Famous 80s Levi’s ad only featured boxer shorts because Y-fronts were deemed ‘indecent’

Actor Nick Kamen stripping off in the 1985 Levi's television ad
Actor Nick Kamen stripping off in the 1985 Levi's television ad

When Nick Kamen stripped to his boxer shorts in a Levi’s 501 advert, he transformed the men’s underwear market forever.

But the advertising guru behind the 1985 campaign has revealed that Kamen was originally supposed to wear Y-fronts, until regulators ruled them out on the grounds of indecency.

Sir John Hegarty said he was reluctant to put Kamen in boxers, considering them to be “dodgy American underwear from the ’40s”, but had no choice or his ad could not be made.

“I had this idea: why don’t I have a guy going into a launderette to stone-wash his jeans because he wants them the perfect way, and put his jeans in the washing machine, and strip down to his underwear,” said Sir John, co-founder of the firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

‘The man was getting undressed’

“In the original script, we had him in what they call Y-fronts - we don’t really talk about them now. And, for those who don’t know, before you can get a script appearing on TV, it has to go through an approval process. And when we submitted the script it came back that this was indecent: the man was getting undressed in a public place. ‘We can’t approve this script.’ And it got turned down.”

Sir John told The Media Show on BBC Radio 4: “We were backwards and forwards and arguing, and they came back after weeks of this argument and said, ‘Well, we’ve just been thinking about it, and if you put him into a pair of boxer shorts that will be OK, because that will be less indecent.

“And we said, ‘Boxer shorts? That’s the dodgy American underwear from the ’40s. Oh, God.’ But, ‘Well, if that’s going to get the script through, then we’ll do it.’

“So we put him into boxer shorts, he gets undressed, the commercial runs, the sales of 501s go through the roof and the sales of boxer shorts go through the roof.”

‘Has Calvin Klein ever thanked me?’

Told that the effect on the men’s underwear market can be seen to this day, Sir John joked: “Exactly! And has Calvin Klein ever thanked me? Not once. Not even sent me a spare pair of boxer shorts…”

The advert, set to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine, turned Kamen into a star. The model and singer died in 2021, aged 59.