By Adam Welsch
One of the hottest trends in the intimate apparel industry over the past couple of years has been the growth in sales and availability of men’s shapewear. Compression T-shirts, briefs that both slim and enhance, and tummy shapers, sometimes known as mirdles, have become hot topics of talk shows and fixtures of men’s underwear departments in stores across the United States. But far pre-dating this trend, men, choosing to dress as women, have long been buying bras, panties, and shapewear made for women. It’s pretty difficult to estimate how many men constitute this demographic. But quickly searching the internet for websites discussing crossdressing issues, it’s easy to get a sense of the great strength of this often unrecognized source of intimate-apparel demand.
The purpose of this post is not to provide a subjective assessment of crossdressing. It’s not meant to speak in support of it, nor in opposition to it. Its purpose is simply to shed more light on what’s been a long-standing reality – there are many men who choose to dress in women’s clothing and, therefore, wear women’s lingerie.
Okay, so what exactly is crossdressing? Though there are probably several variations of its definition, let’s use the following one from Wikipedia as our frame of reference:
“Cross-dressing is the wearing of clothing and other accoutrement commonly associated with a gender … that is seen as different than the one usually presented by the dresser … Nearly every human society throughout history has distinguished between male and female gender by the style, color, or type of clothing they wear and has had a set of norms, views, guidelines, or even laws defining what type of clothing is appropriate for each gender. Cross-dressing runs significantly counter to those norms and, therefore, can be seen as a type of transgender behavior. It does not, however, necessarily indicate transgender identity; a person who cross-dresses does not always identify as being of the opposite gender. The term ‘cross-dressing’ denotes an action or a behavior without attributing or proposing causes for that behavior. Some people automatically connect cross-dressing behavior to transgender identity or sexual, fetishist, and homosexual behavior, but the term cross-dressing itself does not imply any motives.”
With this definition as our foundation, let’s proceed assuming a couple of things. First, though some women choose to dress like men, the term “crossdresser” used in this post will refer to those men who choose to dress like women. Second, this discussion will ignore the issue of motivation. Why men choose to wear women’s clothes is beyond the scope of these pages. We’ll just assume that some do.
So how big of hidden market for women’s lingerie do crossdressers compose? Given the reluctance of many of them to be publicly open about their practices, there simply isn’t sufficient polling data to craft a good estimate. But, if we conservatively assume that 1 man in 100 crossdresses, the size of this demographic in the United States alone would be 1.5 million men. That translates into a lot of consumer demand for bras, panties, and hi-waist thigh slimmers.
But what types of undergarments do crossdressers like to wear? Just as you might expect, they wear bras, panties, garter belts, slips and chemises, and various shapewear silhouettes, like bodybriefers, torsettes, and padded rear briefs. Corsets and waist cinchers are especially popular for those trying to create hourglass shapes. Most choose to wear styles that are made for, and marketed to, women; others wear styles designed and fit-tested on male models that better accommodate the obvious anatomical differences between men and women. Of course the sizing of the latter group is calibrated to male physiques, so that its size large panties, for example, are bigger than its size large counterparts designed for women. Many crossdressers also wear silicone breast forms that can be inserted into bras and bodybriefers, or adhered directly to their chests. Bras designed specifically for the crossdresser have cups made with stretchy fabrics that act like pockets to optimally hold breast forms in place. The one item that’s unique to a crossdresser’s intimates wardrobe is called a gaff. A gaff is a panty-like garment that’s used to hide the presence of male genitalia. One might say it’s a special kind of shapewear that flattens and smoothes the area between the legs.
As you might imagine, it can be difficult for many crossdressers to shop for intimates. All men have a difficult time when significant-other accompaniment, or errand-running, takes them into a department store’s lingerie section. Many women shopping in such departments become uncomfortable in the presence of men, and often consciously or subconsciously project that feeling of unease and suspicion towards the interlopers. The difficulty of the excursion can soar for a crossdresser who’s shopping for garments for himself. If not open about his behavior, he may worry about being seen by someone he knows, and he might find it nearly impossible to ask for assistance from the sales staff. The sales staff, in turn, might feel uneasy when assisting a man trying to buy his own intimates. Using the fitting room can also be a tricky matter. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all for the crossdresser is obtaining a bra fitting. Many fit specialists are uncomfortable fitting men, and even those who are comfortable have probably not received any training in how to do so. Of course, in 2010, crossdressers do have the option to shop for bras, panties, and shapewear online in the privacy of their own homes.
Intimate apparel possesses a somewhat special status in the world of crossdressing. It’s the one category of clothing that can be worn out of the home by those who aren’t yet publicly open about their lifestyles. Many crossdressers find it comforting to wear bras, panties, or pieces of shapewear under their masculine clothes. Such secretive crossdressing is known as underdressing. Many crossdressers are so secretive about their practices that even their wives don’t know about them. Given that reality, you might pause for a moment and ask yourself how many of your male co-workers, friends, neighbors, and those with whom you interact in the course of an average day, might secretly be wearing a pair of panties underneath their pants. Knowing the truth would undoubtedly be quite surprising to most of us.