The full brief: how to buy men’s underwear that will last the distance

Why stretchy fabrics are essential, the benefits of seam-free undies, and what to wear to the gym

Last week I attended a black-tie event with a friend. She came to the hotel where I was staying beforehand so we could do our hair and makeup together. When I put on my dress, I mentioned I needed to change my underwear so I didn’t have a visible panty line.

She shrugged and replied that she was wearing her partner’s briefs (something she does often) because they’re so comfortable. She said his seamless shorts are the best under silk dresses because they don’t leave lines and make her feel held in. The exchange had me wondering if, like with pockets, women were being shortchanged in underwear design.

This week, from waistbands to natural fibres, experts explain the nuances of what makes men’s underwear comfortable, durable and supportive.

Boxers or briefs?

Generally speaking, whether you wear briefs or boxers, boxer trunks or mid-length briefs, will come down to personal preference and what works for your body. Things to consider are the way the leg bands feel, whether you prefer thick or soft waistbands, and how relaxed or constricted you want to be.

Binny Borwick, global design manager for Icebreaker, says: “Whichever your preference, the piece should be well-fitted to be comfortable. It should feel like a second skin, where it’s moving and breathing with your body and you don’t even notice you’re wearing it.”

Choose stretchy, natural-blend fabric

The material of your underwear will dictate how comfortable it feels. Josie Aynsley, head designer for Bonds, says “material is important when you’re looking for a pair of men’s undies [because it can] give you specific benefits”, such as no-chafing, sweat-control or activewear that’s quick-drying.

“Natural fibres are more breathable given the yarn structure, whilst synthetic fibres have the benefit of drying quicker,” she says.

The product development team at Boody recommends choosing cellulose fibres such as hemp, linen, bamboo or cotton that have been blended with a synthetic material. “To ensure a good fit and give the fabric some stretch it is best to blend natural fibres with elastane. The use of 100% natural fibre is possible but your underwear will lose shape over time and will not give you a good fit.”

Elastane is essential

According to Boody, it’s important for the material of men’s underwear to be durable and elastic. As men age, their muscles and ligaments become softer, “therefore they need underwear that offers support to their package to reduce the risk of groin strains or injuries.”

Material made with an elastane blend is key. The stretch of elastane allows underwear to snap back to its original shape, which is critical for close-fitting garments designed to be worn over and over again. “Without elastane … the garment wouldn’t fit the same after a few hours of wear,” Borwick says.

Underwear made from stretchy, natural-blend fabric will provide durability and comfort.
Underwear made from stretchy, natural-blend fabric will provide durability and comfort. Photograph: Annick Vanderschelden Photography/Getty Images

It’s all in the seams

The placement of seams can dictate how comfortable your underwear is. Borwick says to look for seam lines that “work with the body’s natural ergonomics and movement, providing comfort and ensuring there aren’t tension points where seams are put under strain.”

Or you can opt for seam-free underwear. According to Boody, seam-free garments are more comfortable because there are no stitches, joins or hems to dig into your waistline or skin. The lack of seams also means it’s less likely for holes to form.

Other things to look out for are flat-engineered seams and a good-quality waist elastic that is soft but firm; it should sit flat on the waist without rolling down or digging in.

According to Boody a double-layered pouch will provide extra comfort. If this is a priority for you, it’s best to opt for briefs, trunks, boxer briefs or jockstraps as opposed to more free-form styles such as boxers or thongs.

What to wear for workouts

Working up a sweat? Don’t forget your underwear needs to breathe, too.
Working up a sweat? Don’t forget your underwear needs to breathe, too. Photograph: sportpoint/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When getting hot and sweaty at the gym, look for underwear that can breathe, doesn’t chafe and regulates temperature.

According to Aynsley, when choosing exercise underwear you should look for features that will cool you down when your skin temperature is rising. She recommends lightweight microfibre fabric and leg bands designed to stay in place and reduce chafing.

Underwear made from natural fibre blends are ideal, says Borwick. Merino wool, for example, “is breathable, thermo-regulating, naturally odour-resistant and fast-drying, keeping you comfortable for longer during your workout”.


Lucianne Tonti

The GuardianTramp

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