Which of these fellas is in his vest and pants?
It’s a thorny issue for any British writer of M/M romance who wants to set their books in the UK but has to deal with a market made up mostly of US publishers and readers. I think most American readers are happy to accept a range of Briticisms in their M/M fiction, but men’s underwear causes some real problems because of different usage of the same words, specifically vests and pants. And given the nature of much M/M writing, underwear does tend to have more importance than it might do in other genres…
We Brits can get away with calling what Americans think of as vests and pants, waistcoats and trousers, and the meaning travels across the Atlantic fairly clearly. But what are we to call men’s undergarments?
What we think of as vests, Americans call tank tops, but over here, this is a tank top! Definitely not the kind of image I want to conjure up for British readers when things are supposed to be heating up.
So if tank top and vest are both out, what do we call those closely-fitted, sleeveless garments that can be worn either as underwear, or as a tantalisingly sexy summer top? Wife beater sounds far too American (besides, that’s our nickname for Stella Artois lager), as does muscle shirt, and singlet is an Antipodean term that doesn’t translate over here.
I tend to resort to calling them sleeveless t-shirts, although that doesn’t quite give the right image, suggesting to me a t-shirt that has had the sleeves cut off. While that might be fine for a dreadlocked, hippie character, it isn’t going to work for everyone. Still, it seems the best option right now.
Over here, underpants are usually referred to as just “pants”, but that’s confusing to the American reader, who wonders what layer of clothing the heroes have now stripped down to (this is important stuff to know!). We do have a few even more informal terms we could choose, like keks or skivvies, but the terms tightie-whities, grundies and budgie smugglers are not in use over here.
So, you end up being stuck with the more formal sounding “underpants”, or have to get really specific with what style of pants your heroes are wearing. But even then, there are some cross-Atlantic differences: what the Americans call “boxer briefs” are more commonly referred to as “y-fronts” over here, although I think it’s fair to say that the term boxer briefs is sneaking in, perhaps because y-fronts just don’t sound very sexy.
Any other Brit writers out there have similar struggles with men’s underwear? (and I don’t mean getting buried by the contents of their laundry basket) Any alternative terms for vest and pants you can suggest that won’t confuse readers on either side of the pond? I’d love your help with this one!