The X-Files
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Credit: Fox 

The potency of Fox Mulder's sportswear, from the red Speedo to Georgetown sweats

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May 21, 2020

"Duane Barry" is a memorable X-Files outing in part because it ended on Scully (Gillian Anderson) screaming out for Mulder (David Duchovny) as the episode smashed to the closing credits — this kidnapping storyline was written in to work around Anderson's real-life pregnancy. The other reason is a costume choice, which would've been a highly gif-able moment if this technology had been available in 1994. This is "breaking the internet" TV in the age of chatrooms and dial-up.

Agent Mulder stepping out of a swimming pool dripping wet in a skimpy fire engine red Speedo is still discussed more than 25 years after the episode aired, a cultural swimsuit moment up there with the cast of Baywatch, Ursula Andress, and Daniel Craig. Up to this point, when he wasn't wearing a '90s-era baggy suit, Mulder's exercise attire had consisted of hole-ridden DIY sweats. This scene stood out because The X-Files was never a show that featured a lot of skin — except for the many corpses that lay on Scully's autopsy table.

Credit: Fox 

The X-Files was groundbreaking in how the audience engaged with the material, aided by the World Wide Web. Internet fandom as we know it descends in part from the enthusiastic response to Mulder and Scully. One longlasting effect is the term "shipping," which has origins in the "relationshippers" who eagerly wanted the pair to cement their love romantically.

Sure, they had conspiracies and world-ending plots to unravel, but taking a quick smooch break wouldn't harm anyone — of course, Chris Carter had other thoughts on this matter.

Credit: Fox 

The X-Files was one of the first "grown-up" shows I watched, as it debuted when I was 12 years old. It was something my dad thought I would be interested in on account of all the ghost and unsolved mystery books I had been checking out of the library from a young age. It can be awkward watching TV with your family as you sit on the cusp of adolescence, in part because everything at this age feels uncomfortable and weird. As he worked night shifts, my dad would videotape the episodes so I would often watch alone (my mother gets scared by Doctor Who, so this show was a big no for her). It was probably for the best, as no one should be around their parents when experiencing certain burgeoning emotions.

First crushes hit hard, even if you don't have the words to verbalize exactly why you feel flush or giddy when you see this person. Sometimes it takes a few years to realize just how much a character on TV impacted your sexual awakening because being a horny teenager doesn't always come with a how-to-guide. The truth was out there, but it didn't click until the infamous 1996 Rolling Stone cover that featured the two X-Files stars in bed together. But even before this nearly-naked image hit newsstands — an image that Chris Carter wanted fans to understand was Duchovny and Anderson, not Mulder and Scully — a certain Speedo had already caused a stir.

Credit: Fox 

Even by network TV standards, The X-Files is relatively chaste with very few hook-ups occurring over the first nine seasons (the revival didn't unleash the beast on-screen either). The X certainly doesn't stand for a certain kind of adult entertainment — even if Mulder's viewing and reading habits reflected his natural desire. Rather than thirsting over moments of horniness between the pair, fans had to settle for eye banging and grazed shoulders or hand squeezes. Imaginations ran wild, which is when I realized that Mulder getting sweaty via other physical exertions also made me want to believe (that Mulder would fall in love with me).

Trenchcoats and plain suits are a big part of the costume image of Mulder and Scully that don't exactly read as sartorial sexy. Hiking attire factors highly as a result of how much time they spend searching for various aliens and monsters in the forests, deserts, and ice caps across America and beyond. The outdoor closet was extensive, and several episodes saw them strapping on walking boots and wearing sensible parkas. Whenever Mulder and Scully get to ditch the stuffy pantsuits and ties, it is going to be a good episode even if mid-'90s oversized styles meant your imagination had to work overtime too. Denim (often double denim) is high up on the packing list for the agents, but in the pilot, Mulder makes sure to bring sweats for burning off the energy via a late-night run.

Credit: Fox 

Characters doing laps while another (often authoritative) figure waits to approach is a TV and film classic to show off physical prowess — see also the Hot Priest in The Exorcist. Mulder is approached by Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) in the episode of the same name, their second meeting after an earlier confrontation in a bar bathroom — another favored location.

Mulder's sweats are far from pristine, emphasizing his somewhat maverick qualities. This is 1993, so those shorts are wonderfully thigh-revealing, even if they look like they have seen better days. The hole-ridden top and ratty shorts sound like a turn-off on paper, but the potency of this combo to both a burgeoning adolescent and a mid-30s woman is impossible to deny.

Credit: Fox

Grey sweats are relatively innocuous, but just like the classic henley shirt, this garment enhances a person's hotness. It is impossible to hide perspiration in this neutral tone, which should make it less appealing, and yet here I am, thirsting over Mulder two decades later.

It's a repeat costume color choice as well; Mulder wears a grey Knicks shirt, tank, sweats, and a tee at various points over the series, all of which have the classic V-shaped sweat marks. The outfit is hardly revolutionary in the style department, but the normality makes it difficult to resist.

Credit: Fox

In contrast, the tiny red Speedo is unlike the baggy sweats we first see Mulder in. The casual way he exits the pool only makes Krycek (Nicholas Lea) look even more boyish than he already does.

The origin of this garment came up during a 2013 Paley Center 20th anniversary event with Duchovny and Anderson in which the actor revealed this was his own Speedo: "Chris Carter wanted me to wear board shorts 'cause he's a California guy. I said, 'Nobody swims laps in board shorts.'" It was clear that most of the audience was thankful for Duchovny's penchant for authenticity (even if he has had to talk about this moment for the last 25 years).

A couple of years ago while sorting through my teen bedroom, I found an unauthorized David Duchovny biography — again, I didn't have a computer at home and this was the next best thing. Flicking through the pages while sitting on the floor of the room I had spent my formative years in sent me spinning back in time. Remembering your first TV crush is full of potency, which is best summed up by Mulder sweating it out in well-worn sportswear. This is my truth, and I found it here.

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