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October 21, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

In defence of underpants

Published October 2011 in Farrago

Why am I for underpants? If you’ve ever met me, the answer is obvious. You’ve never seen my ass, so perhaps you don’t realise that it’s quite large, and that I would prefer it was kept away from the prying eyes of the public when I’m wearing a skirt and the wind suddenly gusts. This situation usually means I’m caught in a Marilyn-Monroe-esque moment I don’t have the grace to exploit, while people around me gasp and point at the astonishing backside of an otherwise average-looking Australian woman.

Underpants exist for several good reasons. Where would American high-school films be if the school jock had no underpants-wearing nerds to terrorise? If nerds were all hanging free, the ‘wedgie’ would only have ever been known as one fully awesome sandal. The cultural impact of the act commonly described as ‘atomic’, ‘massive’ or ‘giant’ would never have existed. Without underpants, there’d be no jockstraps or fancy lingerie. We would never have endured the horror of the visible-pantyline (VPL) epidemic that swept Australia in the nineties, leading to the rise of the ‘daywear’ g-string. Skidmarks would have meant no one was ever able to share pants without feeling slightly violated. Ick.

Not that we can’t have a grading system in place for underpants. My own system rates A-grade underpants as suitable for above-mentioned Marilyn-Monroe moments, while D-grade are the kinds of undergarments that I’m not technically allowed to admit I own. So, don’t tell anyone.

But to fully understand the cultural necessity of underpants, a little history is needed. The loincloth. A practical, genital-covering accessory that did more than just hide your gonads from the nearest bear swipe. Envision the history-making moment of creation:

Neanderthal 1: [wraps ragged leather skin around waist] Huh. Me nice.

Neanderthal 2: You no lose balls now. [High fives first Neanderthal]

After considering the initial, more practical elements of genital coverings, it’s also highly likely these leather-skin flaps excited the primal urges of the Neanderthal ladies in the vicinity. There’s nothing sexier than imagining what’s underneath rather than seeing the truth in all its glorious (or not so glorious) reality. We can thank our genital-covering ancestors for promoting the less-is-more fashion mantra currently being abandoned by most of Hollywood and all of Jersey Shore. It’s yet another reason why the word ‘underpants’ is a deeply layered connotation; being both under pants and a highly suggestive indication of sexual availability. It’s little wonder, then, that we have so many variations that are both utilitarian and explicitly sexual. Like Borat’s mankini. Growwwwlll.

Most importantly, I come from a proud lineage of females who wear underpants. My great-grandmother wore them, my grandmother wore them, my mother wears them and I’m pretty sure my cat wears them on occasion. She’s pretty particular about hygiene. I’m not about to break with a tradition that not only embeds me within my family, but also embeds me within the ancient historic narrative of pre-homosapiens history. The world needs underpants, A-grade or not. Just don’t let anyone see your D-grades.


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