop culture decries him for making it.

Those in the briefs camp tend to be more silent about their preference, as they tend to internalize resentment of the boxers camp as opposed to publicly denouncing them. In private, they will share their anger at infantile quips used by the boxers fanatics, such as the phrase "tight whities." Surely those who prefer boxers embarrass themselves by resorting to such mudslinging tactics instead of engaging in responsible discourse. Men who prefer briefs argue that they prefer to let their body do the talking (please refer to Calvin Klein advertisements) as opposed to needing loud patterns on their undergarments.

There is a clear divide in America over this subject, and increasingly people are being judged by their undergarment affiliation rather than by the content of their character.

I personally encounter the wrath of both camps as I am a proud wearer of both boxers and briefs. I am not wishy-washy, but I simply enjoy variety and I understand that each type of underwear serves its purpose. I do not ask every man to take my approach, but I do ask everyone to understand why someone might logically choose to wear a different type of underwear. I plead for tolerance. No purpose is served by putting down other people's underwear or claiming that there is some divine underwear preference.

James A. Johnson '00 lives in Adams House and is wearing neither boxers nor briefs today.