Style » Fashion

EDGE 10.0: The Decade in Underwear

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Apr 23, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein.

As the premier news, entertainment and lifestyle digital publication catering to LGBT readers, it only made sense that one of the first hires EDGE made when it first saw life as a New England website based out of Boston was a style editor. All four of the letters in "LGBT" are stylish, but the "G" is justifiably well known as a style icon, style setter and all-around stylish guy.

In 2004, the term "metrosexual" was already itself a decade old, but it wasn't until 2002 that the term entered the popular vocabulary. The hit show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" became Bravo's first big hit in 2003; by the next year, it was a bona fide phenomenon. So the timing was perfect for the Style channel.

As a long, hard winter finally gives way to spring and the promise of weather that allow men to show off the bodies they have been hard at work perfecting, it's entirely appropriate that the latest in a series of articles chronicling the last 10 years at EDGE should take a loving look back on a subject near and dear to every gay man's heart - among other parts of the anatomy - underwear and swimwear.

For its Style debut, EDGE chose to feature - surprise! - hot men modeling the latest in swimwear, sleeveless muscle tees and unzipped hoodies on bare chests. The models for "Autumn Heat" were actual EDGE readers who responded to an online "cattle call," as model interviews are known in the fashion world.

In a classic case of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," EDGE would continue the template. As is clearly stated in a feature appropriately subtitled "we prefer the least amount of clothes as possible." Or, as a 2008 headline proclaimed in a feature on Undergear, "It’s all about hot guys in small trunks!"

Within three months of 2011, there were two Undergear features. In one, Curtis Wong profiled the company in "The Evolution of Underwear," while this intrepid reporter undertook a journey where few journalists would tread, trying on for size various swimsuits and underwear. Lest anyone think this was anything but an exercise in humility, the author noted that "I used myself as a model, if only to show how much these bathing suits flatter a real human being who doesn’t exist on lettuce leaves and Marlboro Lights."

Undergear wasn’t the only company to get some TLC. EDGE profiled Teamm8 in two steamy photo shoots. One cautioned "Be warned: some of these are questionably NSFW" - a shameless exercise in click bait, to be sure. Is it any surprise that it was one of the most successful fashion spreads? Another Australian company, AussieBum, also felt the love, not only on the website, but at EDGE-sponsored parties in Boston, Provincetown, Palm Springs, Philadelphia and other cities.

Models proved that they look as good in the flesh as they do online. Alternately thrilling and mortifying thousands of spectators, they were a reminder that Photoshop can’t improve on what nature and nurture hath wrought.

Beginning in 2007, EDGE chronicled the trajectory of Andrew Christian, from his first underwear line, which debuted the year before, through EDGE parties where models gave away tantalizing samples. EDGE was there as Christian conducted his 2008 model search. As they say, if the fox wants to find chickens, he goes to the hen house, so it’s hardly surprising that one of the contests was held on Fire Island.

Jason Salzenstein, EDGE’s first style editor, put his years in the trenches to good use when he compiled ads from underwear companies into a coffee-table book, "Brief Encounters." No doubt combing through thousands of photos of sculpted men undressed for success was hard work, but someone had to do it!

He followed up with a companion book, "Trunk Show," about bathing suit ads. "The reality is that there really isn’t much difference" between one swimsuit line and another," EDGE’s reviewer patiently explained. "So sex is used to move products. No love handles, beer guts or muffin tops here; for that matter, not a whole lot of swimmers’ builds, either."

It was one of several such photo books reviewed. Two reviews reflect the diverging opinions of gay men toward the idealized human specimens on display in underwear photography.

Of one such book, 2013’s "Hombres," our reviewer was probably speaking for many men who disparage the "very little mystery and even less desire in these pictures. It’s too perfect," Michael Cox wrote. "Since nothing is out of place, and the models are definitely not of this world, no one seems vulnerable or human enough to actually be turned on."

Another review, however, of 2012’s "Luminosity," extolled "the amazingly sculpted bodies and movie-star looks" of models who "are uniformly such examples of the kind of perfection human beings can achieve when genes, luck, diet, exercise and who-knows-what-else come together."

Lest you despair that EDGE only profiled photographers who feature the hairless "Chelsea boy" stereotype, lovers of unshaved flesh could revel in "FUR the Love of Hair." The book celebrated a "range of guys from trim to obese, from defined muscle to ample gut," a review noted. "There are plenty of images of big, bigger and biggest guys here."

EDGE’s unabashed and unapologetic coverage of this most vital of subjects led photographers in search of real guys baring (and not infrequently "bearing") themselves in the many underwear parties that have proliferated coast to coast.

In San Francisco, the aptly named Bulge party at the Powerhouse bar gave readers the chance to ogle fun, frisky, furry and certainly fanciful outfits. New York promoter Daniel Nardicio’s popular parties on Fire Island were a favorite subject, as was evident from the many photo albums.

The party that has to be most emblematic of the emergence of underwear to the forefront of gay men’s aesthetic has to be the annual party held on the Friday night of White Party weekend in Palm Springs. As this 2012 photo album shows, men of all shapes and sizes feel comfortable dressing very much down in a public setting.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this phenomenon would lead to a band called the Skivvies, profiled last year. On the other hand, this gay and gay-friendly duo is only playing catch-up to musicians like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Times Square fixture the Naked Cowboy and DJ Scotty Thompson.

Along with the explosive rise of underwear-as-fashion-statement (and the prices to match) came a proliferation of stores dedicated to underwear such as Creative Male in Miami. Such a thing would have unthinkable in times past when underwear was considered merely utilitarian, a way to keep junk in the trunk and keep those last few drops mercifully away from outerwear.

"For decades," New York underwear designer Fu explained to readers, "men’s underwear stayed in the closet, it was a garment that was worn for practical purposes. Then Calvin Klein arrived on the scene in 1982 with the iconic images of Olympic pole-vaulter Tom Hintaus shot on location in the Greek Islands."

Designers try to distinguish their brands, Fu noted, using "playful prints and patterns," although sexy always sells. From the purely utilitarian, nondescript, functional item of clothing, men today use underwear to "express your authenticity."

With sports icons like David Beckham proudly displaying their athletic torsos in advertising campaigns, and even then-President Bill Clinton freely admitting that he preferred briefs to boxers, underwear is out of the closet. EDGE will bravely continue to fight the good fight until every man is free to wear as little he wants, wherever and whenever he wants.

Stay tuned for EDGE’s July 2014 digital magazine, which will feature the latest swimsuit fashions from Addicted and other designers.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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