Improving your underwear game
Unless you’re a) David Gandy or b) one of those guys who has to take it too far by stripping off on a night out, your underwear is not for public consumption. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve got a licence to wear the living daylights out of whatever overstretched, greying grundies that you can get your mitts on. Underwear matters.
And, it’s not just in case you get lucky or hit by a bus that you should pay attention to what lies beneath. Compiling the perfect underwear line-up will do wonders for how you feel in your clothes and will soon put a stop to your boxers getting funny ideas about moving far further northwards than your trousers.
To make sure your underwear etiquette is on point, we’ve put together absolutely everything you need to know about getting your kecks in check. And funnily enough, it turns out that your mum doesn’t know best.
A Brief History Of Men’s Underwear
The first record of anything resembling underwear dates back to around 7,000 years ago and takes the form of Ancient Egypt’s loincloth: a strip of fabric wound and fastened around its wearer’s delicates. Basically, an adult nappy.
It wasn’t until around the 13th century that more recognizable underwear made an appearance, with slip-on loose undershorts that ended at the calf becoming a social non-negotiable. The Renaissance stepped up underwear’s sex appeal a gear by going tighter and shorter (only knee-length, mind), while the period’s introduction of a urination flap which could be opened at a moment’s notice turned out to be one of mankind’s greatest inventions, ever.
The following centuries witnessed little change (give or take an inch or two at the hem or fabric choice) until the 1930s when briefs appeared, challenging short-style underwear’s monopoly on modesty preservation. For the rest of the 20th century men drew battle lines between boxers and briefs, with the boxer brief born out of a desire to unite men everywhere – it didn’t work.
There’s another plot twist too. While the best way to package one’s privates was a personal matter through history, the late 1980s and early 1990s put underwear front and centre (thanks in no small part to Calvin Klein and Marky Mark) with who you were wearing becoming just as important as what shape of undercrackers that you professed loyalty to.
That brings us to today, a time where the squabble between brief and boxer lovers still rages on and a time where everyone can agree that the letters on your elasticated waistband matter, a lot.
How To Pick An Underwear Style
Of all the seminal moments in a man’s life – graduations, weddings, the first curled fist of your child around your little finger – none means more than the first time he chooses his own underwear.
But what worked for prepubescent you isn’t your best choice now. Your body’s changed. Your needs have changed. Somewhere there’s a fit that’s more snug. More supportive. More flattering. Let Olivia Francis, founder of underwear experts Hamilton & Hare, be your guide to buying pants that are anything but.
“This is the traditional Y front. It’s not for everyone but it offers great support and a neat fit. Particularly good for men with large thighs.”
“Traditional boxer shorts offer maximum coverage, comfort and breathability but can often bunch and ride up so do not work well with slim trousers. [Look for] a modern, tailored cut that is much more flattering and works well with slimmer legwear. This means they will complement any body shape, being both flattering and extremely comfortable.”
“These are a newer style and offer the simplest silhouette, ideal for wearing under slim-fit trousers. They sit perfectly on the hip, a little lower than other styles, and are short in the leg, cutting across mid-thigh, which make them best for men with skinnier legs.”
Take care with ‘hipster’ styles, warn the experts at M&S; they sit low, so work best with tucked-in shirts. Or you risk an intimate breeze every time you bend down.
“These are a hybrid between the traditional boxer short and the trunk – they sit on the waist and are slightly longer in the leg. Universally flattering and versatile, they’re the go-to option for most. Particularly good for those with fuller buttocks.”
Men's Boxer Briefs
“If you’ve ever tried to run in baggy boxers, we sympathize. Athletic underwear comes with special requirements – it has to keep you in place and be breathable enough to cope with sweaty gym sessions.”
Men's Athletic Underwear
Three things matter in your most intimate wear: comfort, support, and breathability. Underwear brands have long defaulted to cotton and jersey, which provide all three. But textile innovation offers the modern man new ways to keep himself cool and dry.
An old classic. “This is a brilliant fibre for underwear,” says Francis. “It’s naturally breathable, soft and hypoallergenic.”
It’s soft and lightweight with a natural stretch, making it the perfect choice for guys on the move. The Sunspel team advise to “opt for a stretch style, with higher elastic content for added support if you spend your weekends exercising as opposed to relaxing.”
Hamilton & Hare developed this exclusive spin on traditional jersey. “We use a natural paint nanofibre and blend it with cotton for a luxurious feel – the microscopic nanofibres offer unparalleled smoothness as well as moisture absorption.”
It’s a classic choice, but silk is quickly disappearing from the underwear market. And for good reason. “Although it offers incredible lightness and breathability, it’s a delicate fabric that doesn’t benefit from wash and wear and damages easily,” says Francis. Leave to Peter Stringfellow.
The go-to material for sports-oriented underwear, mesh is light and breathable. Some brands go even further and use heat-sensitive mesh fabric that helps disperse body heat and leaves your pants feeling cool to the touch – even after a bout of cardio.
The Other ‘Underwear’ You Need To Know
These days, underwear is about more than just pants. Here’s everything else you should slip between skin and clothes.
This isn’t necessary all the time, but an undershirt prevents sweat stains and means your dress shirts need washing less so last longer.
Go for a V-neck – few things kill your look like a crew neck behind an open collar – in breathable cotton. Look for tight fits in light to mid-grey – it’s less visible under a white shirt than white. Vests also create visible lines on your shoulders, so stick to T-shirts.
Clear Your Drawers Out Regularly
No matter how well you treat your underwear, eventually, those tighty whities will turn to grubby grundies. Make sure that you have a regular check-in with your collection of underwear (about every three months or so) and dispose of anything that you’d be embarrassed to be seen in by a significant other.
Pick Your Fabrics Wisely
In most cases, cotton underwear is a great option because it’s natural, breathable, and will absorb a degree of unwanted moisture down below – it’s basically your best bet for every day. But if you’re exerting yourself, things get a little more, ahem, steamy, so you’ll need to look for fabrics that bolster cotton’s natural assets by wicking away moisture. A cotton-spandex blend is ideal for gym wear and won’t need to be wrung out after you’ve achieved a PB on leg day.
Size Yourself Up Properly
For reasons which we won’t go into, trying on underwear in shops isn’t good form. Having an awareness of your core size and sticking to a certain brand when you’ve found the perfect fit is crucial for comfort, however.
Underwear which comes up too large will have you shifting around in your seat all day, while anything that’s smaller than it should be will cut off your circulation rather than boost your package. Size matters.
Wash White Underwear In Non-Chlorine Bleach
If you think you’ve mastered the art of being a grown-up because you’ve figured out that bleaching white underwear will stop it looking from so goddamn tired, you’re actually only an adulthood amateur.
Bleach will restore some of the former glory of your white underwear, but you’ll need to make sure it’s a non-chlorine variety to reap that dazzling brightness without wreaking havoc on your underwear’s elasticity.
Buy Little And Often
Relying on the charity of others (usually at Christmas) is a surefire way to put unnecessary strain on the smalls which live in your underwear drawer. To make sure that all your underwear gets a regular break, make sure that you’re getting into the habit of topping it up on the regular.
This way your pants won’t suffer from premature aging and if you’re naff at remembering to stick on a regular wash, you’re less likely to encounter an empty drawer and face a day going commando.
How To Keep Your Underwear Looking Good
You’re not Bridget Jones, so you’ve no excuse for grey, saggy pants. Even if no one’s going to see them. “Keeping your underwear in pristine condition means taking extra care,” advises the Sunspel team, “so be as gentle as possible when washing, folding or ironing – if you’re way that way inclined.”
Wash: “Obviously never mix whites with greys, off-whites or colors as they will lose their sheen. Temperature is key too – a hotter wash does more damage to the fabric, so stick to 30 degrees and, if possible, use a gentle wash cycle. Silk, because of its delicacy, should always be hand-washed.”
One option: Only buy black or navy pants. That way, you can chuck them in with your darks.
Dry: “Drying your underwear flat means they keep their shape better. Due to their delicate nature, it’s best to avoid a dryer.”
Storage: “If you’re keen to go the extra mile you can fold your underwear in tissue paper to preserve the fabric and keep it neat and unwrinkled. Another tip is to store garments with lavender or cedarwood – the scent will deter moths.”