It was just a briefs story until someone decided men's underwear needed a change.
Now it has become a strong fashion statement. From the likes of Joe Boxer, Nicole Miller, Charles Goodnight, Shady Character, Calvin Klein and Jockey come boxers in silk and cotton prints and plaids, mid-thigh knits in locker-room gray, old-fashioned button-ups and lace-ups and avant-garde thongs. Prices range from about $6 to about $55.
The classic Y-front white knit brief is still a favorite. Led by Hanes and Fruit of the Loom, briefs outnumber boxers 7 to 1 in U.S. sales, according to the National Knitwear Manufacturers Association in Morristown, N.J.
But boxers -- with some 70 million pairs sold last year -- are gaining.
What's helping is the trend launched by brave souls who bare their boxers in public. It's a pop culture thing, whether they show through torn jeans, hang below sports shorts or are deliberately revealed -- on stage by the likes of teen singing idol Marky Mark, and others elsewhere.
"It's a street fashion look that's got humor, personality and an element of sexual attractiveness," says Tom Julian, fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association, a New York-based trade group. "It's something new growing out of something that's a staple."
Denise Slattery, vice president of Joe Boxer, agrees.
"Putting your underwear right up front is the ultimate in forward fashion," she says, noting that on both coasts club-bound guys are wearing boxer shorts over Lycra tights with tank tops and Doc Martens.