More skin, more genders: Men’s underwear in 2022
A new generation of briefs, boxers, socks and crop tops are being made for a diversity of bodies
Journalist Mark Simpson christened it sporno, a mix between sport and porn. “Sport is the new gay porn. Sportsmen on this side of the Atlantic are increasingly openly acknowledging and flirting with their gay fans,” wrote Simpson in 2006 in Out magazine, mentioning David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg: ripped, handsome men on the playing field had become unadulterated objects of lust.
In the three decades that have passed since Simpson penned his article on sporno, what was previously an implicit allusion in sports advertising is today an explicit reference. Álvaro Ramos is the founder of On Tracks, a brand of underwear and sportswear with an aesthetic that combines homoeroticism and nostalgia: cotton t-shirts and briefs in solid colors, wrestling jumpsuits, ribbed boxer and crop top sets. “Brands today are focused on new patterns, designs and materials,” explains Ramos, who wants instead to create a kind of modern vintage look for On Tracks. The ads for the brand show men’s bodies intertwined as if wrestling, and muscular men in sports socks and underwear.
Men have reached a point where they can express themselves personally through clothing, says Ramos. They are “breaking with certain canons” of fashion and appearance and not afraid to be themselves. On Tracks echoes the boldness of other contemporary men’s underwear brands, such as Leak NYC, Menagerié or Wicked Mmm which caters to all genders, their motto being: “Your gender expression is all that matters.”
An open-minded approach that has also reached mass-reach firms such as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty line which, according to The New York Times, launched its first men’s collection in 2020 and sold out in 12 hours. For the singer’s brand, men who are corpulent, bald or paunchy (or all of the above), pose in gear that once upon a time would have only been seen on a Victoria’s Secret model: red briefs, semi-transparent shirts, satin halters.
When Tom Ford took the reins at Gucci in the mid-1990s, he was known for putting the male body in the foreground. “I believe we live in a culture that objectifies women, draping them naked over anything it wants to sell,” Ford told Vogue in 2019. “But as soon as it’s a man on show, there’s a real phobia and everyone’s outraged. I knew nudity’s controversial, but we had to go over this sexist cliché.” [sic]
The male eroticism of Ford’s Gucci campaigns has a parallel in this latest breed of men’s underwear brands, which emerged as a reaction to an aesthetic that seemed stuck at Mark Wahlberg for Calvin Klein, his boxers peeking out over denim, or coloured briefs with their logo on the elastic band. Álvaro Ramos says that “often we conceive of clothing as something we should wear, period, but we forget that it can make us feel ourselves and even part of a larger group. Being able to feel sexy is just another step along the way.”