Sexy Lingerie for Straight Men?

The metrosexual trend hits the underwear industry

“Let’s get sexy!” the emcee boomed as sinewy models wearing lacy thongs, corsets, garters and bras strutted down the catwalk to the thumping beat of house music in a crowded ballroom at the Rio.

The scene was part of the semiannual Las Vegas International Lingerie Show, one of the largest lingerie trade shows in the country. On this April night, the showstopper wasn’t a Kate Upton look-a-like spilling out of her corset, but a hunky male model wearing a sheer black panty and bra set made by HommeMystere, a lingerie label for men.

The crowd ate it up.

If the audience’s reception is any indication, we might be on the cusp of a new era in men’s underwear. I’m not referring to body-hugging boxer briefs that leave little to the imagination; rather, I’m talking about frilly thongs, silk camisoles and pink teddies designed with men’s bodies in mind.

Companies like the Australia-based HommeMystere—French for “Man of Mystery”—are breaking new ground with underwear that looks and feels like women’s lingerie but is tailored for men.

For HommeMystere co-founder Brent Krause, who created the company with his wife in 2008, his products are all about giving men more options. “I got tired of guys’ underwear,” Krause told me, while we sat in his exhibitor’s booth at the lingerie show. “It’s always the same—cotton boxers and trunks—and all pretty ordinary.”

Krause figured that if he liked wearing lingerie, there were likely other men out there who did as well—and not just gay men or transgender people.

HommeMystere’s market research shows that its customer base is primarily married men between 40 and 60 years of age. In some cases, their wives know they like wearing lingerie and are accepting; in other instances, men have kept their interest in sexy underwear a secret, wearing it only when traveling for business or when their wives and children are away. The company distributes its products through retailers in nine U.S. states and internationally, and has even shipped them to men in the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Iraq, Krause told me.

“I believe that our market has always been here,” Krause says. “However, our clients have simply not had the opportunity to find a vendor to meet their needs in the past. I think that many of our customers have quietly held the belief that they are probably the only person that enjoys lingerie.”

The advent of the Internet and online message boards have given these men outlets where they can talk about their enjoyment of wearing lingerie and find a sense of community. It’s also allowed them to discover online retailers such as HommeMystere, or the Arizona-based, where they can shop discreetly.

While the market for men’s lingerie might still be in its infancy, I spoke with several retailers attending the show who were convinced the HommeMystere line would do well in their stores, because the demand, according to them, already exists.

“We probably get several men coming into the store each week asking about lingerie,” says Lynnette Timmons, co-owner of Bare Essentials in Las Vegas, which just picked up the HommeMystere line. “Here in Vegas we have a large conglomeration of very sexually aware men and women. We have an especially diverse group of customers who like to push the envelope. [This lingerie] is a breath of fresh air.”

In many ways, companies such as HommeMystere are riding the wave of larger cultural shifts that have taken place over the past 20 years, including the rise of the “metrosexual” and new representations of the male body in popular culture. (Think Calvin Klein underwear ads, the popular television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the 2012 film Magic Mike, for example.)

Primping and preening are no longer just for women. And if it’s now acceptable for straight men to wax, exfoliate, moisturize and fashion themselves as desiring objects to be looked at, what is keeping them from wearing sexy lingerie?

“As more men discover lingerie that fits, feels great and looks good, they’ll appreciate that lingerie is a standard alternative to cotton briefs or trunks,” Krause says. “As with women’s lingerie, some will want it all the time, some for special occasions and some [lingerie] will be purchased by wives or girlfriends for the men in their lives.”

Tapping into—and indeed creating—a market as unconventional as lingerie for men requires more than just sleek ads and catchy marketing campaigns. It also involves challenging cultural assumptions about gender and what counts as “manly.”

According to Stacy Macias, a visiting professor at UNLV whose research examines the intersection of gender and style, consumer markets are inherently flexible.

“If there is a demand, the market will likely find a way to respond,” Macias says. “Consumer markets cannot thrive without learning how to incorporate difference, even when those differences seem to disrupt our very basic notions of what counts as appropriate gender expressions of masculinity and femininity.”

I asked Krause what his response is to people who can’t seem to understand the idea of lingerie for men or who presume that his clientele is predominantly gay.

“Lingerie isn’t really about what other people think,” he replied. “For our customers, it’s about how it makes them feel.”

Lynn Comella is a women’s studies professor at UNLV. Her column, ‘Unbuttoned,’ examines issues of sex and gender—with a Vegas twist.

Dudes: Would you like a lacy thong or negligee designed just for you? Tell us in the comments section below.

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