Saturday, May 16, 2009

Forced to Go Commando

I think most guys are like me and have a pair of “emergency underwear.” It’s that one pair that sits in the back of the drawer, unloved, unwanted, waiting for the rare combination of events where all the other preferred underwear is in the laundry. Men don’t keep the emergency underwear in normal rotation, because there’s always something wrong with them. Sometimes they don’t fit properly, or perhaps they have an unfortunate stain or gaping hole somewhere, but you keep them anyway because you know that someday you’ll need them.

Today was one of those days.

I use my emergency underwear in the same way that I use the “low fuel” light on the dashboard of my car. When I have to wear them, it means I have to go out and shop for underwear.

Unlike most women I know, I hate shopping for clothes. This is because when I shop for clothes, I know exactly what I want, exactly what size, exactly what color. All I need to do is find it, and that’s the problem. I don’t enjoy hunting through the department store maze intentionally designed to distract the casual shopper and compel them to make impulse purchases.

The ideal shopping experience should work like an auto parts store. You walk up to a desk near the entrance and tell them what you want. They look it up and tell you how much it costs. If you agree to the price, someone goes and gets it for you. Then you pay and you leave. But that’s not how department stores work at all.

So with depressed sigh, I put on my emergency underwear and headed for the mall, completely unprepared for the challenge that waited for me.

Our local mall has four anchor stores: Sears, J.C. Penny, Macy’s and Dillard’s. I tried J.C. Penny first. To my dismay, something has happened to the men’s underwear market since the last time I had to wear my emergency underwear. Men’s underwear used to come in two types: Boxers and briefs. But now, there are “boxer briefs,” “trunks,” “low-rise bikini briefs,” “mid-rise briefs,” “pouch briefs” and “seamless briefs.” All of the packages were illustrated with embarrassing photos of impossibly fit, well-endowed male models, even the packages of size 50 low-rise bikini briefs. Who wears those?

What this means is that all of those new choices have forced my particular choice into a minority status. What I wanted was two or three pairs of black standard briefs. I find standard briefs the most comfortable, and black just seems like the logical color for underwear. But I couldn’t find them in my size. Or if I did, there was one black pair in a package of six “fashion briefs,” some red, some yellow, some striped.

Worse, the packages were arranged by size, with the smallest on the top shelf, and the largest on the bottom shelf. I don’t wear the largest, but I sure as hell don’t wear the smallest. I was forced to crawl around on my hands and knees to inspect the packages. How about reversing the arrangement, so the biggest guys can shop comfortably, and the smallest guys don’t have to stand on tiptoe to shop? Seriously, this isn’t rocket science.

I visited all four anchor stores in the mall, and couldn’t find what I want. I drove to Target and Ross, just to see if it was a mall problem rather than an industry problem, and the story was the same everywhere.

So as my current supply of underwear dwindles, there will be days when even my emergency underwear is in the laundry. If I can’t buy replacement underwear that I like, I’ll have to manage without them. Just so you know.