When you consider the words you'd use to describe traditional women's underwear, which adjectives come to mind? Stylish? Tight? Itchy? Impractical? One of my biggest pet peeves about lady's undies is that comfort so often seems a second priority. But after catching wind of the gender neutral underwear on display at Britain's Victoria And Albert Museum in London, it appears that society's perception of what constitutes "masculine" and "feminine" dress is slowly becoming more liberal.
According to The Guardian, the undies are designed by popular Swedish brand Acne, which launched in 2014. They are practical, gratifyingly generic-looking, and significantly less likely to give you a wedgie than your average thong briefs. The knickers are one of a variety of exhibition items for the "Undressed: A Brief History Of Underwear" presentation, which is aiming to investigate underwear's role as both protector and oppressor of the female body. The collection also includes whalebone Victorian corsets and a 1960s Mary Quant body stocking.
So in the light of how restrictive women's underwear has historically been, what does the exhibition's inclusion of these gender-neutral practical pants suggest for the future of women's underwear? And what positive steps does it suggest for gender fluid dressing in general?
Gender Neutral Underwear, $60, acnestudios.com
Well, one indication can be found in the words of Acne's Creative Director Jonny Johansson, who told The Financial Times, "It's underwear for real kids, not models. I often end up with some androgynous perspective, because I find it challenging and inspiring." Chief Executive Mikael Schiller also told the publication, "Our... conversation at Acne is that we don't want to be cute."
Of course, it is quite encouraging that the forward-thinking Swedish brand is making a conscious move away from designing women's underwear for the male gaze, instead crafting a garment that's satisfactorily utilitarian. But the museum's inclusion of the underwear also suggests that maybe, just maybe, society as a whole is beginning to see that women deserve comfortable undies too.
After all, whether you wear men's briefs on the regular or borrow your boyfriend's boxers on lazy Sundays, women donning men's underwear certainly isn't a new concept. In fact, according to British department store giant Marks And Spencer, half of its men's underwear is currently purchased by women. Now, it's not certain what percentage of these women are purchasing for other people versus themselves, but it does prove that "men's" underwear is certainly no longer the sole possession of guys.
Feminist writer Eleanor Morgan told The Guardian that wearing traditionally masculine underwear is indeed a feminist move. "To me, it's a welcome and marked move away from the thongs of youth, and quite frankly, a step towards equality."
And really, should the cloth you cover your bits with be anybody else's business? Why is it so taboo for women to choose boxer briefs or for men to opt for thongs? It appears V&A Curator Of Textiles And Fashion Edwina Ehrman is in agreement. "They are part of a bigger story about people rejecting conventional ideas of masculine and feminine, and making their own choices about what they feel right in [...] They have got people talking, and, most importantly, thinking, about how nuanced gender really is," she told The Guardian.
Here's hoping the rest of the world follows in the Victoria And Albert's steps for the inclusion of gender neutral undergarments at retailers, museums, and in popular culture.
Images: Courtesy Acne Studios