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  It's all there in black and white: Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute reads "Chain letters are illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants."

Alas, rules were meant to be broken. And good women, strong women, fearless women don't cower in the face of the fascist U.S. Postal Service, especially when it comes to their panties. Yes, panties.

The "items of value" in the chain letter in question are women's panties. The Great Panty Exchange has had a resurgence among women in New York City. Although the chain letter has existed for at least a decade, just ask some of the women around you and you'll probably find a surprising number have considered or actually taken part in the felonious Panty Exchange.

While the letter touts itself as an exchange its set up is that of any standard chain letter, based on the premise that if you give a little

  you'll receive a lot. In this case, send out a pair of panties, "with the tags still attached," to the first person on the list. Move the second person on the list up to the number one spot, put your name, size and desired style of panty (thong, full-assed, granny, lacey, polka-dotted etc.) in the number two spot and send a copy on to six of your closest friends. The payoff -- in as little as two weeks 36 new pairs of underwear will arrive at your door in discreet manila envelopes. All for the price of one. Giddy-up!

"Seldom does anyone drop out because, as you know, we could all use some wild and crazy undies!" reads the letter. "Take the challenge!"

As it is with any pyramid scheme, those that received the letter and did decide to "take the challenge" have been, on the whole, little rewarded for their efforts. "I did that," said one New York woman in her twenties at a recent holiday party. "I sent out a pair and I never got anything back. I'm still waiting," she said bitterly.

Having received the letter from other friends, most simply forget or figure the effort won't be worth it. "I got the letter from one of my roommates from college, who happens to be a little bit on the cheap side… apparently so cheap that she didn't wanna buy her own panties," said Lisa Kolodny, a 26-year-old marketing executive in Manhattan.

Invariably, those who don't participate have issues with receiving panties from unidentified sources, even if the sales tags are still attached. "At first I thought, eww! that's nasto. I don't want any random girl sending me undies, that's gross," said Jenny Kessler, a 25-year-old who got the letter from a coworker while working on a farm.

"I received three of these chain letters," said a female minister, who, for obvious reasons, wished to remain anonymous. "I never participated, though, because it seemed odd to me to send underwear (my preferred term) to someone I didn't know. I don't buy underwear for my friends, why would I buy it for strangers? And do I really want strangers



Panties or Underpants?

Naturally, typical Saturday night bar badinage concerning undergarments of any sort inevitably leads to the epic panties V underwear debate?

"The term 'underwear' should never be substituted for panties," says Tony Rogers, a 25 year old engineering salesman in Dallas. "Panties have a soft delicate quality about them that should not and cannot fall under the same category as my father's 10 year old BVD's with the track marks down the backside."

Fair enough. However, he followed that up with, "I think women should put their panties through a tighter rotation cycle. A panty should only be washed 3-5 times and then discarded or sold on ebay."

Given the comments from some of the males it's fair to say that just the thought of panties effectively turns their brains to mush. One thing is certain, men are united on panties as the preferred nomenclature.

Among the ladies there are passionate dissenters who believe the word panties is "just dirty." Undies, underwear, or skivvies were all deemed acceptable.

"Why is the word panties kind of creepy?" asked Kolodny. "I'm not sure, but do men even notice what kind of underwear you're wearing? More importantly, why can't most men undo bras? Are they total morons? It's a latch hook!"

Thank the deity of your choosing for Mr. Webster, who provides a ruling on the matter, defining a panty as "a woman's or child's undergarment covering the lower trunk and made with closed crotch." Underwear, on the other hand, can be any fabric worn under clothing.

That said, panties it is.


buying it for me? I don't think so." To the best of her knowledge, the church had not yet reached an official position regarding the letter.

Given the right circle of friends, the exchange can yield a veritable bounty of panties. "Oh yes, I did it," said Julie Keller, a 26-year-old New York med student, proudly. "I got my undies! I am a sucker for a deal and I trust my friends' friends." All told Keller said she received about 10 pair of unmentionables. "My sister got all of hers," she went on. "Who knew such fun existed." However, even the successful panty recipient errs on the side of caution. "All had tags on them. Of course, I washed them anyway," said Keller.

While the majority of women have heard of or received the letter at some point, very few men have ever heard of or dreamt such a thing was possible. And while they're all for it, men don't really grasp its appeal, adding to the long list of things women do that men don't understand.

"It seems pretty stupid to me," said Geordie "Boombastic" McClelland, a 26-year-old Manhattan resident. "Personally, I think it's worse than the Yankee Gift Swap, where people buy generic gifts that would be accepted by anyone in a given crowd, but are never really appreciated or loved by any individual recipient. This seems like the longest process to get a pair of panties possible," he went on. "This is the Russian Bread line of panty purchasing fulfillment."

Well guys, consider this. While men can be happy with any $15 three pack of tighty whities, boxer briefs or boxers from Kmart, one pair of ladies unmentionables at Victoria's Secret can sell for over $30. Now, no man in their right mind is going to question Vicki so maybe we shouldn't question the Panty Exchange letter.

As Kolodny pointed out, "I don't think a man ever feels sexy or dumpy when he puts on a pair of boxers. The thing about women's underwear is that if you have on a fun pair, a sexy pair or a grandma pair it can set the mood for the rest of the day or night. I also like to match underwear," she continued. "It makes me feel accomplished or something."

Another twenty-something psychology student in Boston downplayed the role panties played in her daily life. "It's not really seen by anyone, except by my boyfriend, who, at this point, doesn't really care that much one way or the other in terms of how it looks," said the woman. "He'd rather that it was just off."