Boxers In A Bunch

 

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

19 Comments on "Boxers In A Bunch"

  1. Poison Ivy Leaguer | July 7, 2021 at 5:01 pm | Reply

    Does anyone out there in Ivy/Preppy/Tradville really believe that Brooks Brothers’ new owner, who also bought JCPenney and Forever 21 (whatever the hell that is), really gives half a rat’s tail about French-back undershorts?

  2. It’s not quite the same thing, I know, but there are companies that make WWII military clothing reproductions for the people who like to run around in the woods playing as “re-enactors”.

    https://www.atthefront.com/product-p/usubox.htm

  3. Charlottesville | July 7, 2021 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    I still have 2 pairs of the BB French boxers in white that I bought around 1985 or so when I graduated from law school and moved to Washington, but I doubt I have worn them more than a dozen times total. I wish I could find a replacement for the Brooks standard elastic waist oxford cloth boxer shorts (OCBS?). So far, no one else’s version is as comfortable, and there are very few sources that carry OCBS at all. As our friend Poison Ivy Leaguer says, I hold out no hope that the new owners will carry them or anything else worth buying, although I would love to be proved wrong.

  4. Brooks in Richmond said Brooks in Williamsburg has a large stock of Oxford boxers.

  5. Re: Brooks oxford. For decades I have worn Brooks oxford pajamas.
    Of course the recent ones are “no-iron” which feel closer to actual iron
    than the original ones.
    Note: My Dad wore “french back” shorts. In his day he could buy Brooks
    quality at a fraction of the price on the Lower East Side of NYC. Rest of his
    clothes came from PaulStuart, Brooks and Rogers Peet, except for bespoke
    shirts.

  6. Michael Brady | July 7, 2021 at 8:03 pm | Reply

    There still is a Brooks Bros.? I thought they were gone a few years ago. I doubt that company returns in any recognizable form. Mall operators are just trying to keep some names alive to fill their space, so they buy the retailer’s name…literally window dressing.

  7. Charlottesville | July 7, 2021 at 8:27 pm | Reply

    Thank you, Numbers! I will call in the morning.

  8. George T. Snoothound | July 7, 2021 at 9:22 pm | Reply

    The reason any of these items are phased out is the cost of manufacture, something especially true for an item like French-back boxers, which require assembling several pieces more than basic boxers. While J. Press certainly cares more about manufacturing classics, it also has a smaller customer base than Brooks, and my guess is that they, as a successful Ivy-oriented store, would find it no more friendly to their bottom line than does Brooks, a struggling mass-market-oriented one.

    I, for one, am happy to still be able to buy generously-cut boxers, if only American-backed, from O’Connell’s, despite the recent market-wide price hike from about $30 to around $38..

  9. Richard E. Press | July 8, 2021 at 8:21 am | Reply

    Former Brooks President Frank Reilly’s brother Robert ran an undergarment manufacturing company in New Jersey making virtually the same “French backs” for J. Press he made for his brother at 346 Madison

  10. O’Connell’s has great OCBS. U S made

  11. I must admit I’m rather fascinated by these French-backed boxer shorts, and miffed I’m hearing of them just as they’ve gone extinct.

    The closest thing might be these vintage-style shorts from Bryceland’s, which adjustable button tabs:

    https://www.brycelandsco.com/products/brycelandstwillboxerslightblue

  12. Some 40 years ago, in my young fogey days in New York, I walked into Brooks and went over to the underwear counter. I told the elderly salesman that I wanted two pair of the tie-back boxers in my size. “You don’t want those! You’re a young man,” he said. “Those are for old men.” Duly chastened, I left Brooks with two pair of regular boxers.

  13. I believe General Grant wore those at Appomattox.

  14. Thanks for the tip on Bryceland’s, though with shipping those would come out to almost $110 a pair. Perhaps Mr. Press could put in a word. J.Press has seemed quite amenable of late to embracing its older product lines.

  15. Mercer & Sons offers boxers far superior to Brooks Brothers hand down!

  16. Does anyone have info on the current status of BB’s? Other than being sold recently, I heard that they sold or closed Southwick’s in MA and their NC shirt manufacturer as well. I receive e-mail’s almost daily, with the same exact products in the same exact limited sizes. Makes me wonder if they are just selling off what’s left.

  17. Briefs for me. My boys need a house.

    Will

  18. Henry Contestwinner | July 9, 2021 at 8:38 pm | Reply

    I have found that flannel is the most comfortable material for boxers, in all seasons. I have worn them in high-humidity summers, and found them superior to thinner materials; they are also soft and comfortable during more pleasant weather as well.

    My current supplier of choice is Lands End. Despite the elastic waist, they are comfy. I wait for a sale, and stock up on a couple of patterns. A mass purchase (one dozen) made a decade or so ago is going to wear out within the next few years.

  19. Kennedy, Miles | July 10, 2021 at 1:04 pm | Reply

    I’ll follow JFK’s example. Commando is all the rage in Newport this season.

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