THE BACK PAGES

Manties: they're panties-for men

The Y-front-that last bastion of old-guard masculinity-is undergoing a transformation

LIANNE GEORGE May 8 2006
THE BACK PAGES

Manties: they're panties-for men

The Y-front-that last bastion of old-guard masculinity-is undergoing a transformation

LIANNE GEORGE May 8 2006

Manties: they're panties-for men

The Y-front-that last bastion of old-guard masculinity-is undergoing a transformation

LIANNE GEORGE

bazaar

Almost from the moment he was invented in 2003, the metrosexual—with his hair balm, fancy wrinkle cream and extensive knowledge of mid-century-modern design—has sent chills through the hearts of men. Nobody wants to be him, or even admit to knowing him. And yet, mysteriously, his influence is everywhere, driving the sales of body sprays, man purses, and Old World wines. Most recently, the metrosexual has inspired a new product category in men’s apparel that, if successful, will entrench him, undeniably, among our most powerful consumer forces: introducing manties—panties, for men.

For years, men’s cotton briefs remained, in retail terms, the last bastion of old-fashioned, unadulterated masculinity, one of the very few products not yet overhauled to appeal to young, urban, image-conscious males. But trend forecasters are now convinced that men are no longer satisfied with their underwear options. Boxers are too bulky, and not conducive to showing off hard-earned gym bodies. And briefs are boring. (What’s with all the neutrals?) Men want shopping for underwear to be fun, marketers say, the way it is for women. They want a La Senza-style assortment of colours and patterns laid out for their perusal like ice cream flavours. “I think guys are seeing underwear less as just functional and more as a part of their outfit,” says Chord Bezerra, buyer for the U.S. men’s boutique chain Universal Gear. “They’re seeing it as an expression of their personality.”

In the past six months to a year, it has become quite common to see bright yellow, camouflage, or Hawaiian-print briefs alongside tightie-whities in department store aisles. But at the forefront of the manty experiment

is a Vancouver-based company called Ginch Gonch, which produces a range of brightly coloured, cartoonish underwear perhaps best described as Underoos for grown-ups. Founded in late 2004 by 32-year-old Jason Sutherland, a former film production designer, Ginch Gonch is sold in fashionable boutiques across Canada, the U.S and Europe. Its designs—everything from fire trucks and soccer balls to bright pink stars splashed across Y-fronts—feature pun-laden, sexually suggestive names. The “Big Bang” print, for instance, consists of one enormous, strategically placed star. “We’re not making lingerie for men,” says Jolene Fehler, Ginch Gonch’s director of public and privates (get it?). “They’re not silk panties. We started it as a way to combat boring black and white underwear. For example, we have one with happy chickens on them called Jolly Cocks. People love them. It gets them laughing.” Not surprisingly, the company initially targeted gay men. “Especially our stuff which is a little bit cheekier,” says Fehler. “They responded really well.” But Ginch Gonch soon found that women loved them too, and were buying them for their boyfriends and husbands—who got hooked. In fact, says Sutherland, it was straight guys who bought up Ginch Gonch’s first batch of wiener briefs—a sky-blue print dotted with little hot

dogs—in two weeks. “I was like, ‘How did this happen?’ ” he says. “Everyone said to me, ‘It’s too gay.’ But the straight guys loved it.” In January, Tori Spelling and her Canadian fiancé, actor Dean McDermott, bought some at the Kitson Boutique in Los Angeles, landing the wiener brief a fawning plug on Entertainment Tonight. (Ginch Gonch is currently in talks with Spelling and McDermott about teaming up more formally.)

“Our next few collections are geared at a much broader spectrum,” says Fehler. “We do briefs, boxer-briefs and low-rise, and they’re each targeting a different audience.” Generally, their straight clientele tends to go with the boxer-briefs, she says, while their gay customers tend to prefer low-rise (to wear under low-rise denim, of course). “Then there’s the briefs,” she says. “Everybody wears a brief.”

The success of Ginch Gonch and other manty designers in Europe and the U.S. has inspired some of the bigger players— including Gap, Calvin Klein and Diesel—to expand their men’s underwear offerings. Still, few are pushing it as far as Ginch Gonch. The company’s website is playfully homoerotic (hairless male models giving each other wedgies), and they concede not everyone is ready for their designs. “It takes a confident person to wear our underwear,” says Fehler. “Especially as a straight guy to walk into a hockey locker room with a pair of Jolly Cocks on. There could be some awkward conversations. To us, it becomes a challenge.” M