Fashion swings back to Y-front

WHEN Nick Kamen unbuttoned his Levi 501s to the tune of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, revealing a pair of white boxer shorts, it was, we believed, the end for the Y-front.

In the blink of a 30-second TV ad, millions of men realised that sporting a pair of brown polyester pants with cream piping was no longer the last word in male chic.

But for those who thought the Y-front had been consigned to the dustbin of fashion history, think again. The Y is back.

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Harvey Nichols, a key barometer of fashion trends, has reported a 40 per cent year-on-year rise in sales at their Edinburgh store, with brands such as Diesel, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein and Armani all now producing their own version of the classic design.

Jockey, the underwear company which launched the Y-front in the 1930s, is also poised to introduce a retro-version, in garish colours and complete with trademark piping.

Harvey Nichols’s spokesman, Richard Gray, said the days when young men allowed their wives or mothers to shop for them were over. Today’s consumers are choosing the Y-front as a must-have wardrobe staple in the same way as a pair of jeans or lace-up brogues.

"The feedback from the shop floor is that men are coming in with a definite idea of what they want. Men have been given permission by style magazines such as Arena, Face and iD to know what they want to wear and what’s in," he explained.

"The uniform at the moment is a low-slung jean and when they are so low you need to show the waistband off.

"It is men aged 18-30 who are buying and white, grey, black are the most popular. There are no bright colours in there. It is the basic Y-front shape, but the Y is sewn in at the front rather than with the old-fashioned Seventies’ style.

Sales are soaring across their UK stores, Harvey Nichols say, but the trend is, inexplicably, most pronounced north of the Border. "We have no idea why this is, but it could be that shoppers in Scotland are more aware of fashion trends."

The store said one of the drivers of the march of the Y-front could be the new Calvin Klein underwear advertisement featuring the Arsenal footballer Freddie Ljungberg. The Calvin Klein underwear store in Glasgow’s Princes Square confirmed that sales were booming. "We call them hip briefs and they have been doing very very well," a spokeswoman said.

The Y-front was popularised by the Jockey brand in 1935 when managers at the Marshall Field store in Chicago banned it from a window display, saying it was ridiculous to flaunt such a skimpy design in the middle of winter. Before the display could be removed, 600 had been sold and perhaps the most iconic piece of male underwear had begun its career.

As comfort triumphed over style, men persisted with the Y-front for the best part of 50 years. Adverts in the Sixties and Seventies urged men to "Change your underpants every day" boasting of nine different styles and "rock bottom" prices.

Y-fronts even became sexy for a while thanks to the poses of virile-looking men in advertisements. Indeed the Kamen Levi’s commercial itself would have featured the model in a pair of Y-fronts if advertising censors had not decreed them indecent.

In 1999, sales of boxer shorts dropped by 40 per cent and briefs, trunks and slips took a firmer grip on the market. Gavin Sinclair, the sales and marketing director for Jockey UK, said the return of the Y-front could be seen as part of a wave of nostalgia for products such as the Mini and the VW Beetle.

"In underwear terms, the Y-front is the iconic design," he said. "We produce a lot of contemporary styles but the classic Y-front still sells well."

Malcolm Lochhead, a fellow in design at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "Laver’s Law of fashion cycles says that when things are in fashion there’s nothing better. Then they become quite awful, then they become quaint, then admirable and then, unfortunately, they come back again."

Men say pants to rock-bottom in fashion

MEN reacted to the return of the Y-front with incredulity yesterday, with few believing it could ever happen.

Brian Cameron, 40, an account director with the design firm Crombie Anderson in Edinburgh, said: "A 40 per cent rise is ridiculous. I have not worn them since I was 12 and to be honest I find this disturbing and worrying. I would not be seen dead in them. Perhaps, it’s a spin-off from the movie Notting Hill when Rhys Ifans was wandering about in his Y-fronts."Jim Callaghan, of Evolution Design, said: "I have not worn them since I was nine, in fact, ever since I started having an opinion on the pants I was wearing.

"Anyone who remembers Nick Kamen taking off his jeans in the Eighties’ Levi’s ad would not be seen dead in Y-fronts."

Even the nation’s women seemed horrified at the development. Angela Moffat, a stylist, said: "I don’t like Y-fronts on men and so I definitely don’t support this. Fashion goes in a cycle and I think that is what’s behind this, but the quicker this phase moves on the better."