The show-off sex has no problem with removing their kit. After all, the male as sexual icon really works only when he is in the buff, or as close to it as society allows. In ancient Greece, athletes competed in the nude, but centuries of prudery have evolved the concept of the clothed male as the only acceptable form of public appearance.
The erotic quality of masculinity simmered on, however. Female emancipation and gay liberation changed the tempo; in 1972, Mark Spitz, the Olympic swimming champion, caused only a slight frisson when he posed in his bathers with no other adornment but his medals. The corner was turned officially by Bruce Weber’s blatantly homoerotic adverts for Calvin Klein underwear, which, from the mid-1980s onwards, towered hundreds of feet above Times Square, to the mixed delight and alarm of commuters. Nick Kamen in Levi’s, Marky Mark and Kate Moss in Klein knickers and ads for Versace jeans showing guys with bared and hideously overdeveloped pecs all followed. The muscle-Mary look exploded in the 1990s. Sales of designer underwear soared.
Then it was the turn of Dolce & Gabbana, whose love affair with football and obsession with its players is well known. In 2004, they produced a travelling exhibition of photographs of Italian footballers, with an accompanying book. Both were a great success. In spring 2006, they chose five footballers – Manuele Blasi, Fabio Cannavaro, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluca Zambrotta – to advertise their underwear, cleverly insisting on various body types and avoiding gym-forced model bodies in favour of those that are worked out naturally. And advertising continues to rack up the raunch factor, with David Beckham making a spectacle of himself in Emporio Armani pants, and Steven Meisel’s racy 2009 shots for Calvin Klein starring Eva Mendes and Jamie Dornan. A treat for girls and boys, I think you will agree.
(First published March 2006)

Picture. David Beckham/Emporio Armani