In the midst of this month’s Las Vegas International Lingerie Show, “a hunky male model wearing a sheer black panty and bra set” set off down the catwalk. The crowd went wild. The model was wearing a selection from HommeMystere, an Australian line of panties, thongs, bras, and stockings tailored for the male frame. According to reporter Lynn Comela, the fashion show performance signals that “we might be on the cusp of a new era in men’s underwear. I’m not referring to body-hugging boxer briefs that leave little to the imagination; rather, I’m talking about frilly thongs, silk camisoles and pink teddies designed with men’s bodies in mind.”
So men are wearing bras—just as they have in public drag performances and private displays beneath their military uniforms, long before the Las Vegas International Lingerie Show was a gleam in a trend reporter’s eye. Cross-dressing is nothing new, but the marketing strategies for these products does present a strange new wrinkle in the long history of gender-bending attire. Here’s where things actually get weird: HommeMystere is “all about giving men more options,” says Brent Krause, who started the line with his wife, Lara. Krause was inspired to make bras and thongs for men when he “got tired of guys’ underwear … it’s always the same—cotton boxers and trunks—and all pretty ordinary.” His lingerie presents "a standard alternative” that “fits, feels great and looks good.” Comella frames men’s panties as a natural progression of “the metrosexual trend.”
If any man wants to slip on a bra and panties in the closet or on the catwalk, that’s fabulous. And Krause’s specialty lingerie undoubtedly has marketing potential across several consumer niches, from drag queens to male cross-dressers to trans women looking for a feminine article with a better fit. But there’s something oddly neutered about Krause’s sales pitch. Yes, some men do elect to strap on a bra for some extra chest support. Others might find silk panties more inherently physically comfortable than cotton trunks. Maybe some guys are just bored without a bra to keep them busy. But for much of the niche Krause is serving, cross-dressing is a gender expression that’s tied up in identity and performance as much as it is superior fabrics.
When women wear frilly lace bras, they’re performing as much as they are lifting, though their gender expression is a more conventionally accepted one. It’s great to normalize cross-dressing as just another permutation of the gendered performances we all engage in every day. But it's counter-productive to lump bra-wearing in as the new frontier for the metrosexualization of masculinity. (After all, some men like to wear bras specifically because they're not coded as masculine). Krause is unlikely to start a lingerie revolution by trying to convince men that bras simply “feel great,” or by pretending that attaching an unnecessary support system to your chest is a purely utilitarian pursuit. As a friend said when I sent the story to her, “lacy pretty things I understand, but bras are just functional cages.”