My love of menswear is all too commonly piled under the quickly assumed blanket of shirts, pants, vests, ties and jackets. But what about robes and socks and swimwear and lounge clothes and most important of all: underwear? The “western formula,” as I often call it, offers us a quick and easy prescription for what this means in the states. Boxers or briefs? And for those interested in the much-loved hybrid, we have the boxer-brief whose praises are often sung thanks to its blending of sport and tradition while maintaining freedom of movement in front.
I remember while in high school I was watching MTV during the Clinton presidential race, and after all major platforms were covered and the heavy topics openly discussed, the REAL question on the table was “Which is it, Mr. Clinton. America is dying to know – boxers or briefs?”
But like most things in our commercially driven world, I can’t help but feel like the script is too strict. Campy spin-offs and persistent subcultures have dabbled with the occasional bit of improv in this regard, offering up quirky, fun or more daring alternatives – but each of them still seems to directly relate to the basic plan of “boxer” or “brief.” They may reveal in a new way, conceal with a new fabric, or pay homage to any number of fantasy worlds that offer a peek into a market that shows promise for increased sales. But the formula is the same, and the outcomes predictable.
More exciting to me is stepping outside the Western realm and celebrating options from other cultures, other places. The beautiful and affordable style I recently found at my beloved Travelers show us an aesthetically simple, perfectly pragmatic option that Indian men have embraced and worn for years. And while the tradition has likely faded as they opt for westernized styles today, the look of this garment – called langoti -is powerful both on and off the body.
What I like most is that this is a garment entirely about fabric. No elastic. No fly. No tricky layering or complex cutting – this triangle of cloth with its long rectangular tail and waist-ties provides the wearer with much needed support and coverage with the comfort and beauty of a soft, beautifully printed cotton cloth. Its using fabric in a way that lets it do what it does best – fold, gather, wrap, support and protect the human body.
I celebrate langoti. I celebrate adopting the ingenuity of other cultures. I celebrate langoti!
My langot laying flat on the floor.
An Indian wrestler exercising in his orange langot.
Photograph: Laurent Goldstein