Columbus, Ohio USA
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My Vietnamese Underwear
By Joel Knepp
November/December 2016 Issue
Art by Lynda McClanahan
As long as I can remember, way back into early childhood, I have worn Hanes briefs cotton underwear. Through school, then the wild days of college and beyond, through middle age, and now into my Medicare years, I have remained and shall remain ever true and faithful to white cotton undies by Hanes. When it comes to intimate garments, I am not an experimenter. Jobs, recreational pursuits, music, food, hairstyles, relationships, outer clothing – yes. Underwear – no way, José! Under custom-made suits, blue jeans, cutoffs, khakis, overalls, bell-bottoms, it’s all the same: Hanes briefs.
I have always felt comfortable if not stylish in my plain white u-trou, so why change? I am thin, and the thought of baggy boxer shorts bunching up under my pants makes me cringe. Neither will I suffer hearts, stripes, lurid colors, nylon, or any other synthetic fabric. Ditto for ridiculously skimpy bikini briefs. Please! I wouldn’t wear those even when I looked halfway decent undressed. Also, the only way to really tell if undies are clean, and we all remember what our mothers taught us, is to have white ones. And yes, with my apologies to the environment, I bleach them.
Of course, times have changed in America and so has our underwear. It’s been a good long while since classic Hanes tighty whities were made in the USA by workers getting a decent, family-supporting wage. My latest batch, an imported nine-pack, was purchased just the other day at our local Lennox Target. I don’t know about you, but this was the first time I’d seen a nine-pack of anything. Nearby in the store was a rack of ridiculous printed boxer shorts, including one that was an American flag. I remember when Hippies would get beat up by construction workers for wearing shirts made from an American flag. Now you can wear one next to your bottom and feel happily patriotic without an inkling of irony. At this point, I’m going to paraphrase John Prine: Your flag boxer shorts won’t get you into heaven anymore!
But back to the briefs. I can’t be absolutely sure, but it seems that the Hanes undies have gradually evolved into thinner garments. You can stretch them over your hand and see through them. They don’t last very long, but they’re so cheap as to be virtually disposable. After shipping, manufacturing costs, labor, and Target’s cut, Hanes (or whatever megacorp now owns the name) probably ends up with 25 cents per pair. How do they do it? VOLUME! And why are they called a pair, anyway? Because they cover a pair of buttocks?
I nearly forgot to mention a key point. These thin, cheap, almost disposable but still gleaming white cotton underpants to which I am undyingly loyal were made in Vietnam, presumably the new world underwear capitol. The very same brand and style of underwear I wore while protesting against the war in Washington back in those exciting days of 1971 are now being made in the country we were warring against (with still no discernable justification). Let me get this straight: we wasted billions of tax dollars; we shelved the war on poverty just when it was starting to make headway; we almost tore the country in half; my father, my brother, and many thousands of American men and women risked their lives and their sanity and many died or were disabled; all so Hanes could make our underwear more cheaply? Well, to the victor go the spoils – in this case, the manufacturing jobs.
I wonder what kind of undies they wear in Vietnam. With the wages they earn from Hanes, they probably can’t afford them.
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