2023 has been dubbed the year of the micro-trend. Between the core trends that seemed to be christened every other week, and the fruit-themed beauty trends that pop-up in between, it’s easy to think that there is no single item emblematic of the year. Easy to wonder what the kids will be wearing in twenty years when they’re going through their TikTok Twenties (name tbd). But if you’ve been paying attention, you know there is one garment that is indeed the answer to those questions. It’s a pair of men’s cotton boxer shorts.
On TikTok—where Gen Z fashion trends are painstakingly documented—boxer shorts have taken on a starring role in outfit diaries, street style images and style hack videos galore. They sit at the intersection of chaotic Y2K style, Zoom waist-up dressing, the crossing of gender boundaries and high fashion. This wide-ranging point of references is perhaps one of the reasons for their ubiquity. They can be incorporated into almost any “aesthetic”—as a substitute for the quasi-boho, low-slung ruffled maxi skirts favourited by those proponents of Lower East Side style, worn with cropped baby tees and cowboy boots; paired with an airy (matching) neatly pressed button-down shirt and flat Mary-Janes to evoke the quiet luxury trend; or with even worn with a knitted vest, an oversized jacket, and that other must-have item of the summer, a pair of Adidas Sambas, for a sporty All-American look. For more proof, Hailey, Bella, and Kendall, have all been photographed in the style.
It’s possible that it was Miuccia Prada who planted the seed of exploring what men’s underwear could do for women’s fashion first with her Miu Miu spring and autumn 2022 collections, which both brought back the ultra-low waistbands of the aughts along with enough exposed underwear for a delicately sewn Miu Miu label to peek out front and centre. Though neither one of the collections explicitly showed the garment in question, they certainly seemed to have suggested it. If you wanted to try the trend at home, showing off the thick elastic waistband of men’s underwear would more quickly, and obviously, deliver the intended sartorial vision. Soon after, stylists and influencers began to be photographed with that familiar ballooning of the boxers above their denim waistbands. At the same time, the pull of the exposed thong trend, which had its moment in the sun at Tom Ford’s spring 1998 collection for Gucci was also making a low-key comeback among the very stylish and the very bold. Soon “exposed underwear” became the buzzword for trend trackers. But why should it just be about sheer and lacy lingerie looks? An exposed cotton boxer works two-fold: it mocks the expected, maybe even played-out trend (Exposed lingerie! Being sexy!), and adds to it a layer of inclusivity.
Surprisingly, it was The Row who took the first step in not only legitimising, but elevating the cotton boxer. In September of last year, they opened their pre-fall collection with a model wearing one of their exquisitely tailored two-button jackets with a white button-down shirt. But then, as you scanned down the body—a glitch. From the waist down, the vibe was the opposite, a pair of simple white cotton boxer shorts and black flip flops.
Now on the fall 2023 runways and beyond, boxers are officially having a moment, and just like in real life (or in real TikTok life), their styling is equally diverse. At Bottega Veneta, Matthieu Blazy, who is famously inspired by real people in the streets, sent a model in white cotton with a subtle maroon stripe and a matching-but-not button-down shirt. On her feet were chunky red knitted socks pulled high, except of course they were made of leather. For further proof that Blazy intended to take the bedroom out into the real world, she was also carrying one of the house’s woven leather bags. Marc Jacobs’s lighting-flash ’80s-inspired show also featured a model in a pair of thin knit boxers—complete with a fly and jock cup—that anchored a delicately flower-appliqued silk blouse. Jacobs completed the look with black cut-off sheer leggings and pointy-toed flats with white ribbed socks. In Paris this summer, Julie de Libran showed a couture take on the style, embellished with sequins and worn extra-slouchy with a lingerie-inspired (ha!) corset top and black leather opera-length gloves.
But cotton boxers are merely elastic waist cotton shorts, you may be saying to yourself. And you’re right! But clothing is never just a piece of fabric, and the subversion in claiming that innermost men’s garment is an essential part of the message. Wearing men’s boxers means sticking out your tongue at the patriarchy. Wearing men’s boxers means the temperatures keep rising and rising and no one is doing anything about it and they keep you cool while you attempt to go about your life at the end of the world. Wearing men’s boxers means you don’t take yourself too seriously because let’s face it, it’s funny! Wearing men’s boxers means you like looking cool (and yes, they’re almost universally flattering).
This article was originally published on British Vogue.