My husband owns a quantity of underwear sufficient to see him through a storm of epic proportions that might leave us without power for 100 days (after applying the male rule about turning underwear inside out for a second wearing before washing). I, on the other hand, own a mere fraction of that quantity, possessing only a dozen or so pairs of underwear, plus or minus a few pairs that cross-dress between the rag bag and the clothing drawer. A significant portion of this dozen pairs is nearing critical structural failure status or are about to achieve invisibility after having been worn for nearly 10 years, and I have been forced to engage in an activity I despise: shopping. And underwear shopping, no less, where planned obsolescence is more prevalent than on an auto assembly line.
As evidenced by the above timeline, it has been rather a while since I’ve purchased underwear. I do recall, though, that the experience was neither simple nor enjoyable in the past. Actually, “enjoyable” never accompanies “shopping” in my thoughts. Nevertheless, my hope for a better world is boundless, and that hope extends to a better underwear acquisition experience. Adopting this sunny disposition I took myself to a few brick-and-mortar retailers to initiate the hunt. Even while living in a small town where all shopping is accomplished in miniature, three stores are the limit of my shopping endurance.
And, three stores later, I found that some things don’t change, even after 10 years. I’m not really referring to my sorry inability to endure marathon shopping sessions; I’m talking about the brain-sucking maze that is women’s underwear, and then only that portion that resides below the waist. After quickly reaching deer-under-the-fluorescent-light status in the women’s “intimates” aisles, as if they were my friends and not my clothing, I thought I’d have a look at the men’s underwear selection to see if they endure the same multitude of choice as women. I actually had to walk the store twice to find the one aisle of men’s underwear. (Note the singular “aisle” for men, versus the plural “aisles” for women.) Men’s underwear consisted of (white cotton) briefs or (cotton solid or plaid) boxers. Including tee shirts and socks, men’s undergarments took up one store aisle. Women’s underwear occupied nearly a quarter of the footprint of the store’s floor space; there was absolutely no problem whatsoever locating it. All of it.
Yes, indeedy, we’ve got it All. We’ve got our traditional briefs — cotton in solid colors and a few modest flower patterns in a package of 4 or 6 (with an Extra 2 Pairs Included at No Extra Charge! except that a couple years ago the package used to contain 6 pairs to begin with), or satin in solid colors in packages of 3, all of which are styled to make the wearer feel Old and Irrelevant; then we’ve got our 4-packs of cotton hipsters consisting of 3 striped patterns that bleed through light-colored outerwear and one teaser pair of white thrown into the mix so you have to buy three packages at $8.99 each to get the white pairs you really wanted, or you can forego cotton completely to buy the mysterious “microfiber” fabric type that vows to leave no pantie lines. “Panties.” Whether 5 years old or 50, females are wearing “panties.” Then we have bikinis with the photo of the teenager sporting an impish smile while wearing said fabric scrap and looking perfectly athletic-girl hot in them and projecting the subliminal message that you too can look just like her (or at least pretend) if you put down $25.00 for 3 pairs that in total are made of less fabric than 1 pair of size 5 briefs. There are string bikinis (can you lace your shoes with them too?), thongs (where the manufacturer gets you to pay for nothing), French cuts (zut alors!), hi-cuts (these must be the across-the-channel version of the French cuts — you go, Queen Mum!), and the trendiest in women’s underwear — boyshorts! Why aren’t they called “boypanties?” Those clever marketers slipped a little color into these and closed up that front equipment opening so the girls can wear them too after paying twice as much money as the boys pay. I say buy the men’s briefs, duct tape the front shut, and draw a few flowers on them with a Marks-a-Lot. The only missing card from this deck is the style with days of the week printed on them, which I personally find quite useful.
To my astonishment, I actually did find the type I wanted. I averted my eyes from the price and took them home. Alas, while they were in the store bag, Black Magic happened and they were the wrong type by the time I took them out of the bag. Still virginal and unopened I returned them to their retail origin. Technically, that transaction took me past my 3-store shopping limit and I turned hallelujah! to my fail safe: the internet. A few clicks, a couple of sorts, a choice of color, and my shopping sentence would be served and I’d get time off for good behavior and a martini to celebrate my victory over fashion tyranny. I snickered self-righteously as I thought about all those women wasting their time wandering fruit-of-the-loomlessly through physical stores when they could be letting their manicured fingertips do the walking across their keyboards.
Thou shalt not take thy search results for granted.
My first eBay search produced 600 results, which shrank like 100% cotton in a hot dryer when I entered my size. Two of that number were in the fabric I wanted, and the photo made them look markedly smaller than what I already owned. Of course the shipping was three times as much as the product. Amazon had nothing. Now I was getting my panties into a bind over this. The only thing that gives me a wedgie faster than underwire in a bra (what the hell is that for anyway??) is paying $10 each for something that’s essentially 3 large holes with a tiny bit of fabric between them. But what’s a Mad Queen to do — go commando? I’m ditching convention almost faster than I can keep up with me, but this Queen isn’t Paris Hilton. I fumed. I clicked. I paid. I got.
Are they smaller? They’re shorter when held up to a current pair. Do they fit? Meh. Marginally. I am genetically incapable of buying more than one of anything so my wallet is not significantly lighter. I’ll give it another 10 years or so and maybe women will get mad as hell and not take it any more! One underwear under all!
Then again, maybe I’ll just go have another look at the men’s underwear. It has possibilities. Where’s my duct tape?