My family and I have recently tried to define "whitey-tighties." I thought they were men's briefs that are short: no legs, not high up the belly. But both my wife and my daughter believe that "whitey-tighties" includes men's underwear with legs on them, as long as they're made of a knit fabric as opposed to a woven fabric. I would call those knit boxers, and I would call woven boxers just plain boxers.
What's your definition? Does it matter how tight the legs are?
Dear Old Dad
DOD: I'm going to hazard the guess that either 1) your wife buys your underwear for you or 2) you haven't replaced yours in, oh, 10 years. There's also the possibility that 3) your daughter buys your underwear for you, but I don't have the space to go through all the Oedipal implications of that. So, let's just assume that you haven't been to the underwear department (and it is, indeed, becoming a department of its own these days) in a while. Well, you're in for a surprise, DOD. Underwear is now funderwear. It comes in a rich (some would say "bewildering," some would say "mesmerizing") variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it's meant to be seen, not just worn.
Blame it all on (some would say "bend down and kiss the toes of) Calvin Klein. When he and photographer Bruce Weber posed that tanned guy in front of that white wall on that Greek island in those white skivvies back in the '80s, men's underwear turned into men's lingerie overnight. What can I say, the things were sexy, which is weird, when you think about it, because they were just a pair of what you so cutely call "whitey-tighties," DOD. Cognoscenti - i.e., everybody but you - refer to them as "tighty-whities," not "whitey-tighties." But that's not the point. The point is, it could have been my dad in front of that wall. He'd worn tighty-whities since before the war.
He didn't call them that, of course. He didn't call them anything, if he could avoid it. Remember, the Victorians used to refer to underwear as "unmentionables" - they that shall not be named. But Calvin Klein, as I mentioned, changed all that. He put the "homo" back in "homoerotic." He also put the "hetero" back in "homoerotic." Discerning straight men, soon to be known as metrosexuals, embraced designer labels, and the rest is history. I won't go into the Boxer Rebellion of the '90s, since I've never liked boxers, which do a funky-bunch number when you're pulling your jeans on. But that whole "Boxers or Briefs" smackdown now seems to be a thing of the past. Guys don't tend to wear boxers these days, or briefs. They wear boxer briefs.
These are basically briefs with boxer-length legs, and I can see why guys like them, especially during winter. The question is: What shall we call them? "Boxer briefs" is obviously a compromise dreamed up by a marketer trying to appeal to both sides of the Great Divide. (When was the last time you saw a boxer boxing in some? Exactly.) Technically, they're tighties, because, as you pointed out, they're knit, not woven. They stretch to fit. But "tighty-whities"? Most of them aren't white. So, maybe just "tighties," which happen to come in various lengths. Does it matter how tight the legs are? Yes, I think it does, and by that logic, boxers should be called "loosies."
Why have boxer briefs, henceforward to be known as mid-thigh tighties, won over today's boys-into-men? I could blow all sorts of smoke up your tighty-white ass over that one, but I think this quote from a concerned parent says it all: "They keep the boys in place but aren't too tight."
To hear men swear about menswear, write to: Mr. Right, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or call 251-1206, ext. 152. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.