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Why don't we make sexy pants for men?

  • By Catherine Clavering
  • 2 comments
  • In Men

Why don't we make sexy pants for men?

Intro; I'm starting the year absolutely NOT as I mean to go on; talking about men.

It's the 6th January, most of the UK is finally back at work properly and going "urgh" and there are about 3 billion really boring things I should be sorting out but Liz asked me to explain why lady-type-lingerie-brands don't just pivot to men's stuff and I realised I might as well explain this once and for all, in public.

Content warning; there's no way for me not to refer to adult activities here. Please, I beg of you, if you are not of age, go look elsewhere. I'll try and use some delicacy but there's no way to discuss this market segment without talking about some of the gender and sexuality issues involved. Inevitably I'll make mistakes on some of that.
I will also upset anyone who thinks businesses aren't about profit, and on this occasion, I'm going to behave very badly and not put in references for my assertions about the market. I'm just going to wave you in the general direction of Underlines, the UK trade mag for underwear. They're big on consumer research.

I am British, so when I say pants I mean underwear, and for reasons unrelated to my nationality, when I say women I mean anyone identifying as a woman, same with men and with non-binary.

I have to confess I know vanishingly little about the NB market; it's been commercially invisible for the whole of the time I've been in the industry and though some of KMD's longest fans are NB we've just been working through measurements and fit issues individually and, in JL's case, with crochet alteration. You can find more info on non-binary issues under the LGBTQ tag on The Lingerie Addict though.



TLDR; broadly speaking men don't spend much on undies and the minority percentage that do have a very diverse array of what they want from them. You can't cater to the full range and picking one segment that works with your existing brand, customer base etc and is profitable is a real challenge. So, I don't bother.

The long answer and an incomplete observational guide to men who want sexy pants based on customer service contacts over a decade.

The starting point.

1) Most of my customers are women

Now, when I say customers, I mean the people that WEAR the product. It doesn't matter who paid for it or placed the order (and even then it's still mostly women when it comes to it); if what I produce doesn't get enjoyed people don't come back, and the reality is that most of the people who wear KMD, and our guest brands, are women. 

2) Men who pay for lingerie from us aren't necessarily into the aesthetic for themselves

There's an assumption in most industries that if you're selling someone x you can probably sell them y. In lingerie that doesn't seem to work - it's much easier for me to sell a new type of knicker to existing folks than it is to work out what the men purchasing for women in their lives want. Though, statistically speaking, apparently, the answer is usually "boxer briefs", if you're contemplating starting men's stuff yourself!

3) At the moment, and this may change as gender roles shift and get broken down, a lot of men don't show much interest in their own underwear

It's frankly disappointing - I'm pretty sure I'm not the only woman-dating-men who appreciates some thought put into pants - but the reality is many of them are just buying like 8 packs of boxer briefs from whoever they got stuck on years ago and rarely change. I mean, if you are one of those brands that they get stuck it's great, you don't have to do a lot of work, but it means that for women's brands to start a men's range, there's no inbuilt customer base and getting a new one is crazy hard work as people brought up as men don't generally get very invested in, or enthusiastic about, any sort of clothing. Your best bet is that you convince your current women customers to buy them for the men in their life, which is a bit roundabout for my tastes.

Pause for an Esquire De Lune-in-Undercrackers picture. Undercrackers were one of the few indie men's brands I've run across and they're doing velvet this year, though unfortunately I'm told that like us, they struggle a bit to process returns.



4) So, men with an interest in fancy undies for their own bodies are a niche, and very diverse one at that.

A niche that's nice and consolidated is quite handy for making money - think bralettes for while you're recovering from breast surgery - they're basically all a very similar product and you don't need much range (soft, stretchy, won't stop skin from breathing, maybe change the colour). But a diverse niche - e.g. bras for when you've healed from surgery, which covers enhancement, lifts, reductions, lumpectomies, mastectomies, double mastectomies and if memory serves some other things as well - then you're looking at lots of different needs - many of which conflict. And that is a profitability nightmare (and why you have such limited choices if you had surgery. Sorry folks).

 

Part the second; an incomplete and over-generalised guide to men who talk to us about buying things from lady-type brands for themselves. 

5) Men that are a bit bored with conventional menswear are the biggest group.

These guys are these days catered to for by a lot of the fast fashion places, in terms of colours and prints and a bit of variety in the few things you can easily change about men's pants. Sometimes they get fancy with mesh and cut-outs and strappy bits. As you know, gay men have historically had more latitude and reason to express themselves fashion-wise, and there is an overlap for men of any sexual orientation to head towards brands that are actively marketed at what I think of as "gay men's pulling pants" (this technical label brought to you via years of observation at trade shows!)

The bonus to this is that they are fitted for people with hips that are not much different to waist measurements and they have space for a penis and testicles. Please note that when I talk about body differences I'm talking broad averages, which is what we have to use for mass manufacturing. Obviously, there is an enormous amount of individual difference in terms of figures, heights, torso lengths and all sorts of things, plus secondary sexual characteristics vary more than most folks realise.
These pants tend to be very "we are masculine". Seriously, that's practically the slogan for Clever Moda (always used to go and stroke these at trade shows. On the hangers only, obviously!)
This group is the men people assume might buy from women's lingerie brands if we started making "sexy pants for men" but I've yet to see much evidence that this works. I suspect brand aesthetics/values don't translate well between genders (I mean . . . what would femme fatale undies for men involve?!), and it's hard as an established women's brand to get traction in the men's fashion universe.

As an aside, when I steal men's pants to wear in emergencies (boxer briefs make excellent period pants for me) I do not noticeably have huge amounts of spare fabric, so I don't know that it really makes all that difference, but I'm going to need at least 30 men to try on differently gendered pants before I could give a statistically indicative idea of whether men's pants are really necessary if you have that genital arrangement :) 

Next aside, two things I miss about trade shows; gossip, and the men's pants models. 



6) Men who are so like, SO over menswear and want a return to silk, satin, lace, bows, embroidery and the like. 

This has nothing to do with gender or sexuality and is purely about the sensory and visual aesthetic. These things all used to be in menswear too - in fact, fancy seamed stockings were a VERY man thing for quite a while - so this is nothing to do with innate preferences and everything to do with social norms. The problem is currently, for the most part, these things are all fitted for measurements likely to fit women, so they end up too short in the body for men, too big in the bust and hip,  and apparently it isn't great to have anatomy hanging out. 

For these men, it's all about adapting current women's garments - checking out plus ranges helps, soft flowing styles,  that sort of thing. The other options are custom work - Ayten Gasson has a small but significant number of these customers - or possibly Homme Mystere, though I think that brand attempts to straddle a few of these niches. 

The KMD Cherie teddy can apparently work for this. Deadpool cosplay not compulsory, and as it happens I learnt about Deadpool through this and not through the comics or films!



7) Men who want to look more like a woman for a period of time.

Broadly speaking, and there's A LOT of debate about this, this is where we start to use the term crossdressing, although some people would use it for the above group too. Crossdressing is sometimes a social thing, sometimes a self-expression thing, sometimes a sexual thing, sometimes a gender thing, sometimes a big interest but sometimes very occasional, sometimes persistent, sometimes a stage . . .

Basically it's hard to say anything for certain except that sometimes, in societies that have very different clothes for women than men, sometimes people will want to swap for a time, for some reason, in a way that makes them look more like the other gender (assuming binary genders here, sorry).

Please note if you, like me, are a straight woman who grew up as a woman, don't use ANY of the T-words (they're associated with hate and attacks), unless someone has identified themselves as transgender to you. Elsewise try to assume nothing. Crossdressing has no direct or predictable relationship to someone's gender or sexuality.

Anyway, terminology and motivations aside, from a lingerie business point of view, this is what I mean about diverse niches often ending up needing conflicting products. If you like satin, frills etc but don't want to look like or be treated as a woman, then women's loungewear in larger sizes may well work for you. If you want to change your shape to look more like a woman as well, then we're into a whole different set of products -  because even women's shapewear might not help - it assumes an average set of measurements to start with that likely aren't near to many men's.

For this group, there are specialists, and they overlap with people who provide things that work for men-who-do-drag-queening and also with some of the products for transgender women. If you're a man looking to change your figure like this, I'd look for those places because the practicalities of it mean most standard women's lingerie places just aren't going to do the things that will work.

8) Men that just really like wearing stockings (and aren't fussed about anything else)

These people just exist in my life and always have. Not necessarily a sexual thing (listen, folks, if it is a sexual thing for you do me a favour and don't tell us in detail in customer service emails? Thanks)

I find a lot of men new to this are like "but why would anyone want to see my hairy muscly legs!" and to this I say,  my grandmother was still making appreciative noises about cyclists thighs in lycra when she was 80. She REALLY liked the invention of lycra.

If you want to try it then check out the big/tall brands available on most hosiery specialists. Happily, this is an area that is relatively well catered for these days, though as you can see lady suspender belts tend to be the wrong shape so go for one of the narrower hipsters ones with a low waist/hip ratio.

I have to confess that I could only find this photo for this one and I'm *pretty* certain that this is a customers partner who was just helping us demo fit and the indestructibility of our opaques, but I could be completely wrong as my memory is getting a bit sieve-like over time!



9) Sissies

Let me be clear. I am not talking playground bullying level "this lad is effeminate let us mock him", or even just men who want to be super, super girly and frilly and pretty for a bit, I am talking about a very particular form of this kink/fetish.

We all know that for some people some lingerie is sexual - and that's fine as long as you don't non-consensually launch into details with any of us, thanks (also if you could perhaps stop informing people of what you find sexy or not all over the net and demanding seksi pics of bobs that would be greatly appreciated, but I only mock about 0.01% of the men that do this because really who has the time).

But the general consensus amongst my colleagues is that if you, a man, are in our inboxes, telling us that being a woman is shameful, terrible, and humiliating, then the fact that you announce that you find that a turn-on and want us to collude in it with you does not in fact alleviate the fact that you've just told us we're basically rubbish.
Especially as frequently this involves no payment and I AM a filthy capitalist piglet, so this is very offensive to me.

You will get ignored. You will not get your customer service query answered. Your ID will be blocked.  

I will happily make any amount of pink frilly nonsense if it appeals to me and seems like a good sell, but never, ever will I deal with any group that considers being a woman to be a bad thing.

All that said, there are brands and people that cater to this, and you should go and PAY THEM because nobody should have to put up with that for free.

And all of you who just want to be super-femme are a-ok, stick around. If you out-femme me probably you win a prize.

10) Men who are just super chill and want the deadlies in their life to win the photo prize.

Stay cool, dudes. I should do more photo competitions!



Anyways - I won't be doing sexy pants for men any time soon - but you might have some links to places that do?

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