It was Thoreau, I think, who warned against endeavors that require new clothes. After high school, a girl I knew told me with some enthusiasm that she had just applied for work as a bank teller. I knew other girls who aspired to much loftier heights. A few of them became remarkably successful. The liberation movement was only a theory at that point, a theory we hadn't heard about, but either we were ignorant of discrimination and glass ceilings or else the girls I tended to associate with were undaunted by their immediate prospects. She wasn't a powerhouse or a genius like so many of the others. Her ambition, or lack of ambition, was something that shocked me at the time. I'm much wiser today. The pay was lousy and the work was essentially menial. She accepted that. Still, she said, "You get to get dressed up for work."

In the Army, I dressed in olive drab fatigues every morning. Even if it was dressing down, it seemed like dressing up to me. I loved that I could chose between any of a dozen identical outfits and always be perfectly attired. I liked the égalité and the fraternité it conferred, even if the liberté was somewhat lacking. I wore boxer shorts for the first time, because that's what the Army issued. In the barracks there was always a flurry of white t-shirts and boxer shorts. The moment my duty was complete, I switched back into jockey shorts. The lack of freedom they provided paradoxically became the symbol of freedom itself. Then, for some reason, about ten years ago, I threw a three-pack of colorful boxers into the cart, expecting to use them as sleepwear. Women at the time, young women, like the girl mentioned above, were wearing men's flannel boxers as shorts with their own underwear underneath. Like all such fads, it has slowly become difficult to remember.

Over the years, I acquired a sizable stack of boxer shorts, and the jockeys were one by one tossed in the trash, though I'm sure there's a box in the garage somewhere with emergency backups. While the number seemed large, it allowed me to be somewhat cavalier about doing laundry. Then a peculiar thing happened. If I didn't know better, I'd say they programmed it in somehow. The elastic on my favorite boxers died. Not like the One-hoss Shay where at half past nine everything wore out and went to pieces like bubbles do, but with an irritating gradualness. I found myself tugging at them. They'd slip down and I'd pull them back up to shorts level, or belt level. As I put them on, I'd hear a crackling sound — the sound of elastic giving up the ghost — and realize that while I could still probably sit or sleep in them, I could no longer walk. So, the pile of boxers is following the same course as the jockey shorts.

Just as the flannel shorts young women used to wear have disappeared, they no longer make the underwear I've grown used to. Perhaps if I grew younger each year instead of older, I could adapt to younger styles. But, I don't want knee length or bikini-style briefs. I don't want underwear with rigid elastic or coarse cotton. I want my soft, overly washed, pleasantly staid boxers back. When I get dressed for my next endeavor, the last thing I want to think about is my underwear.