When Nike released its first branded men’s jockstrap in the middle of October it was an instant sell out. Twitter went into a digital meltdown and demand was palpable. It was the perfect product at the perfect time and was a great debut for Nike’s new men’s underwear range.
Left - The Nike Jockstrap sold out on ASOS (Nov. 2020)
The year before, in April 2019, Nike and PVH Corp. announced a new licensing agreement to design and distribute Nike branded men’s underwear worldwide. It was a natural product category extension for the nearly $40 billion a year sportswear behemoth.
“We are incredibly proud to be working with Nike, as this is an opportunity for two great companies to build on each other’s strengths, making it a win-win for everyone, especially consumers,” PVH’s Cheryl Abel-Hodges, president of Calvin Klein North America and The Underwear Group, said in a statement at the time. It also said PVH Corp.’s The Underwear Group would expand its strong portfolio which includes Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Olga, Warner’s and True & Co.
The men’s underwear category was ripe for a tie-up with a sportswear company and their expertise in technical support, cleaning and fabrics. The new Nike jockstrap was the debut product to make a digital splash while illustrating how this traditional sports style has hit the mainstream.
Troy Daniels, @justcantstahp, says, “Nike has a jock because Calvin Klein released a jock. Calvin Klein manufacturers the underwear for Nike. So the question is actually why did Calvin Klein release a jockstrap?” he says.
“It’s because a cadre of homosexuals who work at the European Corporate Office saw the trend of niche jockstrap manufacturers exploding (Exterface, Bristle, Coyote, Darkroom, Jock, Bad Butt, Gizeppe, etc.) and thought that the world’s most identifiable underwear brand would be remiss not to have a jockstrap in their underwear portfolio. So blame it on the gays.” he says.
If the branded jockstrap at Calvin Klein hadn’t proven to be so popular, then PVH Corp. wouldn’t have pushed it as one of the first products of the new Nike license. They would have gone for something far safer. Add the huge trend of male exhibitionism, on some social media channels, and its opportunity to showcase branded underwear, and you have a huge marketing opportunity.
The jock straps roots are in sports. Wikipedia states, “The jockstrap was invented in 1874 by C. F. Bennett of a Chicago sporting goods company, Sharp & Smith, to provide comfort and support for bicycle jockeys working the cobblestone streets of Boston. In 1897 Bennett's newly formed Bike Web Company patented and began mass-producing the Bike Jockey Strap.”
Jane Garner Co-Founder of Deadgoodundies.com, an online retailer stocking the best international brands of men's underwear and swimwear, selling to customers in more than 80 countries, says, “Deadgoodundies has always stocked jockstraps. Early on designs were mostly cotton, sporty and practical, but in recent years sexy, colourful and uplifting fashion jocks have taken over and proved very popular. With DGU customers, the smaller the underwear the more popular it will be.”
Right - Polish underwear brand, Kust
Regarding the Nike launch, Garner says, “We love any brand launch that encourages men to discover and try new underwear shapes, styles and fabrics. Male shoppers are not always the most adventurous when it comes to men's underwear choices. If a guy starts wearing jockstraps as everyday underwear, rather than purely for sport or exercise, they will start to seek out the best, most comfortable and most carefully shaped designs.
“In mainstream fashion there has been a strong trend towards sporty clothing, so maybe the jockstrap's increasing popularity is part of that - not that too many men will be discussing their new undies as much as a pair of hot trainers.” she says.
The jockstrap definitely taps into the ever present sportswear category and as such is styled by many brands with trainers, caps and sports socks to illustrate this link.
Jakub Stachowiak, Founder & Owner of Kust, www.kuststore.com, a cult Polish underwear brand based in Sopot and specialising in modern and sustainable underwear, says “We do sell jockstraps. It was always one of the bestseller since we launched in 2018. Our version is minimalistic, with a wider waistband, inspired by retro aesthetic and what’s most important made of sustainable, organic cotton. We are targeting millennial + customer, who is looking for minimalistic, well designed and premium quality products.
“As the jockstraps’ origins are from sports, this is kind of matching for NIKE. Most of the brands now have a jockstrap in their offer. It has only been a few years since it became more gay and a fetish product rather than sport underwear. So it really depend how you present it in your offer.” says Stachowiak.
Versace and Armani already have jock straps in their range. For a product that is pure branding and combines sex and near nudity, it is being picked up by an increasingly younger group of male fans, particularly amongst gay men. The Nike jockstrap taps into this market while making a step into the mainstream.
Alex,@retr0fag, says, “I think that the Nike jockstrap is probably most popular amongst gay men. Jockstraps have become a staple fashion item in most gay men's underwear collection. Sportswear brands are fetishised by gay men, so it figures that a Nike jockstrap would sell very well with gay guys.”
He says, “I’m not sure why Nike would release it, whether it was a clever marketing strategy or just worked out well by chance. Exhibitionism on the internet has become quite a normal thing, with many guys posing in their underwear. And all the guys posing in their Nike jocks has heightened the appeal and made it a desirable fashion item.”
Alex P, @notorious_twub, says, “I think it’s a good idea from Nike, they’ve obviously analysed the jock market and have realised that they’re very popular with gay men. It’s a great idea as Nike’s already a pillar brand and I’m kind of surprised that it’s taken this long.
“It’s kind of putting this predominantly gay thing, which is fetishised, and bringing it to the main stream and taking the jockstrap back to its sporty origin. I’m not sure what their angle is, if it was meant to be seen as this revolutionary moment to bring jocks to the heterosexual male as a sexual look, or if it’s capitalising on a product we already know sells well and just using Nike’s brand popularity to boost sales. I feel that it’s great that a major brand are getting behind it. It’ll definitely cause some waves in the underwear industry.” he says.
Left - Men's underwear brand, Charlie by MZ, showing the connection between contemporary sportswear & the jockstrap
One thing is certain, men now knows that Nike does men’s underwear even if they're not ready for the jockstrap style . While women have had sophisticated and sexy underwear for many years, men haven’t, or have felt embarrassed about it showing off. It was a choice of boring, mundane styles or tacky, fetish type underwear. This is being readdressed by niche underwear brands, like Charlie by MZ, Kvrt Stvff and Kust, offering provocative yet cool imagery which proves to be cat nip on social media channels. The large license partners and brands have seen this and want in. They are tapping into this demand, particularly amongst young gay men.
The jock strap is an opportunity for a brand to make a splash online, but looking at Calvin Klein’s continual expansion of its jockstrap range, it must be selling. They also wouldn’t have risked producing a product for a new license partner that they didn’t think would sell well.
Thanks to social media, there is an increasing trend in demand for sexier underwear for men. By linking it back to sports will appeal to a broader range of guys. The jockstrap is now a must-have addition in any brand's underwear category. Expect brands like Tom Ford and adidas to follow.
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Versace underwear, thanks to its signature use of the ancient Greek key design, has become one of the most recognisable brands across social media and in other images.
A little light history if you will. This decorative border is also called a meander or meandros. It recalls the twisting and turning path of the Maeander River in southwestern Turkey and is the labyrinth in linear form. It is thought to symbolise infinity and unity.
These, let’s call it an ‘homage’, from River Island, could fool even the biggest designer underwear fan. While the Versace Medusa head has been replaced by a bee - clearly these will be popular in Manchester - the rest looks almost identical and nobody on Instagram would ever know!
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Tom Ford is a clever man. Starting with two of the highest margins categories in fashion - eyewear & beauty - he founded his eponymous company. Fast forward 13 years and he’s developed money-maker after money-maker. Suits, followed by trainers and then jeans, all added to his ballooning business.
Left - Tom Ford debuted his new underwear range during his February AW18 catwalk show in New York
The last big fashion category untouched by the Texan’s magic was underwear. But, no more.
What debuted in his show in February catwalk show in New York was a bit underwhelming. Think Yeezy uncooked sausage coloured trunks; a world away from the sexy, see-through briefs Ford produced when at the helm of Gucci. Calvin Klein could still sleep easy at night, or so I thought. But, looking at the news from British GQ, it looks like they’re more standard tighty-whities, albeit with a velvet waistband. They’re also cheaper than I thought at £55. (I know, it's still a lot for a pair of white pants).
For a man who famously dresses commando, the big question is, will be practise what he preaches?
Below - Briefs by Tom Ford - £55
There’s something very millennial, and also sexy, about pink pants. We’ve not had a pair of desirable hipster Y-fronts since American Apparel closed its doors.
Left & Below Left - Boy Smells Men’s Blush Brief - $25
Boy Smells from LA, known for their candles, has expanded with intimate apparel called ‘Unmentionables’. All styles are made in Peru out of premium Pima cotton. For colour, Boy Smells has chosen to further expand the brand’s signature pink with other neo-naturalistic tones: bone, buff, bare, and blush.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Ron Dorff, the Franco/Swedish basics brand, has a pair of pink Y-fronts that will make everybody wink. Think pink for that underwear drawer refresh.
Below Right & Bottom - Ron Dorff - Y-Front Briefs - £28
One brand, two campaigns. The hot-of-the-moment label, or it wants to be, Calvin Klein, and two variations on the same thing.
Left - Clearly Raf Simons' idea of Calvin Klein advertising, but which will sell the most pants?
Both trying to sell pants: one campaign is sexy and classic Klein, the other less so, read baggy pants in a drafty art gallery.
What’s interesting is that it perfectly illustrates the sexual leveller of imagery and the different choice of art directors.
The fashion and style game is all about proving your sophistication and taste level, yadda, yadda, yadda. We all want to be different and express ourselves in the things we buy, wear and surround ourselves with, but ultimately a flash of a six-pack or a bulge in a pair of Y-fronts and the attraction is universal.
We judge ourselves and others by the decisions we make and the things we choose to wear and surround ourselves with. We can all pretend to be the most sophisticated and this is the endless game of modern style and social media. It's always been about proving yourself and staying ahead of the game.
The ‘Sex Leveller’ and its universal appeal is often cleverly disguised as sophisticated, but ultimately brands can be as clever as they like, but if you’re going to appeal to the mass and biggest market, especially if you’re selling underwear, the sexier the better.
This was pioneered in the 80s, perfected in the 90s and then seemingly forgotten about in the 00s. We can all pretend to like a Sterling Ruby as much as the next man, but it ain’t gonna shift many pairs of underpants. Sex is a leveller and it still sells.
Below Left - Classic Klein starring, Trevante Rhodes, one of the actors from Moonlight. Both campaigns are SS17
So, Raf Simons unveiled his first full collection for Calvin Klein. As about exciting as New York fashion gets, it was an accomplished - of course it was, he's had plenty of experience - collection which, no doubt, Americans are breathlessly hailing as the 'New Look'. but it just looked like yet another Raf Simons collection. Where was the sex?
From Left - Bruce Weber advert for Calvin Klein underwear (1982), FW17 Calvin Klein Collection
Raf Simons showed his own eponymous menswear collection, the week before, with the same leg-warmers-as-sleeves idea he put on the catwalk here. This Calvin Klein Collection was wearably different, yet without any of the minimal sex appeal that Calvin Klein was built upon. Who could forget Kate Moss' nipples in that sheer, simple dress circa '93?
Raf Simons should have added athleticism to the collection in the casting of the models to differentiate between his and this collection. Maybe that'll be coming in future advertising, but if Raf Simons is going to connect and drive sales with the masses who have never heard of him and probably don't care about him, then it needs sex.
Fashion has a strange relationship with sex, but Calvin Klein pioneered the objectification of men and their bodies in advertising through the 80s and 90s. What looks quite tame, today, was revolutionary at the time and the first time men and women really looked at men's bodies.
But, whether it's the 80s or, as Instagram proves, today, people will never tire of looking at firm and worked out men's bodies. Ultimately, as always, sex sells and that's what the new Calvin Klein needs.
Left - Calvin Klein Obsession advertising (1987)
The fashion business likes a ‘category’. The more categories the more product and the more money, hopefully. If only it was that easy.
Designers and brands like to enter a category, be it jeans, underwear or sunglasses, usually partnering with a manufacturing expert in that field, and expand their businesses one category at a time. Take Tom Ford for example, he is just about to go into underwear after mastering jeans, sunglasses, beauty and trainers, in no particular order.
Left - N/A Necessary Anywhere socks available at Oki-Ni & Harvey Nichols
Underwear is one of the biggest money spinners for brands. People will pay a premium for somebody else’s name on their waistband - not really sure why - and entire brands like Calvin Klein and Versace are built on their underwear categories. They can charge a premium for something that is cheap to make.
And while the underwear category has matured into a reliable cash cow for many, the sock business seems so much trickier. There aren’t many designers or brands who have owned the category. With the exception of Paul Smith, designers produce the odd sock for collections, but don’t fully enter or develop the category. It wasn't that long ago that Burberry pulled out of the category and they make everything.
It’s interesting how people are willing to spend on underwear, but not on socks. We do have quality sock brands such as the German Falke and the British Panterella and Corgi, but there seems to be a ceiling on the pricing. People think socks should be cheap and when brands like Vetements and Gucci do socks at high prices - think nearing three figures - they seem like one of the most frivolouss purchases you can make and are usually a one-off show piece rather than entering the category.
The branded sock market seems to fall into two categories: sports and colourful office-type socks. There’s definitely a gap for something in between. So, it was at the recent CIFF fashion trade show in Copenhagen that I found N/A from New York.
When I searched ’N/A New York’ I got plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it actually stands for ‘Necessary Anywhere’ and is influenced by the ‘everyday grind’. To the British that's walking (thought Americans didn't do that anyway!). They believe it’s vital to get up every day with the aspiration to move ourselves forward.
Founded in 2015 by Nick Lewis with six socks, these premium knit socks marry innovative textures with classic colours and patterns. When people pay for socks they usually go for something colourful and playful, N/A seems to have produced a cool sock which marries sports and fashion. They’re about £15, which, while more than your average three pack, aren’t extortionate. They fit somewhere between your smart socks and your sports socks and could, potentially, signal a new category within this difficult category.
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at the Victoria & Albert Museum displays more than 200 examples of men’s and women’s underwear from about 1750 to the present day.
Left - An example of 18th century men's underclothes. I'm guessing this just feel off, eventually!
In particular, it investigates how underwear design combines the practical and personal with the sensory and fashionable, in the process both protecting and enhancing the body.
Right - Not so much underwear, but Michelangelo's David's Victorian modesty leaf
TheChicGeek says, “Situated in the centre of the V&A’s fashion room, this exhibition starts with a room explaining the different constructs and changes in time of men’s and women’s undergarments up to the present day. Ultimately, underwear is there for support and keeping your clothes clean. Sexuality and feeling attractive does play a part, but this room is a clinical look at the architecture of underwear. Men’s examples included 18th century underclothes, underwear in those days meant anything worn next to the skin, Jockey Y-Fronts from the 1950s and Aussiebum's bulge enhancing pants.
Left - 1950s Jockey Y-Fronts & David Beckham for H&M
"Upstairs there was a loose idea of connecting fashion to underwear. What resulted was a disjointed collection of random items including loungewear and corseted outerwear. While nice, it didn’t really pick out the key points or moments in fashion that involved underwear or underwear gravitating into outerwear. Where was the famous Jean Paul Gaultier conical bodice of the late 80s or the 90s Dolce & Gabbana dresses with the bra straps? The exhibition needs a little more sex, there was no Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein images from the 1980s which pioneered the objection of men or the hyper-sexual male images that we’ve seen over the last two decades from the likes of Tom Ford or DSquared. While the underwear is here, the body that goes into them seems to have been forgotten and the two definitely go together."
Until 12th March 2017
Move over Mary Portas! Le Slip Francais is all about home manufacturing: French manufacturing. Founder, Guillaume Gibault, made a bet, in early 2011, with a friend, in a Parisian Café, where he wagered that with an inspiring story and traditional French craftsmanship anything and everything was possible.
Left - Oo La La - Le Slip Francais' Logo
The briefs he imagined, on that fine evening, first saw the light of day a few months later in a small workshop on the banks of the river Drome in the Dordogne which had been producing underwear for the last 60 years. In September 2011, the first consignment of 600 pairs was delivered to Paris in the trunk of a rental car and Le Slip Francais was launched.
Never had the 2,000 villagers of the sleepy commune of Saint-Antoine-Cumond dreamed that their home would soon become the French underwear capital.
Right - Le Slip Francais' colour palette for its underwear and swimwear in based on the three colours of the French flag - Red, White & Blue - Trunks - £25
Three years later with the expansion that followed, partnerships with established brands, two pop-up stores, one store in Paris, Le Slip français celebrated the sale of its 60,000th garment – one of over 120 different lines, created in one of 15 workshops across France.
But, Le Slip Français is much more than a brand of underwear. This dynamic brand fuses French manufacturing tradition and expertise with a modern twist and a sense of humour. The internet has offered them a new way to fund, create, communicate and interact with their brand community worldwide. In achieving this vision they're breathing new life into what had been a declining industry, by creating a brand that is relevant for a new generation of discerning consumers who value quality garments with a genuine story and honest authentic provenance.
Left - For Spring-Summer 2015, another French brand, Aigle, has collaborated with Le Slip Français. Drawing inspiration from classic French style 'Breton stripes' the capsule collection has six statement pieces including swim shorts, trunks, espadrilles, T-shirt, a tote bag and iconic Aigle wellington boots. The colour palette of the collection is based on the French tricolour and the whole collection is made in France.