One Of Life’s Essentials
In the 1999 feature film American Beauty, Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham’s crush on his daughter’s school friend motivates him to discover some rusty old weights in his garage and start to work out. Professing to his gay neighbours “I want to look good naked”, this could be said to be the dawn of our current ‘spornosexual’ era – when men started to work out not only for themselves but to impress other men.
Today, a search for #Abs on Instagram reveals over nine million results of guys flaunting their ripped torsos and flashing their underwear waistbands for the world to see. Those protein shakes and hours of gym time have quickly prompted a revolution in men’s underwear.
Gone are the days when men had their underwear bought for them from Marks & Spencer by somebody else, whether it be their mother, wife or girlfriend. A recent survey of a thousand men by Canadian underwear brand Garçon Model found 90 per cent of guys are now buying their own underwear, with 70 per cent buying online.
According to those surveyed, the gym is where most men are influenced in their choice of underwear. Undressing to impress, two thirds of guys surveyed even went as far as to say they wear different underwear at the gym.
The Men’s Underwear Industry
Today, the men’s underwear industry is estimated to be worth $6.5 billion. Those surveyed cited a fairly even split between styles with 41 per cent wearing briefs, 37 per cent wearing trunks and 22 per cent wearing boxers.
The majority of guys own between fifteen to twenty pairs and buy underwear three times or more per year – with the average male holding onto his underwear for three to four years. Perhaps not surprisingly, single men own three times more underwear than those that are married/partnered, who said comfort is their number one priority.
It used to be a choice between anonymous Marks & Spencer or heavily branded Calvin Klein, with not much else in between. Now we have endless new men’s underwear brands appearing and big sports stars such as David Beckham (Hamp;M) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Armani and his CR7 brand) adding sex appeal to this lucrative section of the menswear market.
David Beckham Bodywear
August 2014 marked the launch of David Beckham’s sixth Bodywear range for H&M. The new round of the best-selling line is its biggest to date with a number of new pieces being welcomed into the fold.
Checked pyjama bottoms, wool-cotton mix long johns, chunky knit cotton boot socks and even beanies now feature alongside the high street chain’s acclaimed selection of underwear, t-shirts and shorts.
The core focus for the brand has always been fit – with factors such as comfort, design and function all being thoroughly considered throughout the design process. With prices starting from just £19.99 for a three-pack of boxer shorts, it’s no wonder the line continues to go from strength to strength.
Capitalising on his global popularity, Cristiano Ronaldo followed in Beckham’s footsteps last year with the launch of his own CR7 underwear line.
Designed in close co-operation with New York-based designer Richard Chai and Danish underwear manufacturer JBS Textile Group, the new AW14 CR7 collection consists of four different lines, including boxers, briefs, long johns and trunks for men.
Coming in fashion and luxury styles, the former features a wide variety of boldly colour/printed designs made from stretch cotton while the latter takes a more muted, minimal approach, utilising the finest pima cotton and cut for the ultimate fit and comfort.
David Gandy For M&S
One of the bastions of the male undergarment, Marks & Spencer is finally getting some sex appeal after the recent launch of its new David Gandy underwear range for Autograph.
The 28-piece collection is available in over 350 stores worldwide and online and has been designed by the male supermodel and London Collections: Men ambassador.
Made with luxury performance fabrics in Supima cotton, for a softer feel, and including Lycra FREEF!T to engineer shape retention and support, Gandy worked with M&S’s underwear experts to develop an exclusive slim-fit underwear block, with a lower rise and shorter short, in four key underwear styles: boxers, trunks, hipsters and briefs.
Inspired by the attention to detail traditionally found on men’s tailoring, the cut and shape of the underwear – as well as the four vests and eight pieces of nightwear – is considered and refined, much like the man himself.
Those too lazy or time poor to shop for underwear regularly can now even consider subscription services (a rising trend within online retail), such as Briefd.
A rising trend within online retail, particularly menswear, the company will send you a new pair of underwear every month. The service works in a similar way to curated clothing/online personal stylist companies.
Supplying only premium brands such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Armani, you either tell the club your sizes and preferences (such as underwear cut) or, if you’re a bit more daring, leave it as mixed to get a real surprise every four weeks.
The Key Cuts
The concept of modern men’s underwear was formed during the 1930s, when the world’s first briefs were sold in Chicago. Designed by an ‘apparel engineer’ named Arthur Kneibler, the briefs dispensed with leg sections and had a Y-shaped overlapping fly.
The company dubbed this design the ‘Jockey’, since it offered a degree of support that had previously only been available from the jockstrap. Jockey briefs proved so popular that over 30,000 pairs were sold within three months of their introduction. In 1938, when Jockeys were introduced in the UK, they sold at the rate of 3,000 a week.
Here’s the low-down on the four main styles of underwear for guys:
Also known as the Y-front, because of the reversed shape of the fly, or slip, the brief hasn’t changed very much since that initial Jockey design.
Those first briefs were high-waisted and gradually this has been replaced by mid-rise and low-rise or hipster briefs, to suit the style of trousers we now wear. High-waisted can look a bit ‘male Bridget Jones‘, so avoid.
Traditional briefs are defined by a prominent elastic waistband that sits at the waist, a Y-shaped front fly and about four inches of fabric that covers everything from the waist to the upper thighs. Briefs offer support and a minimal amount of material so are less likely to ride up. For this reason, they are often cheaper.
Looks Good: On smaller, thinner guys and under fitted clothes like skinny/slim jeans.
- David Gandy For Autograph New 2 Pack Stretch Cotton Rich Briefs
- David Gandy For Autograph New 2 Pack Stretch Cotton Rich Briefs
- Cr7 Basic – Mens Brief 3-pack
- Calvin Klein Stretch-cotton Briefs
- Hanro Cotton-blend Briefs
- Polo Ralph Lauren Contrast Band Preppy Brief White
- Sunspel Cotton Briefs
- Derek Rose Jack Pima Cotton-blend Briefs
- Gant Cotton Stretch Solid Hip Brief White
Boxers are the loosest of all styles, offering superb comfort and breathability but no support. Featuring an elasticated waist with gathered fabric in simple cotton, without any stretch, they are essentially a pair of under shorts.
Boxers are ideal for those who don’t like revealing underwear, but they will bunch up under fitted clothes. Modern slim cut versions do help alleviate this problem somewhat, however.
Looks Good: On larger guys worn under loose or fuller-cut clothing. Perfect for a more classic gentlemanly look, usually in a timeless patterned fabric. Also good to wear in bed instead of pyjamas.
- Calvin Klein Striped Logo Boxer Shorts
- Sunspel Gingham-check Cotton Boxer Shorts
- Calvin Klein Plaid Woven Boxers
- David Gandy For Autograph 2 Pack Supima Cotton Woven Boxers
- Sunspel Bengal Stripe Cotton Boxer Shorts
- Calvin Klein Woven Boxer Shorts Slim Fit Print
- Woven Boxer Short 2-pack
- Sunspel Cotton Boxer Shorts
- Derek Rose Dotted Cotton Boxer Shorts
As the name implies, boxer briefs are the middle ground between boxers and briefs. The underwear is cut like tapered boxers yet fits tightly like briefs. They are basically long trunks (see below).
Boxer briefs have the big advantage of providing support and coverage in a way that also sculpts the lower trunk. This type of underwear works well with all types of clothes, but is especially useful under tighter trousers and during physical activities.
Boxer briefs need an element of stretch, often including Lycra or elastane, to keep their shape and remain close-fitting.
Looks Good: On bigger guys with larger legs and thighs. Can be worn under anything except short shorts.
- David Gandy For Autograph 2 Pack
- David Beckham Body Wear For H&m 3-pack Boxer Briefs
- David Gandy For Autograph New 2 Pack
- Calvin Klein Underwear Cotton Boxer Briefs
- Modern Classic Boxer Underwear 2-pack
- Derek Rose Band Cotton-blend Boxer Briefs
- Calvin Klein 3 Pack Cotton Stretch Boxers
- Hugo Boss Limited Edition Original Button-fly Boxer
- Ted Baker Neilio 3-pack Button-fly Boxer
A modern hybrid between a brief and boxer brief, trunks are the newest type of underwear available to men and, now, one of the most popular.
Longer than a brief but not as long as boxer briefs, they are tight-fitting with an element of stretch. Whether you prefer the fit and feel of a trunk or brief will come down to personal preference. A lot of guys see trunks as being more grown-up and masculine than the traditional Y-front.
They offer the same support and come in a variety of colours and patterns.
Looks Good: On thinner guys and can be worn under anything, especially slim-fit legwear.
- Hanro Two-pack Cotton-blend Trunks
- 2 Pack Stretch Cotton Hipsters
- Reiss Ace Cotton Trunks Grey
- David Beckham Bodywear For H&M
- David Gandy For Autograph
- Calvin Klein 3 Pack Trunks Low Rise
- Hanro Cotton-blend Trunks
- Short Trunk With Fly
- Cr7 Luxury – Mens Low Rise Trunk
There was a time when men didn’t show or discuss their underwear. Now, they can’t flaunt it enough. As men have become more proactive and discerning in their choices, so the number of styles and colours have increased. Brands are continually innovating and producing novelty to keep guys buying.
With the amount of choice available it can be a little daunting, so here’s some general advice:
- There is no definitive underwear choice these days. Personally, I think the best underwear is the type you don’t consider again after you’ve put it on: those styles you’re not conscious about wearing and that are comfortable. Anything you have to keep adjusting or thinking about is a no-no.
- Remember if you’re going to wear skinny or slim-fitting clothes, especially trousers, you’ll want something that isn’t visible (men get VPLs too!) and doesn’t bunch up. Lightweight, seamless trunks or briefs are your best bet here.
- Avoid cartoony/manga prints if you’re over twenty years old.
- Don’t purposely show your heavily branded waistband either – it’s all a little bit too nineties.
- Remember with a lot of designer underwear you’re simply paying a premium for the name. If the brand aren’t providing a higher quality material or cut for the price, it’s a waste of money.
- Likewise, just because it has a designer name, it doesn’t make it good. Make your own judgement on the individual design.
- No thongs or silk boxers please, there’s something very creepy about both.
- Buy the right size. Check the sizing charts and purchase according to your individual waist. A size too small will cut into your love handles, making you look fatter than you are and uncomfortable. A size too big and you’ll get the dreaded saggy bum effect and have to keep pulling them up.
- Buy little and often – you don’t want the elastic to all go at the same time.
- If you like a style then invest in a few pairs as underwear companies often change and discontinue individual designs.
- Undersell and over deliver – so no ‘enhancers’, front or back!
- Let the underwear reflect your personal style, like the rest of your clothes. Slim, tailored and fitted if you’re a refined dresser, retro-inspired Y-fronts for vintage lovers, bold prints for trend setters, etc.
- Avoid synthetic materials, you’ll just get hot and sweaty. Stick to cotton with a bit of stretch.
- If you don’t want to replace them too often, buy white – coloured ones will fade faster. That said, bin these too as they start to lose their lustre or look old.
- Overly branded underwear can look tacky and shows a lack of maturity.
Like swimwear, underwear has become a major sector in menswear. This billion dollar industry has seen many high profile individuals and brands enter the market over recent years and while all this extra choice is good, it has also produced some really bad examples that should be avoided at all cost.
Remember, when buying underwear, there is really only one bit of advice that matters: keep it simple.
But what do you think – are you a boxers, briefs or trunks man? What are your favourite underwear brands and why?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…