Secret to his shape may be Undergear instead of exercise

August 21, 2006|By TANIKA WHITE | TANIKA WHITE,SUN REPORTER

Guys, you say you don't care about your looks, about crow's-feet or a stubborn little paunch.

But we know better.

If you weren't vain, a company that sells men's underwear wouldn't be successfully selling "body-shaping" undergarments and padded boxer briefs.

You heard right: padded underwear for men.

Undergear, a manufacturer of men's underwear, undershirts and pajamas, has found a huge hit in what was at one time for it a slow, but steady seller: figure-enhancing undergarments that flatten the beer gut, slim thighs and round the butt.

"We've been offering them for more than five years," says Neil Mulhall, Undergear's president, "but it's really just coming to light recently. The pages in our catalog [that showcase enhancement underwear] are some of our most successful pages. So it is growing."

It's not much of a surprise that some guys are buying the male equivalent of their girlfriend's girdle. It was bound to happen, as men have slowly become more comfortable with how they groom themselves and what products they use, such as moisturizers and hair gel.

"We're all vain," Mulhall says. "Men and women, all of us."

"We're much more body-conscious these days," says Kevin Troy, 42, a stylist at a hair salon near Charles Village, who wears Undergear. "Even the straight men just want to look good."

And, like women, they'll go to great lengths to do it.

"You can go back to the Romans and Augustus and Caesar. They were freaks! Total narcissists," says Kelly Rae, fashion and grooming director at Stuff magazine. She says the media have helped to demystify grooming barriers for men.

As a fashion expert, Rae says, she's glad that men are finally having to suffer through the same kinds of vanity-induced drama women have endured for years. But she's turned off by the idea of body-shaping underwear for men.

"What happens when the pants come off and you've got your man sitting there in thigh-slimming briefs?" she says. "It'll be a bit disappointing."

Undergear sells various styles of underwear that lift and pad the butt area, giving men a fuller, rounder bum.

"Our second-most popular product in the last season was the padded butt brief," says Jean Jones, vice president of marketing for Undergear.

The company's Shape Enhancer pieces range in price from $9.99 for cotton-spandex thong underwear to $26.99 for body-trimming tank tops designed to flatten abs. The line has eight types of underwear and three styles of undershirts. Sales have increased significantly since the line was launched and currently outstrip other Undergear garments by 50 percent, say officials from the New Jersey-based company.

Marketing materials for the products appealed to men's growing comfort with their own vanity.

"Despite the lack of time for push-ups and sit-ups, men still want to look great in their clothes, minus the love handles," declares a blurb in an Undergear release.

Troy, the Baltimore hair stylist, knows this all too well.

He has worn out his pair of padded butt briefs and is in need of new ones.

"I have no [butt]," says Troy, turning to show off his sagging jeans pockets.

But when he once wore his coveted pair of "butt draws," as he calls them, to a party, female friends couldn't stop gushing about his new, er, assets.

"I told them I had been doing squats," Troy says, laughing.

He has been sold on the beauty trick ever since. Hence the "worn-through" initial pair.

But not everyone is convinced.

Cortez Washington, for example, a 33-year-old supervisor for UPS, is a very careful dresser, meticulously groomed and even buys salt scrubs to keep his hands soft.

But Washington draws the line at padded butt briefs. And he won't consider tummy-slimming body shaper underwear.

"I understand caring about the way you look," says Washington, peering through Dior sunglasses. "But that's just carrying it a little too far. I'm open to trying new things. But a girdle? I'm not open to that."

tanika.white@baltsun.com

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