It’s a story everyone can relate to: One is minding one’s business at a work function, when one’s boss strides over and says, “We need to talk about dick holes.” It’s important, when confronted with a demand like this, to first clarify which type of dick holes said boss would like to discuss; I could think of two distinct possibilities right off the top of my head when I had this conversation last month. In this case, my boss was talking about the fly opening found in men’s underwear. He had been dismayed to discover that a recent online underwear purchase resulted in his ownership of several pairs of underwear that were notably flyless. Was this the sign of a bigger trend or just a one-off fluke? Why would boxer briefs not come equipped with an easy-access portal to make a visit to a urinal quick and efficient, a luxury men have enjoyed for decades? Would underwear with a fly be the next casualty of 2016, alongside truth and Harambe?
Turns out, there is no cause for alarm; flies are not going anywhere for the time being. Jockey, one of the most recognizable underwear brands in the country, reports that while no-fly styles are gaining momentum in the marketplace, underwear that comes equipped with a fly still currently makes up about 75% of their total product offering. It does seem that the modern way of thinking about underwear, though, is to think about them without an opening for your johnson.
“At the very core of it, the fly is somewhat of an antiquated concept,” says Ricky Choi, co-founder of Nice Laundry, which began making colorful socks in 2013, but launched their first underwear design—sans fly—this fall. Choi takes issue with the perceived convenience of using a fly to begin with—“To a certain extent, you’re going on a fishing expedition each time,” he says. But, the move toward flyless undies isn’t just about urinal habits (although a recent GQ piece suggests that is still a hotly contested debate). It’s reflective of bigger shifts within men’s fashion.
“Think about how men used to dress on a daily basis: a starched button down shirt, a vest with a suit, shirt garters, suit pants with tab closures,” he says. “If you think about going to the bathroom, you have to undo everything and then re-do everything. Given you’re wearing all of that, it’s probably easier to go through the gate, so to speak, rather than over the fence.” That is no longer the case. “No one is tucking their shirts in anymore,” Choi adds, pointing to the prevalence of elastic-waisted sweatpants in the workplace. “So, in that case, it’s so much easier to go over the fence. It’s faster.”
Even if you aren’t wearing sweats to work, your pants are probably tighter than they used to be. A fly requires layers of fabric, which don’t always fit well under snug skinny jeans. “We’ve noticed over the last 10 years that as apparel has gotten slimmer, it’s much easier to navigate a product without a fly,” says Sean Radford, Jockey's director of design. “A product that doesn’t have a fly looks much cleaner and gives a better aesthetic.”
And then, of course, there’s the inevitable athleisure tie-in, a trend toward performance-inspired clothing that has effectively permeated every aspect of the fashion industry in recent years. Men want underwear that, like sneakers, can take us from the office to the gym. “There has been a lot of segmentation in the underwear industry,” explains Matthew Congdon, vice president and creative director at men’s basics label Mack Weldon. “You had your date night underwear, your weekday underwear, your workout underwear, your I-haven’t-washed-in-a-while-and-I’m-reverting-back-to-this-pair of underwear. More and more, you’re seeing everything merge. Guys don’t really want to have to change their underwear three times a day because of their activity.”
Because they’re constructed with a pouch down in front, flyless styles tend to offer more support than those with a fly, making them an ideal choice to wear during physical activity. “The flyless pouch actually provides you with a much more of a snug fit, to be quite frank,” Congdon says. “There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. Literally.”
Mack Weldon has devised a model, their 18 Hour jersey style, that features a reshaped fly with elastic that bridges the gap between both preferences. It’s currently their best-seller, suggesting that men are perhaps most interested in having a choice. Sometimes you feel like a fly, sometimes you don’t.
“We review our consumer feedback very closely, and we’ve been trying to navigate fly or no fly every season, just to see what the market trend is,” says Radford. “That is why currently there’s still fly and no-fly in the collection, because it’s up to the individual.”
Despite that, traditionalists might want to take note: Our 24/7 reliance on technology may actually be the biggest threat to underwear with a fly. “Going over the waistband, you can totally do that with one hand, whereas going through the fly is a two-handed motion,” notes Choi. “Obviously, if you’re using one hand, you can have your phone in the other hand.”
Dick holes, you’ve been warned.