Hebrew word of the week: Tahtonim

Our forefathers (and foremothers) likely did not wear any underwear, or, as Adam and Eve, wore only underwear (“fig leaves”). Until relatively recent times (and still in many traditional parts of the world), people did not wear special clothes next to the skin under other clothing.**

TaHton or taHti in the Bible means “lower” place (Genesis 6:16; Joshua 18:16). In Rabbinic Hebrew, taHtonim means “worldly, as the human body” versus elyonim, “celestial; as the human soul” (Rashi on Genesis 2:7).

In modern Hebrew: taHat, “butt”; taHtonit, “petticoat, slip”; taHtit, “saucer”; rakkevet taHtit, “subway, underground (trains)”; ha-‘olam ha-taHton, “the underworld” (organized crime); ha-galil ha-taHton, “the Lower Galilee.”

*Usually refers to underpants only; “undershirt” is gufiyyah. Another word for “underwear (and sheets)” is levanim, “whites.”

**The English word “underwear” is from 1872 (the custom being first recommended by Queen Victoria and later enforced by the Irish Catholic Church).

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

MeUndies: Not your parents’ underwear retailer

It was a particularly unglamorous experience that sparked Jonathan Shokrian’s idea for a multimillion-dollar business.

Preparing to embark on a two-week trip to Europe in 2010, the then-25-year-old Conservative Jew from Los Angeles realized he needed more than his existing five-day supply of those most basic of garments: boxers. So, the young man headed to a department store for what he thought would be a straightforward and inexpensive task. 

Not so. The Calvin Klein boxer shorts he bought set him back $26 apiece, he said. And, as he found to his distress once he reached Europe, he’d accidentally purchased workout underwear instead of the more comfortable regular kind.

“I thought there had to be a more convenient way of shopping for your apparel,” Shokrian said. “I wanted to create a product that was higher end and could be neatly purchased through a website, with better pricing.”

Today, that desire to improve the lot of underwear shoppers everywhere has turned into a $10 million business, and it’s growing fast. MeUndies, an online basic apparel retailer launched by Shokrian and his childhood friend Barak Diskin in late 2011, sells boxer briefs, women’s briefs, socks, simple T-shirts and lounge pants to 100,000 repeat customers a month in the United States and abroad, company executives said. The 25-member firm operates from a warehouse in Culver City.

“I’ve been very surprised at the growth, but very excited,” said Shokrian, who described MeUndies’ fast trajectory from selling a few thousand dollars’ worth of apparel at the start to hitting the multimillions. 

The secret to the fledgling company’s success is both the quality of the products and creative, social-media driven marketing campaigns, explained marketing director Greg Fass. The garments are made from Lenzing Modal, a soft fabric extracted from beech trees in Europe, and are assembled mostly in Turkey. 

Fass said the quality is comparable to big designer brands but because purchasing is done online, MeUndies (MeUndies.com) has lower overhead than a retail store and can offer competitive prices: $14 to $24, depending on the item. Customers may purchase items individually or subscribe to receive regular monthly deliveries at a discount. 

Styles of underwear come in a few, simple categories — briefs, boxers and trunks for men, and briefs and thongs for women — but shoppers can personalize them by choosing from a wide range of colors and designs. Each month, the company also launches a limited-edition “design of the month” based on a special theme and accompanied by a social media campaign of sexy photo shoots and video stories. 

Themes so far have included “The ’90s,” a bold dot-and-zigzag pattern for which the company created a music video filled with ’90s characters and set in New York City. There was also “The ’Stache”: mustache-printed underwear, accompanied by a love-story skit set in a barbershop.

A model wearing MeUndies boxers

All the photo shoots and videos are built around couples, usually wearing underwear with matching prints, which MeUndies CEO Bryan Lalezarian said is because the company wants to appeal to both sexes and make underwear buying something couples can share and have fun with. 

“We’ve always been catering to both audiences — I actually think that’s something that sets us apart from other brands,” he said. “We really care a lot about building fun and lifestyle into what we do, and for most people that usually means a man and a woman. So it allows us to really create unique experiences and paint really cool stories that you can’t otherwise do with just men.”

Lalezarian knows Shokrian from childhood, as their families attended Sinai Temple together. He replaced Shokrian as CEO about five months before the co-founder was hit with a prison sentence in February following a botched asbestos cleanup he oversaw for his family’s real estate and property management business years earlier. (Shokrian spent six months in prison and returned to the company last month.)

Social media has been a key part of helping get the word out about MeUndies. Unlike businesses of old, the Internet has allowed the company to promote its products without large advertising expense, Lalezarian said. The company has thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a testament to the brand’s young, tech-savvy appeal. 

Quirky, controversy-sparking marketing is another strategy. The company has generated publicity by advertising its products on an adult website, enlisting the endorsement of underwear-shoplifting Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle, selling underwear from strategically placed vending machines in Los Angeles, and partnering with alcohol-delivery app Saucy to offer delivery of a “sleepover” underwear and T-shirt pack.

“Things like that really spread the word and create the whole following,” Fass said.

The brand appeals mostly to young professionals in their 20s and 30s, Lalezarian said, and 70 percent of sales are from repeat customers. The majority of sales are within the United States, but the company also ships internationally.

The CEO said he’s optimistic the company still has plenty of room for growth, from expanding the product line to selling in brick-and-mortar stores. He said MeUndies would eventually like to open its own store.

“We really want to grow our presence and grow our brand — we want to reach more and more people,” he said. “We want to own underwear.”

UPDATE: Weiner admits to lying about underwear photo [VIDEO]

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) acknowledged inappropriate internet relationships with at least six women but said he would not resign or get divorced.

Weiner said he had lied last week when he denied sending a lewd underwear photo to a 21-year-old college student over Twitter and claimed that his account had been hacked.

“I’ve brought pain to people I care about the most and people who believe in me,”  Weiner said at a news conference Monday. “I apologize to my wife and family I apologize to my friends and supporters.”

Weiner, one of the most hawkish pro-Israel lawmakers, said none of the relationships had ever become physical, nor had he met any of the women.

He said he would not resign.

“Nothing about this should reflect in any way on my official dutirs or on my oath of office,” he said.

He is married to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state.

Love ‘n’ Bloomers

The tomb of a venerated rabbi has become the apparent final resting place for the underwear of hundreds of Israeli women looking for husbands.

Israel’s Maariv newspaper reports that authorities have collected around 400 pairs of knickers and bras from the grilles of the tomb’s window and on nearby trees.

According to believers, an unmarried person will meet his or her soulmate and marry within a year after visiting the grave of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel in northern Israel.

But as for leaving undies behind at the tomb, that’s going way too far, say local clerics, who want to nix that ritual.

In fact, Rabbi Israel Deri, who has jurisdiction over protecting holy sites in the north, suggested to Maariv that would-be romantics risk a sort of love curse if they insist on dropping off their unmentionables.

“Having consulted with the chief rabbis, I can say with certainty that not only are these women guilty of a profanity, but they will also never gain benediction,” Deri said.