We slip into the coolest and comfiest men’s underwear around – from less than £6 a pair
According to an April 1935 edition of Men’s Wear, the best men’s underwear should have “the presence of Apollo, the romance of Lord Byron, the distinction of Lord Chesterfield and the ease, coolness and comfort of Mahatma Gandhi”, which is a lot to ask from a pair of underpants.
Of course, this style advice does correctly identify the importance of underwear in a man’s wardrobe. Pants are usually the first item of clothing you put on and the last you take off. On a simply practical level, they hold everything in place and protect your bits from rough fabrics or – and I’m wincing as I write this – unfortunate zipper accidents. But on a sartorial level, underwear is an affordable luxury that signals a man’s style, taste and wealth and, like a fragrance, can be used to boost his confidence and make him feel sexy in his own skin. It’s why treating yourself to some new pairs feels so good.
So why not trade in – or throw out! – those saggy, chewing-gum-white numbers you’re clinging to, and invest in something from our roundup of the best underwear money can buy?
Best underwear for men: At a glance
- Best everyday essentials: Marks & Spencer Cotton Cool & Fresh Stretch Trunks
- Best cotton boxer briefs: Schiesser Karl Heinz Cotton-Jersey Boxer Briefs
- Best “bulletproof” buy: Calvin Klein Cotton Stretch Briefs
How to choose the best underwear for you
What fabrics are best?
Cotton: The standard fabric for underwear, thanks to its breathability, softness and durability, cotton is super comfy, but 100% cotton pants can go a little baggy between washes.
Cotton/Elastane: Most cotton underwear these days includes a little elastane – usually about 5% – which improves the fit, adds a little stretch and helps underwear snap back into shape. Included to help keep all your bits in place, too.
Silk: Soft, slinky and sexy silk is usually reserved for boxers. It’s cool and lightweight, but not as practical nor as easy to care for as cotton. Silk underwear tends to be pricier, too.
Bamboo: A modern contender to cotton, bamboo is soft, breathable and naturally wicks moisture away from the body so helps keep you cool, fresh and comfortable. Increasing in popularity but still not the standard that cotton is for underwear.
Nylon: It might be soft, durable and inexpensive but nylon – a popular undercracker fabric in the 1970s – isn’t the best fabric for underwear because it doesn’t breath as well as natural fibres, preventing adequate aeration of your man bits. Best left in the Seventies, then.
What’s the best way to look after my underwear?
As with socks, we tend to treat our underwear with scant regard, which is fine if you haven’t shelled out for fancy designer pants, but is a definite no-no if you’ve something that needs to be washed at 30°C to keep its shape and colour (elastic waistbands don’t like a boil wash or a hot-as-Hades tumble drier). So always read the care instructions, wash inside out, and fold neatly to store. It should go without saying that white pants should always be washed only with other whites.
How much should I pay for underwear?
Underwear is one of those products where the price you pay has a direct relation to the brand’s perceived value – everyone knows designer pants aren’t necessarily any better than high street store ones. Though when it comes to certain brands, such as Schiesser, you’re paying for both the quality of material and the manufacture. Having said all that, underwear, like fragrance, has a peculiar power to make you feel good, and you can’t put a price on feeling sexy.
What style will flatter my body shape?
Although we’re all for body positivity and wearing what you like, it’s fair to say that certain types of underwear do flatter certain types of bodies.
As a rule of thumb, briefs tend to look better on slimmer guys or more athletic frames. They’re often better for guys with bigger thighs too, as there’s less chance of feeling constricted and they’ll show the thighs off. Traditional boxer shorts look great on most men – unless you have particularly spindly legs – but will work best with looser trousers, as the fabric can bunch if you try to wear them under, say, skinny jeans.
The boxer brief – a modern classic which is essentially a stretch boxer short – looks good on most men, though can look a bit wrong on rugby thighs. Meanwhile, trunk styles are shorter, so fit higher on the leg, and look great on slim to average body types where the thighs aren’t too big.
Briefs, trunks and boxer briefs will obviously offer more support than boxer shorts on a daily basis. And briefs are better for guys requiring a lot of movement – which is why they tend to be the preferred style for footballers – or those who sweat a lot since they keep your bits away from your legs, preventing rashes as well as a phenomenon known as “batwing ball” (no, don’t laugh – it’s a thing).
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The best men’s underwear you can buy in 2023
1. Calvin Klein 3-pack Cotton Stretch Briefs: The “bulletproof” buy
Price: £42 for 3 pairs | Buy now from Calvin Klein
As a brand, it might have passed its high-water mark in the mid-nineties, when Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss fronted their campaigns, but there are still plenty of fans for whom Calvin Klein’s motto, “Calvins or nothing”, is more of a mantra. Back in the day, this reviewer would stuff his suitcase with Calvin Klein Y-fronts on trips back from the US, but these days they’re much easier and less expensive to come by.
Such is the strength of the branding that you can’t really go wrong with a pair of Calvins. The quality might not be quite the same as it was 30 years ago, and the classic Y-front has been superseded by straightforward “no-fly” briefs, but they remain as iconic as ever, with the triple packs of both briefs and cotton stretch trunks being great value. For sure, if it’s Calvins or nothing, we’d rather have the comfort of a pair of these than go commando.
Key details – Material: 95% cotton 5% elastane; Colours available: 8; Size range: XS-XL
2. Schiesser Karl Heinz Cotton-Jersey Boxer Briefs: Best cotton boxer briefs
Price: £39 | Buy now from Mr PorterThey might not be a well-known brand in Britain, but German underwear specialist Schiesser is on the radar of anyone serious about their pants. Exceptionally well made and designed (the Karl Heinz cut dates back to 1923, so you can safely say it’s stood the test of time), these jersey boxers, with their mother-of-pearl fly buttons and a logo-less elastic waistband, are a real joy to wear.
Unlike the other boxer briefs here, they’re 100% cotton so, though they fit snuggly, there is some give and they end the day feeling a little looser. Perfect if you don’t like underwear too clingy, or like wearing pants in bed. And, since they can tolerate a 60-degree wash, they’re also good for bunging in with the family wash.
Key details – Material: 100% cotton; Colours available: 3; Size range: S-XXL
3. Ron Dorff Y-Front Briefs: Best bum-huggers
Price: £30 | Buy now from Ron DorffPremium fashion brand Ron Dorff is famous for combining Swedish functionality with Parisian chic, so it’s little surprise its underwear is simple but stylish. These best-selling, bum-hugging briefs are based on a design for the Swedish army from the seventies and tick all the functionality boxes while managing to look super-sexy, too.
Made from organic cotton, with a touch of elastane for stretch and durability and featuring a double-layered pouch for comfort, they’re beautifully soft with a cut that enhances the buttocks. They come in a fantastic array of colours from standard black, white and grey to “salty pink” and (our personal favourite) striped. Their retro, seventies-style sports briefs are cool, too.
Although the company recently introduced more conventionally branded versions, with “Ron Dorff” emblazoned across the waistband, it’s the original styles, with two discreet, embroidered eyelets – the branded design signature – we like the most. Fit-wise, they tend to come a little small, so you might want to go up a size if ordering online (in their standalone shops you can try before buying), but once you slip them on you’ll wonder why you wore anything else.
Key details – Material: 95% cotton 5% elastane; Colours available: 11; Size range: XS-XXL
4. Sunspel Boxer Shorts: Best cotton boxers for men
Price: £40 | Buy now from SunspelVenerable British clothing brand Sunspel has an illustrious history when it comes to foundation garments (it created some of the world’s first T-shirts, and introduced boxer shorts to the UK in 1947) and is one of those brands – alongside Burberry and Aquascutum – that’s managed to re-invent itself for a cooler, younger audience without binning its heritage or core values.
Sunspel offers beautifully made premium underpants across the board, including briefs and trunks, but it’s the traditional poplin boxer shorts that impress the most.
They’re made in Portugal using cool, breathable, finest-quality cotton (which you’ll notice the moment you feel them) and are roomy without being baggy, but what really makes them a winner for us is the clever back panel, which eliminates any “cheese cutter” central seam. Not only does this make them superbly comfortable for daytime wear, but for bed too, if you’re not a fan of sleeping in the altogether. They’re not the cheapest boxers on the block, but they’re well-made and will last for years if looked after.
Key details – Material: 100% cotton; Colours available: 6; Size range: XS-XXXL
5. Marks & Spencer 5-pack Cool & Fresh Stretch Trunks: Best everyday essentials
Price: £28 for 5 pairs | Buy now from Marks & SpencerGood old M&S. You have to wonder where the nation’s bums and bits would be without the trusty high-street retailer’s value-for-money pant selection. If you’re not fussed about designer labels, and just want something to keep you comfy and contained, you really can’t beat an M&S multipack. We like these best-selling black trunks, made from responsibly sourced cotton and given a bacteria-fighting finish.
M&S is great when it comes to fabric technology, and these soft thigh-huggers are made of Flexifit – a four-way stretch material that provides a great fit and helps the trunks maintain shape even after repeated washes. Another big plus is that they come in Big & Tall sizes (up to 4XL), so are available to everyone. What’s not to love?
Key details – Material: 90% cotton 10% elastane; Colours available: 2; Size range: S-XXXXL
6. British Boxers Trunks: Best British pants
Price: £38 for 4 pairs | Buy now from John LewisIf you’re into supporting small, independent British brands then you might want to wrap your bits in British Boxers. Fans of the brand include everyone from Rufus Hound to Reverend Richard Coles, and they offer everything from boxers to briefs.
If you’re not fussy about what colours you wear, the company offers a “lucky dip” four-pack that includes a random selection of colours and saves you a packet. We found them to be true to size and well made. And they became super soft after a couple of washes, retaining their colour well despite an accidental hot wash and subsequent visit to the tumble drier.
Key details – Material: 95% cotton 5% elastane; Colours available: Multi; Size range: S-XXXL