As of today, I am out of clean underwear. Two jobs and a partially-unpacked suitcase have left me with only questions, and no time to straighten them out—questions like, Did I wear these already?
If I’m being truly honest, my second question is typically, Did I wear these…twice? I know, I know, yuck. Cut me a little slack. (Incidentally slack is typically the two-wear giveaway.) Let him who is without laundry laziness cast the first stone. I’m out, plain and simple.
I have made the requisite progression from regular underwear to the two or three pairs that don’t quite fit right but hang around anyway, to that one pair that can only be described as ‘novelty’—uncomfortable, impractical, not strictly considered part of the canon of everyday undergarments. I am in full Laundry Day under-regalia, and yet yesterday, rather than spend a rain-soaked afternoon marching my delicates down the sidewalk to crouch on the floor of my chairless Laundromat for an hour, I decided to just buy more.
In this there is an ancient precedent: the lone male, too lazy to do laundry but not quite lazy enough to turn his twice-worns inside-out. (Twice the underwear you thought you had!) The strategy of Just Buy More solves an immediate problem, as well as delays an identical problem in the future—if the laundry ever does get done, we’ll make it a longer run the next time. A parallel precedent exists for socks and bath towels, of which one can never have too many.
Shopping for underwear turned out to be worse than the ol’ Crouch-‘N’-Wash (not the name of my Laundromat, disappointingly). Part of my problem is that my underwear budget is remarkably low—too low, to be sure, given the use value of underwear.
Last month I spent ten dollars on a scarf I have worn four times. The pair of underwear I’m sitting in even as I type this I have owned since the last Bush administration. They cost twelve (pre-Recession) dollars, which for an estimable one hundred uses—a generous twice-per-month for almost four years—works out to twelve cents per wear. (This particular wear I wouldn’t have paid five cents for.) At that rate it seems a fairly safe investment; one hundred uses is incredibly high, in my opinion, as far as things that go on your butt are concerned. And yet despite all reason to the contrary, it feels frivolous. The fact remains that I am a 23-year-old intern slash restaurant host, and twelve dollars has to get me a bit farther in most departments than perhaps it used to.
After work at Job #1 I made for the Marshalls/T.J. Maxx/Bed Bath & Beyond on 6th Avenue (only narrowly resisting the gravitational pull of the BB&B) to comb the inconsistently-stocked aisles for something in my size. I was quite late, apparently, because there I found only single pairs of skimpy, silk, designer briefs; three-packs of large, high-waisted tighty-whiteys; and precious little in-between. I tentatively scanned the racks of hanging underwear, but something about buying loose undergarments feels like buying a single, unpackaged roll of toilet paper—weird. Whatever may go on at Victoria’s Secret, I would argue that off-the-rack underwear shopping is more or less foreign to the male experience.
It’s not the unwrapped aspect that bothers me per se—I’m not a germaphobe. It’s something to do with the bare, unshielded purpose of an unbound pair of briefs. When underwear is packaged—even in clear plastic, wrapped in pictures of hunky, headless men wearing the exact pair contained within—strangers and cashiers can pretend not to see them. They can avoid reaching inside them and fishing around for the price tag. They can pretend not to know fully and intimately just what sort of underwear you wear, or plan to wear. Uncaged, waving in the air-conditioned breeze of a midtown Marshalls, there’s no more pretending.
After an hour of running around in the rain, store-hopping and price-checking, I was exactly where I’d started—briefless and far from home. I sighed and thought of the pile awaiting me there—a pile so high and stratified I was sure there were articles of clothing I’d forgotten entirely, 100% cotton fossils.
Back in my apartment, a mug of fresh coffee at my side, I drew a bath to hand-wash some things; the Laundromat was out of the question for at least the rest of the day—some combination of exhaustion and pride. Still in search of a solution, I turned to that last resort of exhausted people: the Internet. I figured getting underwear in the mail would make them feel like a free gift. I made some sound investments, in any case, and I expect them to mature by next election season. Four more years!