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A No-Frills History of Lingerie for Men

How silk and lace help these men get in touch with their feminine side

It’s time to fix men’s underwear, Kristina and David Bonfield thought to themselves after marrying in Hong Kong in 1986 and honeymooning throughout Mongolia and Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express. The one thing that had kept them warm in the cold Siberian winter was long silk underwear they’d bought in China. The high-waisted bottoms and shapeless long-sleeve top wasn’t sexy, but it was ever-so-warm. More importantly, it was easy to wash and dry when traveling through freezing temperatures. Altogether, it was enough to inspire a “what-if” moment. That is: What if we could take this fabric, dye it a deep red or brilliant blue, and make a men’s brief and tank top out of it?

“Our first three designs were called, ‘It’s time to fix men’s underwear,’” Kristina, now 62, tells me. They published drawings of the silk briefs in local British newspapers (which is where they were based), and people began sending in order requests — along with a crucial piece of feedback. “We received calls from men all over England who said they loved our underwear, but wondered if we could make more feminine designs,” Kristina recalls.

The men admitted to wanting to wear lingerie, but until that point, that desire had meant borrowing their wives’, which was too big in the ass and too small in the groin. After receiving a half dozen calls in one month, the Bonfields realized an entire market was being ignored. So, in 1992, they launched Apres Noir Lingerie for Men, a name chosen because Kristina had spent time in Paris and thought it sounded mysterious. (The name changed to Xdress once they expanded to the U.S. because she says most Americans struggle to wrap their minds around French words.) It was the first brand of women’s lingerie designed to fit men, featuring a collection of bras, panties and bodysuits.

The typical customers, Kristina says, were straight, married truck drivers, farmers and bankers (as opposed to men interested in dressing in drag, who tucked and “didn’t need that extra pouch room that our designs offered.”) “The men said they enjoyed wearing the lingerie under their overalls or suits, as it relieved stress by allowing them to access their feminine side,” Kristina explains. In particular, she adds, the soft silk against their scrotums offered a reprieve from incessantly needing to “man up,” and since no one could see the teddies beneath their coveralls, the respite lasted all day.

Today, nearly 30 years later, Xdress offers a spectrum of sultry offerings men can choose from — panties, bras, garter belts, camisoles, leggings, bodysuits, corsets and nightgowns, all of which are being purchased by an increasingly younger clientele thanks to the brand’s growing social media presence.

Back in the 1990s, though, it wasn’t as easy of a sell. “The majority of the press was disparaging of our lingerie,” Kristina says. All of it definitely leaned toward the amusing, and so, most headlines sounded something like, “Do Men Really Want to Wear This Sort of Thing?” followed by a few jokes. But the Bonfields didn’t care, since it was still getting the word out to the men who really did want to wear this sort of thing. (Eventually, however, they did begin to turn down media appearances — including Geraldo and the Howard Stern Show — because after a certain point, the negative coverage wasn’t doing them any favors.)

Barbara Winter, a men’s sex therapist in Florida, says the urge for straight men to wear lingerie stems from a desire to relieve anxiety by physically holding femininity close. “This fetish achieves that goal,” Winter explains, pointing to the work of Robert Stoller, a psychiatrist with the Gender Identity Clinic at UCLA who in the mid-1950s first introduced the term “gender identity.” As Stoller argued in his 1968 book, Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity, men seek to connect to their feminine side first, a desire that can persist into adulthood. “He will have some idea of what it means to be feminine, to the extent of having such fantasies as ‘I should like to have a baby’ or ‘I should like to have breasts,’” Stoller wrote. “And yet a man with a sense of being feminine while crossdressing is excitedly aware of being a male. Essential to his perversion are the two aspects of gender identity: the latter one, I am feminine, and the earlier core identity, I am (nonetheless) a male.”

Male partners putting on women’s undies can greatly benefit a relationship explains Emily Masters, a British author who’s written more than two dozen books about erotic feminization and lingerie discipline — including A Love of Lingerie: For These Couples, Women’s Underwear Isn’t Just for the Girls! and Tales From His Lingerie Drawer: In These Stories, It’s the Men Who Wear the Panties — all of which relate to the fetishistic side of being a part-time woman, also known as sissification. As Masters tells me, men lace up lingerie — and ladies like watching them do so — for a number of reasons.

To begin with, lingerie is often a welcome departure from the plain, practical underwear men are used to. “A pair of silky panties or nylon stockings feels strangely electrifying against the skin,” Masters says. “A bra or basque has an unfamiliar tightness to it and often includes frills — clasps, straps and wires, ribbons, lace and bows — that are foreign to men’s clothing. All the while, sexy associations allow men to access off-limits parts of women’s bodies they’re naturally attracted to.”

Then there’s the thrill of no one knowing what he’s hiding underneath his suit and tie. “A risk of discovery adds excitement to an otherwise mundane business meeting,” Masters notes. “And later, it can spark things up between the sheets. Reversing roles in the bedroom and beyond allows a man to take a break from being uber-manly and express otherwise repressed aspects of his personality.”

Likewise, she points out, women share many of the same reasons for wanting to see their men in lingerie — namely, it’s a display of their softer, more submissive side as well as taboo. “I find the idea of a man willingly putting himself in a predicament for me profoundly arousing,” Masters admits. “My husband is very much a man and I wouldn’t want him to be otherwise, but it’s a real turn-on to see him submit to something silky as a means of showing his love.”

She’s referring to lingerie discipline, or making a man wear women’s underthings to change his behavior (e.g., requiring him to wear panties at work so he’ll remember her). “I might have my husband wear a bra to remind him who his real boss is,” Masters explains. “Or strap him into an uncomfortable, tight bra as a penance for making insensitive comments.”

Hoping to speak with men who have an affinity for playful rompers and black thigh-highs, I visit the MenInLingerie subreddit — tagline: “Lace Isn’t Just for Girls” — which has a modest but active 546 subscribers. There I meet Danny, a 52-year-old married man from Southern California who tells me he’s “mainly heterosexual” despite a few hookups with male high school classmates. He was first introduced to guys wearing lingerie while surfing for porn on Tumblr, and the more he saw of it, the more he found himself seeking it out for himself. “I’ve never really been attracted to guys, but a feminized cock I apparently find enticing,” he admits. The logical next step was to try some lingerie on, beginning with his wife’s panties despite them being far too small for him. “The naughty factor was a real turn-on,” he says, as his “very vanilla” wife knew nothing of his panty predilection. (Telling her, he explains, “wouldn’t go over well at all.”) He’s since started buying his own silk online, starting with this clingy, fishnet bodysuit.  

A similarly “mostly straight” 32-year-old man named Vic from “somewhere in the southern hemisphere” tells me he also wears lingerie for the taboo factor. “I enjoy breaking the rules and feeling naughty,” he says, adding he enjoys lace, g-strings and “anything that makes my ass look good.” That currently includes three bra-and-panty sets and eight additional pairs of panties (give or take).

Meanwhile, Elijah, a 24-year-old from Hawaii who puts himself “at about a five on the Kinsey Scale,” was wearing a black lace crotchless thong under a mesh wrestling singlet when I was introduced to him. “I’m attracted to mesh because it’s slutty,” he explains, noting it’s the “juxtaposition” he likes most about wearing lingerie. “I’m husky and hairy, but I immediately become ladylike in lingerie.” I ask if he’s ever crossdressed fully, but he dismisses the question outright — wigs and makeup would totally ruin his beloved juxtaposition. “Gentlemen’s Closet produces videos of guys in stockings, pantyhose and garter belts, all of whom have GREAT juxtaposition,” he emphasizes.

For his part, Alex, a straight 32-year-old from Montreal, owns 30 bras, 50 panties, six sexy leggings and a dozen bodysuits. His first memory of crossdressing was wearing a girl’s bathing suit at age four on a playdate. Even then, he recalls finding it “thrilling” to challenge the gender standard. A year later, he asked his mom if he could try on her bra and the rest is history. Alex explains in broken English that he’s particularly interested in bras, since they’re unique to women. Men could conceivably wear thongs, leggings or high heels, but “bras are only made for woman to keep the boobs there. That’s why I gradually been way more into bra than anythings else.” He concedes that bras are useless on a man, but nonetheless encourages men to wear them and anything else that brings joy — “short things, soft things, lacy things, sexy things, colorful things, girly things.”

Still, despite Alex et al’s passion for lace, a considerable fear floats throughout r/MenInLingerie/: getting caught with a hand in the panty drawer. Rakesh Mahtolia, owner of Snazzy Way, an Indian lingerie brand with offerings for both men and women, tells me the most common comment he receives on his blog is, “I want to try, but what if my wife catches me?” He eschews these concerns in a YouTube video entitled, “How To React When Your Wife Catches You Stealing Her Panties and Bra.” His tips include:

  • “Don’t feel guilty, dirty and awful. Explain to her why were you doing that anyway.”
  • “Laugh and tell her that this is the most common fetish that many men have.”
  • “Tell her you love her and appreciate her for being your pillar.”
  • “Get a grip man! A real man — a man full of love, conviction and with sky-high high self-esteem and confidence in himself; a man in control of his life will first and foremost accept himself for who and what he is and won’t feel compelled to apologize for it! A real man — a strong man, a man of strength and courage — won’t attempt to hide his feminine side from anyone and for those who haven’t come to terms with this simple truth yet, know that no human being is 100 percent male or 100 percent female.”

“A man who wears women’s lingerie is more than just a man,” Mahtolia tells me personally, while also noting that Snazzy Way recently passed the 5,000-customer mark. “He’s more sensitive, a better person, a better father, a better husband and even a better employee.”

The latest feminine nightwear for men to hit the market comes from Australia. HommeMystere was established in 2009 by husband-and-wife duo Brent and Lara Krause and has sold more than $1 million worth of lacy bras, matching knickers, silk nighties, baby dolls and body suits in more than 30 countries. The inspiration stemmed from Brent’s frustration with the same old offerings in the department store men’s underwear aisle while the women’s section was bright and colorful. “I thought, Why can’t we have a piece of that?” he tells me. “I could never understand why women’s underwear was made from lightweight fabrics and soft mesh while ours were the opposite.”

That said, he likens starting a men’s lingerie business to swimming upstream and “every now and again encountering a flood, like when suppliers initially refused to work with us based on the garment styles.” Case in point: This recent mocking tweet from Donald Trump Jr., which went viral and caused his followers to ridicule HommeMystere as part of a larger “feminization” movement that’s courting “confused” American men.

As for me, after spending the past week studying men’s lingerie, I came to the same conclusion as redditor Danny: I needed to try some on. But alas, I haven’t a wife, girlfriend or coworker to steal panties from, so I asked the Krauses to send me some of their best-sellers.

The taboo element is indeed invigorating, which I realized after wearing the mint lace Chloe Bra all day at the office, matched with the hot pink Bianca panty under my Levi’s. I found it deviously amusing to keep a naughty little secret from my coworkers while listening to them drone on in the conference room. And I momentarily considered surprising my upcoming Grindr date with a silky Nadia Nightie.

That feeling, though, quickly wore off. The fact is, I’ve never struggled to access my feminine side. (I was a Whiffenpoof, after all.) But, like spank and equine therapies — both of which I’ve investigated for this magazine — I can definitely see how some guys might find benefit from ceding their masculine control for a few hours by sliding into a camisole.

After all, you dress like the person you want to be, right?