You can tell a lot about a gal by the underpants she’s wearing. Underpants give us a peek into the lives of their wearers – most specifically, stage of life/age and level of confidence.
My mom used to insist that my sister and I put on clean skivvies before our annual doctor appointments. We obediently trudged up to our rooms, peeled off our favorite torn, stretched out Wonder Woman undies (they’re so comfy!), dug deep in our underwear drawers and carefully selected the new plain white pair with nice, firm elastic – the ones that were not yet faded from countless trips through the washer/dryer. All this for a 15 minute physical. As if the doctor 1) cared, or 2) noticed. But mom was adamant. Apparently my underwear was a symbol of our family’s overall cleanliness and attention to detail. Moms are universally concerned with their kids’ underwear situation. My friend Karen’s mom used to ask her every morning if she had on clean underwear (just in case you have an accident, dear – how embarrassing it would be to lay suffering on the side of the road in dirty underwear!).
But why is underwear so important? What possible significance can it have to our success as a parent?
Let’s take a moment to do an anthropological study of human undergarments. A simple glance at the chart below demonstrates that there is a clear and consistent cyclical pattern which begins just after potty training and continues through the mommy years.
If we look a little more closely we can begin to see the reasons for this pattern. Criteria such as comfort, appearance and utility appear to dictate the go-to style of underwear at each stage of life, almost with universal consistency. Let’s explore:
Generally speaking, comfort is key for the little ones. That, and ensuring the selection of undies represents their current obsession (i.e. superheros, tween idols – really? You want Bieber on your bottom?? – Dora the Explorer). These little Fruit of the Loom briefs cover a lot of square footage, often overlapping the belly button. There is nothing cuter than those little darlings running around with their skivvies pulled up to their armpits, and yards of bunchy fabric hanging over the waistband of their little Wrangler jeans. A great post-diaper choice! And all those photos to embarrass them with on prom night!
Middle School Age
There is a slight lean toward fashion during the middle school years, and a universal rejection of the armpit-height, 3-pack of Hanes undies (so do yourself a favor and don’t fight it), but the innocence of youth tempers this somewhat; so luckily those crafty underwear manufacturers created the perfect middle school girls’ underwear style – boy shorts. These wide-banded, low slung numbers are perfect for inching up the sass (I said sass, not *ss) without introducing adult styles (listen to me for a sec – if you buy your daughter a thong or anything resembling a thong during middle school, you have skipped several steps in the natural underwear progression rule and your daughter is going to get a reputation (not to mention a world-class wedgie) because all the other girls will see her change in P.E. and the underwear you picked and approved, however grudgingly, will become a beacon for gossip and everyone in the school will find out – so please don’t).
High School Age
Your daughter is arriving at that fuzzy in-between stage: not quite an adult, but definitely not a kid anymore. You want to support her sudden urge to mature in demeanor and appearance, but you do not want to allow the underwear to make some kind of social statement or be a passive form of permission – do you get my drift? I mean, they shouldn’t be sexy because your daughter should not have sexy underwear in her wardrobe. If you buy her sexy underwear, expect sexy behavior. Bearing that in mind, this is a great time to introduce the bikini style. This versatile cut may have already made an appearance (it is a universal style designed for many body types and ages, conservative enough to work for the occasional little kid that doesn’t like the underwear to envelop the entire torso), but the teenager version tends to be more ornamental, with lace, bows and brighter colors. For moms whose blood pressure rises at the thought of their daughters owning lacy underwear, may I suggest you check out the bathing suits they’re wearing? Watch the hypocrisy, mom.
College / Young Adulthood Age
Welcome to the repertoire, thong! We’ve been waiting for you to make an appearance (or disappearance, as it were), and as moms we thank you profusely for remaining a mystery to our daughter throughout high school. We looked and looked, and never found one in the dirty laundry, so we’re pretty sure she got through without you. Now that you’re here, we thank you for eradicating those pesky VPLs (18+ year-old girls DO NOT want a half-moon line arching across their bottoms like a dimensional rainbow) and implore you to help us through the first few transitional months as we dig you out of our crevices. These are grown-up, advanced underpants, and most likely our young adult is wearing them regularly. Once we hit the thong stage, it’s unusual to regress to other earlier stages unless there are certain (ahem, monthly) reasons.
This remains the case until pregnancy and childbirth. Then something interesting happens.
What’s this? They make an adult version of the Tighty Whitey? You bet they do! You see,
once the kids are born it’s all about comfort, and unfortunately comfort and appearance sometimes have an inverse relationship. There is no better example of this than the Women’s Adult Brief (white cotton!).
You have walked past the display at Costco a million times. At some point soon after you become a mom, you will stop and sneak a package into your cart. Everyone does. The brief equals freedom and allows for a sliver of denial. We can slide those babies on and half our tummy disappears behind the yards of soft, cotton fabric. We can almost convince ourselves it’s no longer there! We may even stick with our maternity briefs! VPLs are not a concern because we’re wearing our jeans and sweats just a little bigger these days, so as far as downsides go, there really aren’t any…for a little while.
Briefs are an excellent choice for those first few months (ahem, years) after baby is born, but if you’re wearing them on your kid’s first day of Kindergarten? I have to tell you something. It’s time to start progressing again. By wearing the briefs you officially have too much in common with your 5 year-old. I don’t care if Miley Cyrus’ mug isn’t beaming from the seat of your drawers- you are in the wrong stage and therefore have upset the cultural panty cycle. Worse still, if those briefs are showing signs of serious wear – in other words, if your mom would be horrified – you are spiraling.
Gut (Butt) Check
So what’s the condition of your underwear? Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait. What stage are you in? I don’t ask to be crass. It’s just that your undies might be a sign of a larger problem. Overall, how’s the maintenance going? In order for us to keep progressing culturally, we have to advance from this shame stall.
A little scared? I know. It’s natural. Here are some words of encouragement to kick start your new undie cycle:
1. You’re not too fat to progress;
2. Your briefs are aging you at least 10 years;
3. Your husband is just saying they don’t bother him – he’s secretly wondering what he did to deserve it;
4. The expanse of white (or is it beige from too many wash cycles?) cotton fabric is making your butt look bigger;
5. They’re so worn in places that your actual skin is showing through – this may create a chafing hazard;
6. If you wear cute undies, you might be inspired to toss the mom jeans.
So liberate yourself, you sexy thing. Clean out your panty drawer and make room for the game changers. It’s a great opportunity to go shopping, and you can show up at the next volunteer meeting with a dirty little secret (I’m wearing leopard bikinis under this tracksuit, b*tches!).