It’s a shame, but we can’t all look like David Gandy in our pants. Underwear ads paint a glamorous portrait but, in reality, fit, material and quality are way more important than the brand name on the band.
To help you on your way, we reached out to a handful of industry experts to compile these essential rules on style, fabric and maintenance.
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.
Brief: “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.”
Trunk: “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 slimmer 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.
Boxer short: “Traditional boxer shorts offer maximum coverage, comfort and breathability but can often bunch and ride up so do not work well with slim trousers. Our boxers offer a modern, tailored cut that is much more flattering and works well with slimmer legwear. This new approach means they complement any body shape, being both flattering and extremely comfortable.”
Boxer brief: “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.”
Why Your Underwear Fabric Matters
Three things matter in your most intimate wear: comfort, support and breathability. Pants 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. These new fabrics are often sustainable, breathable and even heat-sensitive.
Here, a few experts weigh in on the best (and worst) choices on the market, as well as expanding on a few brand-specific options.
Cotton: An old classic. “This is a brilliant fibre for underwear,” says Francis. “It’s naturally breathable, soft and hypoallergenic.”
Jersey: 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.”
Lyocell jersey: 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.”
Silk: 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.
Mesh: The go-to material for sports-oriented underwear, mesh is light and breathable. Some brands go more specific 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 Best Places To Buy Your Underwear
It’s often tempting to buy cheap underwear in bulk, but it’s better to think on a cost-per-wear basis – if you’re paying £1.99 for Incredible Hulk briefs in the Primark sale, you’ll be doing it every other week when they give out.
Guys on a budget should check out David Beckham’s Bodywear line at H&M, David Gandy’s range for M&S and John Lewis for high-quality multi-packs that won’t break the bank, whereas Uniqlo offer an extensive range that combine the brand’s fabric savvy with pocket-friendly price tags.
David Gandy For Autograph
Ignore the ads. Fashion brands tend to steer toward cuts and materials which flatter the likes of Justin Bieber, not you.
Real men should look to specialists such as Sunspel, Derek Rose, Hanro and Hamilton & Hare, for better fabrics, designed to suit IRL bodies.
Hamilton & Hare
If you’ve ever tried to run in baggy boxers, we sympathise. Athletic underwear comes with special requirements – it has to keep you in place and be breathable enough to cope with sweaty gym sessions.
Under Armour is amongst the best brands on the market: its heat-sensitive fabrics keep cool even when you’re not. Runderwear is also worth a look too. The brand doesn’t have an extensive range, nor is it super-stylish, but it’s affordable and specifically designed to stop you chafing.
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 actual 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 grey – it’s less visible under a white shirt than white. Vests also create visible lines on your shoulders, so stick to tees.
White socks are streetwear’s current obsession, but if you’re not in a hoodie, stick to classic black or navy. Your socks should be long enough to show no skin when you cross your legs, unless you’re after mankles. In which case, Falke’s invisible socks let you flash yours without stinking out your shoes.
How To Look Good In Just Your Pants
“I used to find underwear shoots nerve-racking. You don’t really know the photographer and you’ve got to familiarise yourself with the situation, but once you relax and settle into it, it becomes just as easy as general modelling. Once you’re forced into these uncomfortable situations time and time again you get used to meeting strangers and stripping off in front of them; it becomes normal in a way.
“It’s always good to pump yourself up before a shoot – it just gives you that extra confidence in yourself. You don’t want to overdo it, but a set of push-ups and a few crunches are always going to help.
“Ultimately, though, the key to looking good in your pants is posture. If you’re not standing up straight with your shoulders back, your abs aren’t going to be looking good. Underwear modelling is all about physique, so slouching won’t do your figure any favours.
“Personally, I find boxer briefs most flattering – they’re a better fit for me, and they’re not quite as tight as Y-fronts. I tend to wear a lot of Armani underwear – it looks good and it’s comfortable.”
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 colours 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.” Tip: 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 cedar wood – the scent will deter moths.”