By Adam Welsch
As a guy, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for women to shop for intimate apparel. There’s an astounding variety of bras, panties, and shapewear on display in every clothing store’s lingerie department, and the hunt for the right piece must feel overwhelming when you don’t know exactly which style, size, and color you want to buy. Also, intimate apparel is just that – intimate. It must be difficult to ask for help from salespeople who are total strangers, or have other shoppers watch what you pull off the rack, when the items you’re looking at are normally hidden from the outside world. So, it’s not at all surprising that I usually receive confused, anxious, suspicious, and sometimes even angry looks from women when I walk into an intimate apparel department. But I wonder how many women take a moment to think about how uncomfortable most men are who have to make their way into such foreign territory, or the real reason the men are there?
Now, I’m sure that the first thing that crosses a woman’s mind as she sees a man walking past the bras and panties is “What’s he doing in here? He must be some kind of pervert.” I can understand that thought. But remember, just as women often shop for their husbands’ or boyfriends’ boxers, sometimes men too are sent on underwear-shopping missions by their wives or girlfriends. Of course, we sometimes journey into the department on our own, looking for something sexy as a special-occasion gift for someone special. But when it comes to everyday items like bras, panties, or shapewear, we’ve most likely been given strict marching orders from the significant others in our lives. And disobedience is not an option.
But helpful husbands and boyfriends aren’t the only men earnestly and honorably checking out the latest in cotton, spandex, and microfiber. The intimate apparel industry is filled with male sales reps, buyers, merchandisers, marketers, and all types of corporate suits who find it essential to check out their products, and those of their competitors, in person on the sales floor. Their jobs require them to be there. And many men work in retail positions, as salespeople and store managers, that obviously require regular walks through the fixtures of garments on display.
I can personally attest to how hard it is for guys to walk in among the lace, satin, and bows. As the son of someone “in the business,” I spent many hours over many years following my father through aisles of intimates in all types of stores. While he was constantly assessing his company’s shapewear and bras in light of its competition, I was alternately bored (staring blindly into space) or deeply embarrassed (trying to avoid being seen by other customers and staff). Imagine how mortified a 10-year-old boy must be when he’s trapped inside a sea of women’s underwear and glared at by every girl and woman he sees. And now years later, I find myself “in the business” too, still receiving those uneasy, suspicious stares every time I look at the latest shapewear, bras, or panties, whether I’m in a discount mass-merchandiser, department store, or intimate-apparel specialty boutique.
Perhaps the next time you’re shopping for intimates and see a man making his way tentatively into your domain, you’ll take a moment to remember this posting. Keep in mind he’s likely more uncomfortable than you are. He probably just wants to locate his objective as quickly as possible, buy it, make his way, unnoticed, back across the border to his home territory (the electronics or sporting goods departments), and report “mission accomplished” to his commanding officer. Or, he might be someone “in the business” who possesses an astounding knowledge of women’s undies, and could be willing to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Today, as stores shrink the number of sales associates they make available to help their customers, that “stranger in a strange land” may be just the person to provide the answers to all your questions.
My hope is that someday my military metaphor will no longer apply here. Men’s appearances in lingerie departments will be as unremarkable as those of women in boxer/sock/t-shirt sections. When you stop and think about it, it really would be better if things were the other way around. Instead of worrying about guys who journey “behind enemy lines,” female shoppers should be focusing on finding products to fulfill whatever intimate apparel needs they have, including shapewear and panties that prevent “the lines that are the enemies of behinds.”CC Image courtesy of moufle on Flickrhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/ceaman/ / CC BY 2.0 CC Image courtesy of [F]oxymoron on Flickrhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/f-oxymoron/ / CC BY 2.0