An Underwear Line Wants to Change the Way You Think About Gender

The latest trend isn’t about thongs or granny panties—it’s about comfort and androgyny.

(Photo: Play Out/YouTube)

May 31, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

“At first I thought it was a lanyard. It’s so weird,” says the comedian Robie Sherrard, holding a tangled, elastic contraption that he compares to a rubber band.

It is, in fact, a black lacy thong, but the rather ordinary undergarment proves quite puzzling for Sherrard, who spends two minutes examining it in a YouTube video that was uploaded earlier this week and has since been viewed more than 1.5 million times.

The nearly 1,000 comments include one from a woman who says G-strings are so difficult to decipher that she wore one sideways for half a day without even noticing it.

Abby Sugar and Sylvie Lardeux, two New York City academics turned fashion designers, envision a world where women no longer struggle with such below-the-belt confusion. Their sporty underwear company, Play Out, which values comfort over constriction, bills itself as the world’s first gender-neutral underwear collection.

Model posing after mastectomy. (Photo: Courtesy
Play Out)

The intimates line was launched last year on Valentine’s Day after Lardeux, a French neuroscientist and researcher, grew exasperated with current underwear offerings. “We met here in New York, and she was trying to buy underwear and could not find anything that she wanted to wear,” Sugar says. “A lot of underwear has been made specifically for the male gaze, so that means it’s not necessarily the most comfortable.”

RELATED: Photos Show How Popular Fashion Leaves Uncomfortable Marks

So the couple designed their own brand of non-gender-specific underthings, which fall into just two categories: briefs and trunks. Neither is specifically designated for men or for women, although the trunks are made with “a little extra fabric in the front,” says Sugar.

Both the briefs and the trunks look like a cross between men’s boxer briefs and women’s “boy shorts,” except they’re adorned with graphic patterns and bold colors. (The motherboard-print undies called “Wired” are Play Out’s best seller. “Everybody is nerdy just like us,” says Sugar, a freelance writer and editor who graduated with an English literature degree from Barnard College.) The underwear is worn on the runway by models whose gender is ambiguous—and that’s the point.

The year-old line exists at the convergence of two emerging trends that challenge traditional beauty standards: gender-neutral clothing and—shocking—comfortable underwear. Fashion designers including Gucci, Moschino, and Prada have this year embraced androgyny by integrating male and female models wearing the same clothing collections on their runways. The British department store Selfridges recently debuted a gender-neutral clothing store, making the trend available to the masses. When 16-year-old rapper and Twitter star Jaden Smith was photographed wearing a dress last month—and again at a high school prom this weekend—the Internet went nuts, with some anointing him an “ambassador for gender equality.”

So, Why Should You Care? Underwear isn’t exactly a driving force for gender equality, but it could be an indicator of shifting attitudes toward body positivity. The New York Times recently cited sales figures showing that thongs are declining in popularity and “granny panties,” or fuller styles, are seeing an increase in sales—which means comedian Sherrard may soon have to find some new material. Meanwhile, some analysts cite slumping sales of Spanx—the supertight underwear intended to slim and smooth women’s waistlines—as a shift toward natural-looking bodies, curves and bumps included.