With the end of another year fast approaching, I thought it might be nice to look back and take note of things that have changed. Believe it or not, as my day job I work as an artist (it’s not something I recommend for many people, but it works for me). As such, I spend a lot of time studying visual culture and history. Over the years I’ve studied the history of photography, film, video, and painting. Recently, I’ve been looking at the history of fashion, and just the other day checked out a history of lingerie from my local library. And then I discovered the Body Aware internet archives, and I now have the chance to share the history of Body Aware.
There are a number of changes over the years that seem notable to me. First I’d like to look at the changes in marketing; I think this offers great insight into Body Aware as well as changing cultural patterns. One of my favorite things I found on the oldest BA websites was this amazing GIF, using simple animation and a playful attitude to tempt men into thinking more broadly about their underwear.
On other pages, you can find a business executive in his power suit with the caption “what does this man wear under his suit?” as to suggest that all of us have some secrets inside, and none of us are quite what we seem. On other pages, the models are depicted as construction workers (the epitome of manliness), or offer an attempt to coax ‘traditional’ men into being a bit more experimental with their underwear: “Tightey Whitey kind of guy? Classic styling for the most conservative man.”
Other’s aim to reach crossdressers, with the “Body Aware Online Lingerie Collection for men, the Après Noir Collection,” or with the tagline “Not your Mom’s pantyhose!” Part of what I find interesting in these older marketing strategies is how they relate to the way things look today – there no longer seems to be any need to justify why men would like products like those served up by Body Aware, so now the website just highlights the quality of their products without offering excuses as to why such fancy, skimpy and colorful underwear would appeal to men.
There are a couple of different ways to think about this change. It could simply be part of an evolving advertising campaign, or it also could reflect the evolution of our cultural understanding of masculinity and gender identity As someone interested in the history of visual culture I like the second of these ideas, in which Body Aware’s cutting edge designs and ideas about the body and underwear reflect larger cultural trends that are reshaping and reconceiving gender and masculinity. With archives stretching back into the early 90s, the Body Aware website and products give us a look as to how these things changed from the end of the sexual revolution and into the age of the internet.
Another thing I find interesting in looking at the history of Body Aware is the evolution of materials. Today satin is their most popular material, but about 20 years ago the emphasis was on PVC/rubber, and at other times silk or pleather. Where do these trends come from? Some of it is clearly situational – you make things with what is available. I am also curious to think about how these materials might tell us something more about the time. Do we have a more open culture now that allows men to delight in the subtle touch of satin? With fewer choices available in men’s underwear years ago, was the binding fit of rubber a more bold statement? Who knows, but I do find it curious to think about.
Lace, interestingly enough, has been a part of the Body Aware collection for years. I find it intriguing that the first image of lace I found in the archives shows a man embraced by a woman in matching lace, as though the woman suggests that wearing lace in no way undermines his masculinity: “Manly lace (we know what guys like).”
It is more than just the fabrics, designs and cuts have also changed. The first thongs I found in the archives are not at all as sleek and minimal as what we’ve all come to love today. I also love the lace-up pouch on the pleather undies! Not something I see too much of these days. Despite the changing fabrics and cuts, there is one thing that remains the same, color. From the beginning Body Aware has emphasized bold colors, and with a lot of choices to help find the right way to show ourselves off. And the product I found with the longest shelf-life in the Body Aware catalog? The Greek God Brief. The cut and fabric have changed a bit over time, but the general idea is the same, and it is always a brief that really helps you show what you got, and with a pride reminiscent of classical Greek statuary.
Lastly, in looking at the history of the Body Aware website we can also learn a great deal about technology and the internet and how these things have changed our lives and opened new doors for discovering and asserting ourselves. The earliest pictures on the Body Aware websites were very pixelated and fuzzy; today the pictures are vivid and clear offering a truly seductive view of men and the great products they advertise. We can think of this simply as an evolution of technology, but I think it can also provide a great opportunity to reflect on how much of an impact the internet has made on our identities and choices for self-definition.
The web has given all of us new opportunities to find communities and connections all around us, and if you are like me this has proven to be quite empowering, to realize that we are not alone in pursuing alternatives for our self-expression and self-realization. The beautiful presentation found on the Body Aware website today has helped me to understand just how gorgeous masculinity and the male body can really be, and how much underwear can provide us with the opportunity to explore and express these things for ourselves.
I think this is much more than just technology, or rather maybe we can say the changing technology mirrors or facilitates changes across our culture, and all of these things together show us an evolving spectrum of identity. As one of the first fashion retailers online, Body Aware has provided leadership, innovation, and vision in helping men around the world rediscover themselves, their bodies, and their masculinity, using both the internet and underwear to help us learn more about ourselves and the best way to express this with the things we wear.
Perhaps this all summed up in one of the images I found in the Body Aware archives, “Changing the World. One pair at a time.”
Would you like to share memories of your Body Aware experience, either through an old mail order catalog or one of the former websites? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Signing off for now!