Mirror, Mirror: Tighty whiteys? All righty, say the fashion arbiters for men

There was a time when white cotton undies reminded me of my dad.

In other words, definitely not fashionable.

And so . . . not . . . hot.

But then there was Mario Lopez posing for his underwear line Rated M.

And Tim Tebow for Jockey.

And David Beckham for Bodywear for H&M.

Suddenly, the tighty whitey, and all of the T-shirts and tanks that go with it, are kind of - pause for some throat-clearing - sexy.

As men's underwear revenue increases - the NPD Group reported that total men's underwear sales jumped 6.4 percent, from $3.08 billion in 2010, to $3.28 billion in 2011 - men's white briefs are getting a makeover.

"Yes, we are seeing a change in the plain white brief," confirmed Thomas Longo, owner of Metro Men's Clothing on Philadelphia's East Passyunk Avenue. "It's about fabric, texture, and breathability as much as it is about fashion."

Male shoppers are starting to go old-school in their undergarments for two reasons: new technology and a shift in mainstream men's fashions from slovenly to stylish.

I'll start with technology.

Brands from Adidas to Jockey to Michael Kors are using high-tech fabrics in their brief designs that wick away moisture and allow for more movement.

"There is white stretch, white with contrast waistbands, white perforated panels, and white textured rib knits," said Tom Julian, trend expert and retail consultant for the Tom Julian Group, discussing the surfeit of white options in retail today.

But even more influential, explained Mo Moorman, director of public relations at Jockey, is that men are finally realizing that their wardrobe may require more than one style of underwear. If a guy wants to wear pants with slimmer fits, boxers can be too bulky, not to mention that waistbands peeking out from pants is so yesterday.

"Men are dressing up more, and they are starting to look at underwear more like foundation," Moorman said.

George Haralambous, merchandise manager for Adidas Accessories, points to the growing popularity of a newer underwear style called the trunk: slightly shorter than boxers, but longer than classic white skivvies.

And most important, these trunks are snugger. So yes, fellas, there are no panty lines.

"The trunk's emerged out of fashion," said Haralambous. "It's all about the snugger fit."

Haralambous said Adidas' Sport Performance Underwear line is selling well in bold reds, neons, and cobalt blue.

That brings me to my next point.

Billboards of Calvin Klein-perfect bods may want us to believe that virile men are vying to wear white - and after seeing David Beckham on Super Bowl night, I do want them to.

Guys, however, aren't quite there yet. They may dig the new silhouette, but they need more time to get acquainted with the white their dads wear.

That doesn't mean fighting the white fight is useless. Everyday guys adopt fashion changes a little slower than women - it took nearly 10 years for men to dump their droopy drawers and embrace a snugger silhouette.

So if celebrities keep posing in the white retro look - I'm thinking actor/heartthrob Idris Elba could be next - the tighty whitey will be back before we know it.


Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.