Where Do You Keep the “Wife Beaters?” Uh…

I reminisced today with my co-workers about a seminal moment in my training as a retail slave – and that was the day I learned a slang term for men’s undergarments that – to this day – I wish I’d never learned. This happened sometime in the late 1990s, when I was still in my 20s.

Since I got my start in what started out as a “side hustle” in the men’s section of a department store, it’s not surprising I’m now well versed in strange lingo that includes words like “inseam,” “rise,” “jumpers,” and “dickies,” among others.

I started this “side hustle” job in the late 1990s – when I worked evenings/weekends in this capacity, and worked full time as a newspaper reporter. I took both jobs equally seriously – I was as eager to learn about inverted pyramids and about how to cultivate news sources as I was to learn about how to measure a guy for dress shirts (though I refused to learn the fine art of bra fitting when I temporarily switched departments a few years later), how to properly fold shirts/pants/jeans, and even how to make dress shirts which have been unpinned/unfolded by customers and tried on – look display ready again (believe me – that’s actually a fine art)!

I suppose there might still be guys who have to wear these on a daily basis even with all of the telecommuting and offices closing down? Maybe paired with sweats for a Zoom conference? 🙂

I even learned about different styles of socks and underwear. Though I didn’t take the “learning” as seriously as my older co-worker Lucy – who would always volunteer to go straighten the fixtures of men’s underwear. I would later learn that she only wanted to immerse herself in that task so that she could ogle the provocative photo displays we had of men’s Calvin Klein underwear models! Hey, whatever kept her warm on cold nights, right? It worked out well when we worked together – I preferred straightening the men’s jeans/pants, and she could have all of the fun she wanted in men’s underthings. Win-win. Teamwork.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to field questions from customers about men’s underwear! One of those was one I’ll never, ever, ever forget:

Where do you keep the wife beaters?

Rando customer asking about underwear
A “wife beater”

Uh…I’d never heard that term before! I was in my late 20s – perhaps I was a bit sheltered? I don’t even remember entirely how the conversation went (I’m sure I bit my tongue and didn’t answer his question “Where do you keep the wife beaters” sarcastically by saying “In jail?” Long story short, is I wound up learning what he meant by this horrible, horrible term for men’s “A” shirts (tank top style undershirts). My dad or brother never wore them, my boyfriend/husband didn’t wear them, though I’m sure actor Mickey Rourke has worn them quite a bit. I honestly don’t know why my mind went to Mickey Rourke just now, but well Hell – I might as well run with it, behold Mickey Rourke in a “wife beater”:

Sho ’nuff – it didn’t take long for Google images to show me this photo of actor Mickey Rourke in a “wife beater!” I do not own this photo…

To this day, I can’t bring myself to ever, ever utter this slang word! I’m not shy about using even the most foul of curse words (though I usually won’t do that in mixed company), but I’ll never, ever use the word “wife beater” to describe anything other than a person whom has been arrested/convicted for…wife beating! Truly, they do belong in jail – not on shelves of department stores!

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