Posted by Abe Sauer on June 1, 2010 04:00 PM
Murtaugh: "It's not a woman's girdle, it's a man's girdle."
Riggs: "They make girdles for men?"
Murtaugh: "Yeah, they make girdles for men!"
Riggs: "They do, huh?"
That was the exchange in 1992 between the hyper-masculine stars in the third installment of the action franchise Lethal Weapon. Eighteen years later and guys' girdle sales are booming.
Just don't call them that, or even "the bro," as Kramer called his male-support invention on Seinfeld. While they're now called "shapewear," manly men like Danny Glover's "Murtaugh" character are no more open about making their use of "shapewear" known. Marketing to men, it appears, rarely changes, even if their waistlines do.
The popularity of body-shaping garments for men does create a fascinating branding challenge. How does one engage a consumer that doesn't want to admit a product's appeal… even to himself?
The New York Times reports that men's "shapewear" is selling so well it's difficult to keep in stock. Brands such as Spanx for Men, Equmen, and Sculptees are flying off the shelves at Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The only roadblock to even greater sales? "The biggest obstacle is to get a guy to understand it’s a new category, and it’s OK to wear it,” as one retailer told the NY Times.
Retailers are finding unique justifications where vanity is just a side benefit. A Neiman Marcus spokesman said men's "foundation garments" are about “problem solving, and another way of feeling secure and prepared for life.”
A career coach justifies them as job expenses, saying that all job seekers over 40 should wear Spanx to interviews. Another excuse is that the products relieve back pain. Even the Spanx for Men brand's official website uses the back pain justification.
Yet the greatest challenge faced by shapewear brands might not be preconceived notions held by men, but a media (one example is posted below) that's so uncomfortable covering the category sincerely that it falls on old stereotypes, in the process mocking the items it means to promote.