Add French-back boxer shorts to the long list of traditional favorites Brooks Brothers is phasing out. These non-elastic, button-front, and adjustable button-back shorts had their origins in the 1920s and ‘30s, when men left behind their long johns for the more modern and cooler boxers. Button versions vied with elasticized waists during the Depression, and World War II saw white boxers replaced by olive-drab versions as standard issue for American GIs because they made less conspicuous targets when hung out to dry.
After the war, the button versions remained a favorite and eventually earned mention in Lisa Birnbach’s Preppy Handbook as the choice of the mature, Brylcreemed prep in his country club years. But like the three-button sack suit, these long-time favorites are now on the verge of extinction. Despite rave reviews and pleas by desperate customers, Brooks Brothers has not restocked their French-back or closely related tie-back boxers for several seasons and only has a few, very large sizes still available. J. Peterman advertises “WW II Army Drawers,” which appear to be a possible substitute (I have not tried them yet), but this seems more a novelty offering than a dependable source.
The imminent demise of this classic element of the traditional man’s wardrobe is disappointing. While they don’t win points for sexiness (what item in the traditional wardrobe does?), they are hands-down more comfortable than tight-fitting briefs or elasticized-waist boxers, which tend to dig into one’s sides, particularly after a long day on the job.
I have written to Brooks’ leadership to appeal for their continued availability in the product line but received no response – and that was before Covid and bankruptcy. My hope is that some Brooks exec will see this short piece and become an inside advocate. Alternatively, J. Press could see an opportunity here, as they have with so much else in the ever-dwindling Brooks catalog of traditional wares. In the meantime, I will take care of the pairs I have hoarded and continue to hope for a return of this classic. If anyone knows of an alternative source, please share in the comment section. — P. CARTER