Webster’s Dictionary defines an undergarment as an article of clothing worn under visible outer clothes, usually next to the skin. The key word, dear Watson, is “under.” But who cares about the textbook definition? Purple bra straps sit openly on young girls’ shoulders, next to their meager cami straps, claiming equality. Some tops are so sheer that whatever is worn underneath glimmers openly in the limelight. Not long ago, the purpose of an armhole on a top or a blouse was—ahem—to be an armhole. The opening used to be just big enough for the arm to pass through the article of clothing. However, the latest trend is to wear large arm-holed blouses; the holes start right at the shoulder and go all the way to the bottom of the tops. Surely, these armholes have changed their day job? Their sole purpose now is to provide a clear view of what is worn underneath. Before I leave this subject let me also mention the tops that have large circular cutouts in the back. Do these gaping holes exist to make sure that the observer sees and appreciates the bra straps of the wearer?
Looking beyond the coffee shops and malls, one would observe that the underwear exposé has taken showbiz by storm. Many charted performers, including Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry have performed in live music concerts in their granny panties.
Men’s fashion suffers the same plight. Much has been said about young and not so young boys wearing low sagging pants. Several personalities, including President Barack Obama, have severely condemned this look. It is even banned in some cities across the United States. However, in the Public Vs. Julio Martinez case Judge Franco ruled, “While most of us may consider it distasteful, and indeed foolish, to wear one’s pants so low as to expose the underwear, people can dress as they please, wear anything, so long as they do not offend public order and decency. The Constitution still leaves some opportunity for people to be foolish if they so desire.”
Though Justin Beiber, Jay Z, and sometimes even the immaculate David Beckam wear their pants low, leaders from the black community fear that when black kids walk around with their pants on their butts, showing off their underwear, they are simply asking for trouble. Many worry that this look is abetting racial profiling.
After the phenomenal success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Malik S. King, a U.S. Marine put up his very own “Pull Up Your Pants” challenge. “We’re quick in our communities to talk about racial profiling, but what we don’t want to focus on is what we’re doing to contribute to the problem, even if just a little bit. We need to start thinking about how we represent ourselves, how we talk, how we act, how we deal with police. We need to stop talking, acting, and living like thugs, and start talking, acting, and living like men. Stop making the conscious decision to fit the description.”
While psychologists and sociologists have different explanations on why this fad has caught on, I have my very own pet theory about us wanting to be like Superman. You must have heard the old hackneyed joke—“What is the difference between a man and a Superman?” Answer: “A man wears his underwear inside his trousers and Superman wears it over his trousers.” Superman desperately needs a change in wardrobe to differentiate himself from the rest of the population.
The saddest victims caught in the fashion crossfire are middle-aged women. Several ladies are now clamoring for normal, regular clothes. An overworked mom on Mamapedia writes, “… the awful ‘below the waist’ style! I can’t stand it!! For me, they cause muffin top AND show plumbers crack.”
“Who has the time to wear a belt and spend time removing and putting them on every time one uses the restroom,” said a busy mother of two. “I just want to put on a pair of jeans that stays put on my belly. I really don’t want to show off my underwear when I am bending and lifting up my little ones.”
Gone are the days when the neckline of tops started two to three inches below the neck. Plunging necklines have necessitated even older women to show off their camisoles. “I hardly have time to choose a decent top to wear to work. Now I have to figure out a decent camisole to wear inside as well,” says a working mom. There is also the problem of feeling too hot or too snug in a layered outfit.
A whole cottage industry has sprung up to solve this very problem. Chickies Cleavage Coverage offers fake tank tops that one can wear under not-so-modest tops. It is a strapless sports bra-like accessory with high front coverage, meager back support, and harnesses in front to secure it to a regular bra. This decorum accessory was even featured on Oprah and hailed as a must-have wardrobe condiment. A review of Chickies in beautytipsforministers.com: “I mean, this is basically a really expensive version of the old ‘stick a hankie over your bazoom and pin it there, dear.’ Though it seems like a big winner to me, the offerings are just too low and slinky for me to invest $33,” made me chuckle. By the way, the byline for this website is, “Because you are in the public eye and God knows you need to look good.”
“To protect your rear-view from an unwanted game of peekaboo,” Hip-T has created a fifteen-inch wide band made of cotton and lyrca that can be worn around the hips over one’s low-rise pants. Way to go fashion industry! You first created the underwear exposé problem, and then you made us commoners shell out more money to overcome the difficulty you created.
I agree that the select set of people who purchase their undies from Victoria’s Secret and Pink might benefit from showing them off. But the rest of us who buy our undies from Target—or from Naidu Hall if you hail from Chennai—would prefer our undies to be hidden. Thank You.
Vera Wang, Samantha Cole and all you designers out there—there is a huge market for normal, regular clothes that let undies be undies. I guarantee it!
Sujatha Ramprasad is a computer engineer with great love for philosophy and literature.