by Ki Hackney

Where did boxers come from?
We wondered. They didn’t start with the college team variety that my colleague’s son insisted on when he was in grade school or the Calvin Klein boxer briefs with a banded leg that this same young man prefers today, at 25 years old; in gray.

While remnants of leather loincloths have been dated as early as 5000 B.C.E., pull-on underwear—with long, baggy drawers called braies—was developed during the middle ages. Every man wore them, even the knights. By Victorian times, these drawers were much more form fitting, while the Industrial Revolution and mass production introduced machine-made underwear for stores.

Polka dotted silk boxers in olive green, orange, and blue, $145.00 each, from Peter Elliot Blue, 997 Lexington Avenue at 72nd Street, 212-570-5201.

Cotton boxers in very colorful stripes and checks plus pink/orange/yellow madras-like plaid linen boxer, $85.00 each, from Peter Elliot Blue at 997 Lexington Avenue at 72nd Street, 212-570-5201.

During the 1930s, with the advent of elastic waistbands, button-free, tie-free drawers became the first true boxer shorts, named after those worn by professional fighters that allowed for plenty of leg motion. A soldier’s issue during World War II included olive drab underwear, although the color had more to do camouflage than fashion. The development of Lycra® spandex changed everything again, particularly in the ‘60s, and the boxer-briefs roller-coaster was under way again until the ‘70s and ‘80s when Calvin Klein helped turn briefs into fashion and Joe Boxer’s glow-in-the-dark boxers that beamed “no” in the daytime and “yes” at night and the company’s other goofy patterns helped move boxers out from under and into sleepwear, casual wear, etc. Boxer briefs – body contouring briefs with the longer leg of boxers—pretty much completed the modern scenario.

Left: Victorian hearts say “I Love You” on these low-rise boxers from 2(x)ist, $17.50 each, at Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street, 212-705-2000.

Right: Burberry’s classic plaid cotton boxers, $45.00, at Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street, 212-705-2000.

…Until last week when we started asking some of our favorite men’s stores about boxers for spring, and happened upon more news; at Brooks Brothers. This stalwart institution already received a five-star rating among the men at NYSD for having the softest, silkiest woven cotton boxers in town. However, we discovered that in March, Brooks Brothers will be offering all of its styles in a new cotton enriched with the newest stretch fiber available, Dow Chemical’s XLA™ elastic that “blends into the base fiber so that it doesn’t affect the hand of the fabric and there’s no synthetic-y feel or heavy snap when you touch it or pull it,” says the store’s merchandise manager, Jeff Blee. With great enthusiasm, Blee emphasizes that “XLA does not break down from repeated washings or the heat of the dryer!” (The store has been using the fiber for women’s shirts for the past two years for men’s dress shirts since last year.)

“Our standard boxer uses a one-piece construction in the back that has enough shape so that it contours around your body,” says Blee. “This spring we are also offering a new shorter and slimmer boxer “so that it can be worn comfortably with the straighter, slimmer trousers,” says Blee. “So, every fashion style is being offered in both fits, and we will also testing the slimmer fit with a touch of stretch in it.”

Top: Gingham checked cotton boxers in full cut style (aqua and white) and slim-cut style (light blue and white), $19.00 each, from Brooks Brothers at 1 Church Street at Liberty Plaza, 212-267-2400; 346 Madison Avenue at 44th Street, 212-682-8800; and 666 Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street, 212-621-9440.

Above: These plaid boxers are in the same sherbet colors, but one is the classic full cut cotton style, and the other (on top) is the new slim cut boxer in cotton with XLA® elastic, and it is $22.50 at Brooks Brothers, 1 Church Street at Liberty Plaza, 212-267-2400; 346 Madison Avenue at 44th Street, 212-682-8800; and 666 Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street, 212-621-9440

Inset: Red/blue plaid; red/pink hearts; and red, white and blue striped boxers are rolled together in a neat little Valentine, $52.00 for the box of three, from Brooks Brothers at 1 Church Street at Liberty Plaza, 212-267-2400; 346 Madison Avenue at 44th Street, 212-682-8800; and 666 Fifth Avenue at 53rd Street, 212-621-9440.

“Boxers are part of a gentleman’s wardrobe,” says Paul Stuart merchandise manager, Sandy Neiman, “and younger people are starting to wear boxers these days…often sticking out of their khakis,” which Neiman doesn’t consider very gentlemanly, but he acknowledges it’s a look. While, like lots of men, he is personally more comfortable with blue boxers and has been since prep school, Neiman keeps his department stocked with boxers in an ever-changing array colors, stripes, checks, and other patterns, even regimental stripes; sometimes in the finest Italian and English dress shirt fabrics. All these different colors and fabrics “are a quiet little adventure that men can take on their own,” Neiman concludes. “Boxers are a place where men can have fun with their clothes.”

Left: Sorbet striped cotton, full-cut boxers in line, strawberry, or mango/lime, $39.50 each, at Paul Stuart, Madison Avenue at 45th Street, 212-682-0320.

Right: Aqua plaid full cut cotton boxer and yellow plaid trim cut boxer, $34.50 each, at Paul Stuart, Madison Avenue at 45th Street, 212-682-0320.


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Week 2: The Power of Style.

Week 3: The Passionate Shopper: Running with Leggings.

Week 4: One Blue Blazer.

Week 5: The Passionate Shopper: Seeing Red.

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2/1/07: The Passionate Shopper's Ultimate Skin Care Products.






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