As creative director Melissa Oyler and I looked through photos of sexy men stripped down to their skivvies for this week's cover, we couldn't suppress the puns. We just knew this was going to be "a great package" ... of stories. After we'd pored over a dozen or so different images of male underwear models, Melissa made the decision to just "play around with the photos and see what comes up."
Ah, underwear. We all (probably) wear it. We've all (probably) seen someone else in his or hers. And yet, when the idea of devoting this issue's cover to underwear came up, female staffers tittered. "That's hilarious," said one of my male editors, his eyes a little wide.
Well, it's about time for a little lighthearted fun, don't you think? The news coming out of Raleigh the last few months, as the General Assembly proposed and somehow passed controversial bills on women's health care, voting, guns and more, has been so disheartening. Didn't you get just a little depressed when you read the words "General Assembly"? I hated to write it.
How about we talk about panties and boxers instead?
— Kimberly Lawson
The right fit
Retail veteran Dan Mauney opens a men's underwear shop
By Kimberly Lawson
"What kind of underwear are you wearing right now?" I ask Dan Mauney casually. He's leaning against a bare wall in a recently renovated space in South End. (For the record, this is probably the only time I'll pose this question to a man I'm not dating.)
Mauney hesitates for a moment, as if he's trying to remember what pair he pulled on that rainy morning we meet at 1426 S. Tryon St. Is Mauney, a 20-year veteran in the retail business, a boxers kind of guy? Briefs? Banana hammock? He pulls down the beltline of his jeans a little to show me the name etched across the elastic band. Today, he's sporting Andrew Christian trunks.
"This is their gold label — they come in gold and silver," he answers with a grin. He chose that pair, he says, "because it makes me feel sexy. And also I just did [a fitness] boot camp and I'm in pain so I wanted something soft."
His new retail venture will benefit from his outgoing personality. In just a few weeks, he will open Brief, a men's underwear, swimwear and loungewear boutique. In recent history, it is the first store of its kind in Charlotte.
"Underwear is typically crammed in a corner of a department store," Mauney, 42, says. Brief will turn men's underwear into more than just an afterthought. Products include everything from tighty-whitey briefs and boxer-briefs to jock straps, with a variety of brands like Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Polo, 2(x)ist and Andrew Christian. Brief will also carry compression shorts for athletes, speedos and board shorts for swimmers and lounge pants and T-shirts for weekend couch potatoes, among other products.
"We'll probably have 2,000 items on the floor at any time," Mauney says. The 1,100-square-foot space is only a small portion of the larger warehouse space Mauney is renting. (There's also room for the soon-to-follow shoe store Shu, offering women's shoes, handbags and accessories, as well as a 3,000-square-foot event space for trunk shows and cocktail parties.)
The idea for a shop specializing in men's underwear came about five years ago, when Mauney organized and hosted Brief, a fashion show featuring hot male models stripped down to their stylish skivvies to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"I kept bringing in all this great underwear to showcase, and afterward, people would ask where they could buy it," Mauney says. "There's no [men's] underwear store in Charlotte."
The day I visit, there's not much to see in Brief. But the store's clean white walls, white cabinetry, glassy, white epoxy floors and exposed industrial ceiling present a blank canvas for sophisticated fashion. "We wanted that whole idea of the color of the underwear, the fashionable colors, becoming the décor," Mauney says.
The last time Mauney was behind the counter at a retail store, it was at Step By Sloan, where he sold women's shoes. He says selling footwear is probably one of the hardest retail businesses to be in. "You've got to know exactly what you're doing or you're going to get yourself in trouble. Running a ladies shoe store was very high service."
In the same sense, he says, "dealing with underwear, with fit and quality," Brief will also "be a very high-service store."
David Watkins, owner of the custom men's clothing line and four-month-old brick and mortar store Abbeydale, knows what it's like to offer such a specialized retail concept to men, tailoring shirts and suits to fit. He says the attentiveness to clients is going to be vital to any shop with a niche, targeted audience. Prior to opening his Uptown store four months ago, Watkins operated an appointment-only studio for several years, taking the time to talk fabric, style and fit with each of his clients.
"When you're selling men's clothes, a lot of it has to do with the relationship" with customers, Watkins says.
Mauney has become an expert of sorts on what men look for in their underwear; he's smooth as silk boxers when he talks about fit. "Guys are vain," he says. "We need support. We need enhancement. We need downplay. You've got a lot down there but you need support, or you don't have a lot down there and you need to make it look like you've got a lot down there. There's a lot of components."
What is Charlotte wearing underneath it all?
*From a sampling of roughly 100 people.
Flashing the pastor
Why I've gone pantyless for the last eight years
By Megan Henshall
Tattoos, an affection for horror movies, nail polish that isn't nude or bubble gum pink, ombre hair color — those are just some of the things my mother doesn't understand about me. No. 1 on that list, though, is my aversion to underwear.
In college, when I realized that I had no idea how to do my own laundry properly (nor desire to learn), I ran out of clean underwear and hesitantly went "commando" for the first time. That was it for me. I had inadvertently liberated myself from elastic prison and started an ongoing mother/daughter battle.
"What if you get into a car accident and the first responders see your nunu?!" is one repeat argument.
"In a dress? What happens if there is a strong breeze and Pastor So-and-So sees your privates?" is another.
Then there is the most common and brusque, "That's just nasty, Megan."
From what I can gather via the Internet, the term "going commando" originated during the Vietnam War. Apparently, wearing tight clothing in exceedingly hot and humid climates can cause one to contract something adorably referred to as "jungle rot." In an attempt to prevent this condition of nightmares, soldiers would forgo their GI skivvies and go au naturel. Later, college students spread the word and the act. Back home in the States, it wasn't a medical necessity, but rather a statement of rebellion and perhaps solidarity, according to my research.
My own reason for opting to go pantyless for more than eight years is simple. It's far more comfortable. Interestingly, the No. 1 objection that I get from friends, significant others and of course my lovely mother regarding my choice is the exact opposite. Not only does my not wearing the underwear distress them, the thought of going without underwear themselves causes them to make sour lemon faces and blush. "I would sooner die," my mom says tersely.
I think it all comes back to the idea that there is something naughty about walking around in broad daylight with no underwear on. Despite growing up being forced through the heavy doors of a very backwoods Southern Baptist church three times a week, I managed to recover from most of the stigmas. This could be because I spent Sunday School classes daydreaming about playing lead guitar for Jem and the Holograms and writing throbbing poetry to Jordan Knight and missed all the shit about how you should wear turtlenecks and full coverage briefs forever, Amen. It could also be because the same mother who reprimands me now about not wearing clothing under clothing also put me in countless beauty pageants and musical theater productions, at which we both fully accepted showing my naked butt to strangers during quick costume and wardrobe changes.
Modesty is important, as long as it doesn't derail the road to Miss America.
Don't get me wrong, modesty is a virtue, but dressing modestly while remaining on trend is becomingly increasingly difficult. It takes talent and creativity. Do I sometimes wish that I hadn't committed so fully to the backless/cropped shirt trend in the 2000s? Sure, but we aren't even talking about what people can readily see here.
Bottom line, pun intended, is that you should do whatever makes you comfortable, and disregard what anyone else has to say about it. Gold star for that one guy who unapologetically wears a "banana hammock" under his work clothes. Go 'head, sir. In the same respect, I applaud my mother for rocking the hell out of her granny panties for the Lord.
Underwear, or lack thereof, in and of itself isn't naughty or virtuous. We attach connotations to it based upon our own hang-ups, fantasies and wiring. Where we allow our minds to take it is the naughty part.
If Pastor So-and-so had looked twice, that's on him.
Local underwear designer grows his business
Concord-based entrepreneur in talks with nationwide stores
By Ana McKenzie
Ulises Padilla is a lot of things: a native New Yorker, a former banker and an entrepreneur. He's also an underwear designer, and right now, he's excited. In the next few months, he plans on penning contracts with several nationwide department stores to sell his men's and women's underwear lines, Khyng and Empress. He hopes to launch a Valentine and Christmas underwear series so that by December he can leave his job in Charlotte (which Padilla forbid me from naming) and dedicate his full attention to Picante Apparel, the underwear-design company he started in 2003.
The 37-year-old talks fast on the phone from his home in Concord. He and his wife moved to the Charlotte suburb about six years ago from New York mostly to start a family — they now have three children — but to also get Picante off the ground. Starting a business in New York is expensive. Padilla couldn't afford to use local models, photographers and office space, so he outsourced much of the work to different companies in South America. Now he keeps mostly everything local, including shipping items from his two-car garage. He outsources manufacturing to Colombia.
How did a former Bank of America employee get into underwear?
"In high school for some reason I loved wearing ... T-shirts and boxers around the house," Padilla said. "The boxer shorts were cooler than what I was wearing on the outside."
In college, Padilla needed a job and sought the help of a temp agency to find a position he could easily balance with school. He interviewed with a small, family-owned underwear-design company and intrigued the owner, who instantly offered him a paid internship. That position quickly turned into a full-time job, where he picked up some contacts and cultivated a creative side he's had since childhood. He simultaneously enrolled in a local MBA program and for six years, on weeknights and weekends, Padilla learned everything he could about starting a business. While his classmates gave presentations on the evolution of Kellogg's and General Motors, he focused on Victoria's Secret.
At school, he "saw the opportunity to be creative as well as apply a scientific method toward fashion. In other words, if you have an artist who can sing phenomenally but can't package themselves," that artist won't succeed, Padilla said. "You have to have that business part to connect on to [your creative side] and take it to the next level."
Padilla designs men's boxer shorts and boxer briefs and women's underwear, including bras and briefs, in colorful, trendy, whimsical patterns, from his home office. His bigger seller is a pink camo bra-and-panty set, designed intentionally for his audience. The U.S. military's Army & Air Force Exchange Service, Padilla's sole customer, sells his designs on its website (think Amazon for soldiers to purchase items for themselves and their families). But potentially selling to department stores will mean Padilla will have to expand his business. He is looking at office space in Concord and is teaching himself accounting, a slow and painful process, Padilla admits.
"I have to be able to manage the day-to-day activity entirely for the company," he said, especially aspects he doesn't enjoy. "The things I don't like are the things I have to pursue."
Boxers or briefs (or something else)?
In which CL guesses at the underwear of choice for some local well-knowns*
1. Michael Jordan, owner of the Bobcats: Boxers. If the Cats have proved anything, it's that they have no control of their balls.
2. Jerry Richardson, owner of the Panthers: Banana hammock. A man bold enough to swindle Charlotte out of $144 million isn't sporting tighty-whities.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR driver: Man thong. It's built for speed.
4. Hugh McColl, former chairman and CEO of Bank of America: Commando. Hugh McColl can wear whatever the hell he wants — and who are we to point out the emperor has no clothes?
5. Pat McCrory, governor of North Carolina: Cup. Poor Pat's been getting a lot of (deserved) kicks to the junk lately.
*"Participants," email firstname.lastname@example.org should our uneducated guesses on your undergarment choices prove wrong.