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Last year, a survey from undergarment company Tommy John found almost half of the 2,000 Americans sampled said they wear the same pair of underwear for two days or more in a row. Things were comparatively normal then. What’s become of our underwear habits after several weeks of coronavirus quarantine is anybody’s guess. But we (hopefully) won’t be stuck at home forever. And every wardrobe, inside and out, will want for a refresh eventually. As the varieties, fabrics, use cases and other men’s underwear have changed this decade, it might have become frustrating to know what to get and from whom. In the spirit of looking ahead, or just staying sharp, we consulted menswear experts on guidance to help you sort through a growing selection of boxers, briefs and boxer briefs when deciding what to put on first.
Now in men’s underwear basics: More choices than ever
For some men, the default might still be a value pack of cotton briefs or plaid boxers from a familiar brand name. But men’s basics have multiplied — and then multiplied again. Along with the standard tighty whitey or athlete-endorsed boxer, there are now categories spanning designer wear, activewear and high-tech everyday wear, each promising improved comfort, cleanliness and support. “What people have done is to take better-quality fabrics and engineer the garment,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, assistant professor of menswear at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
It’s no longer a one-pair-fits-every-occasion product. For exercise, men “want options that can hold up in the gym — something breathable with compression properties,” says Gregory Fass,director of brand marketing for men’s and women’s undergarment maker MeUndies.For long-haul travel, says Fass, “you want something that’s going to be more breathable and moisture-wicking."
For functionality, there’s the traditional, vertical fly (seam, button, middle or side), horizontal fly and no fly.”Guys are very outspoken about fly/no fly,“ says Brian Berger, co-founder and CEO of Mack Weldon menswear. Then there’s also the pouch or no pouch debate.Style counts, too, especially in social-media spaces where people modeling preferred or promoted brands “want to look really good,” says men’s fashion reviewer Jon Shanahan,founder of The Kavalier YouTube channel and style blog, where you’ll find rankings for dozens of different men’s basics makes and styles.
Underwear comfort, sometimes at an uncomfortable price
Some men still rate comfort ahead of any other feature in a pair of underwear.“That isn’t really new,” says Fass of MeUndies. “Men's trends kind of take a while to build, but they're interested in quality and style more than ever before, and purchasing from brands that they can really identify with.” A new generation of direct-to-consumer companies such as MeUndies, Mack Weldon and SAXX has made it easier to decide and buy from home.
“I hate shopping for underwear,” says Mack Weldon’s Berger, whose company was born in 2012 out of a frustrating trip to a men’s aisle, he says. “One day, my wife threw everything out and I had to go to a department store,” he says. “When I was standing there, the sales guy came over to me and said, ‘Are you confused yet?’ And that was my aha moment.” In this diverse and competitive new environment, “those companies that have committed to the fabricating, engineering and cut of an item have really done well,” says FIT’s Blackman.
Perhaps the biggest change is in price. Designed to feel better and last longer, newer brands tend to cost more, too. “It’s a huge mental hurdle to go from $20 for a five-pack to $20 for one pair,” says Shanahan of The Kavalier, “but I think once guys get that experience, they understand.”
The experts we consulted found quality, wearable undergarments at prices closer to the norm, but Blackman agrees that budgeting for better underwear is worthwhile: “I truly feel that once you put on a well-made pair, it really becomes very difficult to go back.” Just remember to wash them between daily wearings.
Best men’s underwear to shop
Founded in 2015, California-based Related Garments uses a lightweight, luxurious-feeling fabric called Modal — often found in more expensive men’s underwear. “They spent money on technically engineering a very sound garment that fits well,” says FIT’s Blackman. Related says its boxer briefs won’t ride up the thighs, and the company offers a variety of colors and designs.“Many people consider it the entry-point luxury wear,” says Blackman of FIT, “but in terms of quality they’re really competitive with the big boys.”
A self-described “briefs guy,” The Kavalier’s Shanahan says if he were just buying clothes — and not grading them — he might fill his entire underwear drawer with these Mack Weldons. Shanahan credits the Polyamide fabric in AIRKNITx products with a great job of wicking away moisture in a garment designed to fit snugly. Blackman at FIT says Mack Weldon’s best men’s basics are in the AIRKNITx line, and he adds a pair of luxury-tier Silver Trunks made with an antimicrobial cotton — it really does use silver.
A pima cotton boxer brief with a 5-inch inseam, no-roll waistband and horizontal fly, the Rhone has a distinctly athletic cut and is billed as a lightweight “zero gravity” garment. FIT’s Blackman says it’s a good choice on a trim, athletic physique and “perfect” for wearing under slimline trousers.
Known for their whimsical prints and anything-goes color palette, this Los Angeles-based menswear subscription service is also serious about introducing men to a non-cotton fabric: MicroModal. Using this wood-derived cousin of Modal fabric in underwear was a “breakthrough” in men’s basics, according to The Kavalier’s Shanahan. He also likes the brand for its playfulness with design: He and his wife have pairs in matching patterns. Like most MeUndies, the Men’s Trunk comes in three styles: classic, bold and 39 variations of adventurous.
The company synonymous with yoga wear makes a sporty, quick-drying Modal fabric undergarment for guys. “They have done a beautiful job,” FIT’s Blackman says of Lululemon’s foray into men’s furnishings. Always in Motion is labeled as a boxer but fits more like a leg-hugging boxer brief. It’s available with a 5-inch and 7-inch inseam. And, either way, Blackman says to expect all-day comfort with a good range of motion from this versatile pick.
Silk boxers in a splashy leopard print by luxury fashion designer Tom Ford lead our pack in price, at nearly $300 a pair. It might be a stretch to call them basics. “For super luxe, Tom Ford’s new underwear is as sexy as you’d imagine,” says fashion stylist Neil Cohen, who likes Ford’s collection for the “animal prints, perfect logo branding and solid colors as well.” The posh underwear line that Ford introduced in 2018 is also available in a less expensive leopard cotton boxer brief, and is more affordable still without the feline touches.
The most affordable recommendation from any of our experts gets high marks for incorporating a patented, premium cotton — Supima— into a well-made garment at a more recognizable price for underwear. Fashion Institute’s Blackman calls Supima “a very, very good cotton” and Uniqlo’s boxer brief a very comfortable garment with a slim cut and an unobtrusive fly. For men who like a loose fit, Blackman says Uniqlo’s AIRism boxers are a quality item with a fabric so lightweight it feels “almost as if you have nothing on.” Uniqlo says the fabrics in both styles are antimicrobial and odor-controlling.
A flat front and a flyless pouch are signatures of this Swiss-made undergarment, which FIT’s Blackman recommends as both comfortable and antimicrobial. HANRO makes this brief from Egyptian cotton and elastane, and emphasizes its “sleek, flattering profile” for everyday wear.
With sleek, dark fabrics, David Archy menswear is meant not just to be worn, but seen. “Those are very designed for a guy to look his best for when he’s just wearing his underwear,” says The Kavalier’s Shanahan. The briefs are made of a bamboo fabric blended with rayon and spandex, and have a reinforced pouch available in fly- and no-fly models. They’re also more affordable than many of their competitors.
Maker of possibly the most expensive pair of skivvies on the planet, Nice Laundry has a more affordable solution to the constant problem of boxer briefs riding up: leg bands to hold the garment in place. FIT’s Blackman says the company is one of few to have figured this out. For Nice Laundry wearers, it means no more tugging at their underwear seams. This boxer brief with a horizontal fly is made with a custom blend of the MicroModal fabric that has caught on with several menswear companies. “It’s basically still polyester, but it’s a high-end polyester and it’s extremely comfortable,” says Blackman. The Nice Laundry boxer brief promises odor-resistant, breathable support. “It’s a good bargain for what they do,” says Blackman.
Where most underwear is knitted, this British import is woven to produce a more durable garment that will stand up to washings without disintegrating over time like a typical knit. FIT’s Blackman describes the Sunspel weave boxer as something of a “throwback” from a company that dates to 1860. It’s a well-made and “very English” garment, he says, with a lightweight feel and a comfortable back panel to replace the standard middle seam that most underwear makers thread between the legs.
Brooklyn-based Tani recommends its SilkCut Hip Brief as ideal for running, but doesn’t discourage all-around wear of this lightweight MicroModal fabric garment. Shanahan of The Kavalier counts himself a fan of Tani, even considering their higher price per pair. “When I wear Tani, I feel better through the day,” he says.
The signature of this American menswear maker is the BallPark Pouch, a patented feature to accommodate that part of the male body that tends to need the most protection. The BallPark is a contoured pouch with two mesh panels to help prevent skin-on-skin friction and, SAXX promises, keep “everything in place.” SAXX's other notable anti-chafing measure is having panel seams turned outward, on the garment’s exterior, away from the skin. The Kavalier’s Shanahan says SAXX is “still one of the best” in the crowded men’s underwear market. He gives the company high marks for design, comfort and its use of a flexible, moisture- and odor-beating Modal-Spandex fabric mix, and he says the company “continues to improve” its product line year after year.