My Latest Grant Proposal

by Melissa Chiasson

Title: Boxers or Briefs?: Understanding the comfort-design matrix of male underwear

For as long as man has existed, he has endeavored to improve the comfort and fit of male underwear. Prussian scientist Hans von Erkstein invented the brief in 1745 in the hopes of providing men a snug fit that afforded them a measure of protection against testicular torsion (henceforth known as the “Erkstein factor”). The brief proved wildly popular and would serve as a fount of inspiration for centuries to come (e.g., John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief). However, in the 1940s, boxer shorts, underwear that just looked like shorts you wear under another pair of pants, were garnering attention. Boxers, while offering a significantly reduced Erkstein factor, were quickly adopted by many youths across the globe. The frosty relations between brief and boxer wearers would come to be known as the Cold War. Luckily, reconciliation between the two parties was achieved in 1991, when the hybrid boxer brief was invented.

Now in the 21st century, the modern man is faced with an even greater landscape of underwear styles. The ambivalent can spring for boxer briefs, the self-conscious for body-slimming shapewear, the masochistic for thongs. Faced with all of these choices, it is extremely difficult for a shopper to make an educated decision. Currently there is no hard data on the characteristics of different styles of underwear, and there is no universal rating system in place to compare underwear across styles or brands.

Therefore, I propose to do the first definitive study of male underwear to better understand the determinants of comfort and implement a rating system by which consumers could decide what pair of underwear is the right fit for them. This study will require significant collaboration between myself and male underwear models, all of whom will have six packs and call me “Dr. Chiasson.” I hope to empower these young men by playfully hitting their rock-hard abs while collecting vital data on underwear fit and design.

Aim 1. Test various underwear styles on study participants and gauge level of comfort and feel.
In this aim, I propose to buy a lot of underwear, have totally ripped male models try that underwear on, and then ask them questions about the comfort of that underwear while laughing at everything they say, no matter what it is. I plan to buy a range of underwear, from skimpy to generous, and arrange it artfully on my entryway foyer. (These studies will be taking place at my apartment to afford the study participants sufficient privacy.) For recruitment of said participants, I will only be accepting men between the ages of 22 and 30, and no barbed wire bicep tattoos will be allowed. I will be asking some sensitive questions, so ability to communicate your needs (and desires, as the case may be) is crucial.

Questions will include: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how supported do you feel right now?”, “Is the shirt you’re wearing interfering with this process?”, “Is the shirt I’m wearing interfering with this process?” After preliminary data is collected, certain subjects might need further follow-up to determine how perception of underwear comfort changes over time. This will require more sessions at my apartment in which additional data may or may not be generated.

Aim 2. Design and implement a universal rating system of underwear fit and comfort.
After the thrilling aim 1 data collection sessions, I will prepare myself for the decidedly less-exciting portion of this project. I will design some algorithms that aggregate all the data and return statistics on the underwear, you know, data analysis stuff. I will stare wistfully at the photos of the study participants, here in a wet t-shirt, there doing push-ups like I told him to. Memories.

After I have a working version of my rating system in place, I will invite over a select few of the study participants to try out some underwear designed using my specifications. If a participant wants to buy me dinner as a way of celebrating my scientific achievement, I’ll let him. If he wants to just hang out at my apartment shirtless, all the time, I’ll let him. If he wants to be a co-author on this paper, I’ll giggle coquettishly, lean in so that I’m inches away from his face, and say, “Try me, son, I dare you.”

Intellectual Merit
My systematic study of male underwear will result in a system that every consumer can use to adequately assess the qualities of any undergarment. This will lead to more educated shoppers and a better streamlined method of underwear design. Concurrently, I will teach young male models about the beauty of science while rubbing their shoulders and asking how much they work out. They will fall in love with me, because that’s just how these things go.