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Best Men’s Underwear: The Different Types & Best Pairs in 2021
Underwear is often the most neglected aspect of a man’s wardrobe. We tend to keep underwear in rotation for far too long, usually until they’re so worn out that they physically can’t be worn any longer. Besides, what’s a few tears or stains in the face of true comfort? It usually takes a shaming from a partner to ditch our most well-worn pairs, but stocking up on underwear isn’t as simple a task as it used to be. While you can find underwear at any pharmacy these days (or even a gas station if you’re really desperate), there are more options than ever, from the traditional briefs we all sported as kids, the boxers we rocked as we got older, and the increasingly popular boxer briefs and trunks.
Read on for an overview of the most popular men’s underwear types to help guide you on your next shopping trip, as well as our picks for the best men’s briefs & trunks for 2021. (For our Best Men’s Boxers, click here.)
Whichever style you choose, you want to be ruthless when it comes to your older pairs. Embrace your inner Marie Kondo and get rid of those rapidly-decaying old underwear for good.
A Little History of Men's Underwear
While we’re not going to dive too deep into the origins of undergarments (that’s what Wikipedia is for), it’s helpful to understand how and why male underwear has evolved over time.
Skipping forward a few thousand years from the extremely revealing loincloth, the classic briefs as we know them were first sold in North America in 1935 by Coopers, Inc. They were billed as “The Jockey,” since they were designed to mimic the supportive jock strap used by athletes. As opposed to the body-length undergarments that had preceded it, the jockey had a form-fitting style that quickly caught on, making it by far the most popular men’s undergarment for decades.
The reign of the mighty briefs nearly came to an end in the ‘90s with the emergence and immediate popularity of boxer shorts. Covering most of the thigh and with a looser fit, boxers were a drastic change from briefs, and benefited the style of the times, which favored baggier clothing (this was the era when parachute-sized JNCO’s ruled the streets). It’s long been thought that boxers first originated from designer John Varvatos while he was working for Calvin Klein in the ‘90s, which made boxers a must-have for every man’s wardrobe thanks to their wildly popular “Marky Mark” [Wahlberg] ads from the era.
As fashion moved away from baggy clothing to more form-fitting styles (just try to buy something not listed as “slim-fit” these days), the popularity of boxers has been supplanted by boxer briefs and trunks, each offering a snug fit that won’t get bunched up by today’s slim-fitting jeans.
Men's Underwear Types
Boxers or briefs? These days it’s a bit more complicated than that. From bikini briefs and trunks to boxers and midway briefs, men’s underwear types are almost as assorted as the fabrics used to make them. To simplify matters, let’s focus on the main four styles: briefs, trunks, boxer briefs, and boxers.
- Briefs: short, form-fitting underwear with no thigh coverage.
- Boxers: essentially lightweight shorts worn under clothing.
- Boxer Briefs: form-fitting like briefs, but with material extending down the thigh like boxers.
- Trunks: similar to boxer briefs, but with fabric extending only a few inches down the thigh.
Often derided as “tighty-whiteys,” briefs rarely get a fair shake. Let’s face it – it’s hard to get excited about underwear that reminds you of being a toddler. Yet there’s a reason why briefs are still so popular, regardless of age – they simply offer better support than any other men’s underwear on the market.
With their Y-shaped design, briefs hold everything snugly in place, providing the ultimate in support. While some may prefer letting their boys hang free, it’s hard to beat the comfort of a pair of properly-fitting briefs. Securing the right fit is essential for briefs – they’re meant to be snug but not too tight. While the old rumor about tight briefs lowering your sperm count has been endlessly debated, you don’t want to smother that area – it’s worth trying a couple of sizes to be sure you have the best fit possible.
Briefs are also best for working out and playing high-intensity sports – wearing boxers during an intense workout or game can result in chafing, or even worse twisting mishaps (look up “testicular torsion” if you want to ensure a sleepless night).
Briefs are now available in a variety of materials and lengths, including low, mid- and high-rise cuts, so you don’t necessarily have to sport the same style you did as a kid (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
By far the most popular underwear choice for men, boxer shorts offer a great balance between comfort and style. By letting everything hang free, boxers feel like you’re going commando, while still protecting your area from needless friction from pants and shorts. They also provide much better air-flow than briefs, which helps keep you cool and dry. By extending partway down your leg, boxers are essentially like wearing a thin pair of shorts all day. There’s also the convenient fly opening so you don’t have to pull your underwear down like a child whenever you need to hit the john.
Boxers are available in a huge array of styles and lengths these days, with many more form-fitting options than in the past. The styles of yore were often excessively large and bulky, which made sense when everyone was rocking oversize carpenter jeans, but today’s slimmer pants styles call for a much thinner style of underwear.
Boxer shorts are also the best choice for lounging around the house on a day off or chilling in the morning. For bonus points, your partner can also wear them too – you don’t see people borrowing their partner’s briefs while making breakfast.
Boxer briefs, as one might expect from the name, offer a great middle-ground between classic briefs and boxer shorts. They provide the comfort of briefs with the style of boxers, making these some of the best-looking underwear options for men on the market.
Unlike traditional boxers, boxer briefs have a much shorter leg, reducing the chance they will bunch up under your pants. However, unlike boxers, they won’t leave you hanging – boxer briefs provide the same support as briefs, keeping everything snug and in place, but in a much more attractive package.
Along with trunks (more on that below), boxer briefs are one of the most stylish underwear choices for men today. You will appreciate the form-fitting look, and you won’t have to sacrifice any of the comfort of traditional briefs.
Residing somewhere between the extended leg length found in boxers and the close-fit of briefs lies the underrated trunk, a fashionable and form-fitting variety of underwear that offers the best of both worlds. The inseam of a pair of trunks is generally half that of a pair of boxers and offers a snugger fit, allowing you to show off those thigh gains.
Trunks are also the best choice if you’re rocking a pair of skinny-fit jeans – nothing ruins the slick look of a tight-fitting pair of jeans like a handful of underwear bunching together down your leg. A pair of trunks will sit much closer to your skin, and since there is less material overall, will greatly reduce the odds of having to constantly adjust your underwear when they start riding up your favorite pair of 501s.
Trunks also offer temperature support for all seasons; the tight-fit helps with heat retention in the winter months to keep you nice and warm, and the slimmer design also works to keep you cooler in the swampy summer months.
If you’re on the shorter side, sliding on a pair of trunks will also accentuate your leg, giving you an added sense of height, as opposed to longer boxers which will actually make you look shorter.
Trunks may not be nearly as ubiquitous as briefs or boxers yet, but they might just be the most fashionable type of men’s underwear you can get today. Start stocking your wardrobe with these now and thank us later.
Even after you’ve narrowed down the type of underwear you want, there are still a myriad of materials available for each style, which will drastically affect the look and feel of your underwear of choice. Here are some of the best options to look out for.
Those extremely comfy briefs sitting in the back of your drawer are probably made from cotton, one of the most popular fabrics for men’s underwear. Cotton is light and breathable, which makes it perfect for wearing for extended periods of time. The only downside to cotton is that it absorbs moisture, so you’ll want to look for another fabric for your next workout session if you don’t want your area to get too swampy.
Unlike cotton, nylon will keep you dry even on the hottest of days or in the midst of a punishing gym session. Nylon is a synthetic polymer known for its stretching properties and rugged construction. If you’re going to be putting yourself (and your underwear) through the paces, nylon is a great bet.
Spandex is a synthetic fibre known for its extreme elasticity, making it a great option for exercising. You’ll generally find nylon or spandex in a fabric blend, so be sure to check the label before you buy if you want that extra bit of maneuverability in your underwear.
Polyester is another synthetic fabric that you’ll often find in underwear construction. Much thinner than cotton, polyester is light and durable, making it a great choice to pair with slim jeans.
The new kid on the block, modal fabric is made from beech trees, and is one of the most breathable fabrics you’ll find, making it a great fit for underwear. Modal is much softer than cotton, and will not shrink. It’s a tough fabric that is also extremely comfortable, which accounts for its surge in popularity in recent years.
If cost isn’t an issue, you can’t go wrong with silk underwear. Silk has moisture-wicking properties, which means it actually repels moisture, keeping your area nice and dry. Silk also has the benefit of working in any climate – it will keep you warm in the winter, and cool in the summer months. Silk is extremely soft, and the material practically shines, making it the ultimate example of luxury underwear. Treat yourself!
8 Best Briefs & Trunks For Men in 2021
Mack Weldon AIRKNITX
Mack Weldon claims they’re “out to make briefs cool again,” and their line of AIRKNITX briefs might just do the trick. Available in six colors including “Blue Ice” and “Charcoal,” these stylish briefs are made of lightweight breathable microfiber designed to keep you dry and cool throughout the day. Mack Weldon has truly designed their briefs with comfort in mind – all of their lines feature a tag-less design and a no-roll waistband to avoid frustrating bunching-up, as well as “targeted cool zones” to keep you from over-heating during your workout. The AIRKNITX briefs feature a fly-less pouch, making these a great option for those looking for a great mix of comfort, support, and style.
Calvin Klein Men's Cotton Classic Briefs
Calvin Klein has long been one of the most recognizable names in men’s underwear (who can forget those classic Marky Mark ads from the ‘90s?) and their classic cotton briefs still earn rave reviews from buyers to this day. Made from 100% cotton, these are breathable and stylish briefs without any bells or whistles. They feature the iconic Calvin Klein logo on the elastic waistband, and are available in a number of solid colors (you can also get the classic black briefs with various color waistbands if you really want to stand out). Often available in affordable multipacks, these iconic briefs should be staples in your underwear drawer and are some of the best men’s underwear for the money.
MeUndies Men's Brief
If you’ve listened to any podcast in the last few years, you’ve doubtless heard ads for MeUndies, the popular underwear subscription service that sends you a new pair by mail each and every month. Made from 92% MicroModal, a super-soft natural fibre made from beechwood, these comfortable and supportive briefs feature a black no-roll elastic waistband to keep them snug and secure. They are available in a huge array of colors and designs, from solid colors to MeUndies’ “Adventurous” line, featuring everything from colorful plaid to wrap-around cartoonish Avengers designs. Get yourself a subscription now and see why MeUndies has become the internet’s favorite underwear.
Hanes No Ride Up Briefs with Comfort Flex Waistband
If you want to stock up on some essentials that won’t break the bank, you can’t go wrong with these wardrobe staples from Hanes. Constructed for a snug fit that won’t ride up when you pair them with your favorite skinny jeans, they also feature a comfort flex waistband so they won’t sag, a tag-free design, and moisture wicking properties to ensure you stay nice and dry as you go about your day. Made from a cotton-polyester blend, these are often available in affordable packs for as low as $2 apiece. The only downside is that they are only available in white, but at this price point for some of the best underwear for men we’re not complaining.
Tommy John Second Skin Briefs
If you have large legs you’ll appreciate the high-cut style of Tommy John’s Second Skin Briefs. Less material eliminates the potential for these to bunch up (or give you a wedgie), and the oversize front pouch provides for plenty of room for those guys who need the extra space. Made with MicroModal fabric, these are exceptionally soft briefs that are also non-pilling, so they should stay in great shape for a good while. They are also equipped with a “stay-put” waistband designed to rest snugly on your body. Available in six colorways, these are ideal for those looking to accentuate their lower body without sacrificing comfort.
Jockey Staycool+ Briefs
Along with Hanes, Jockey has been one of the go-to names for the best men’s briefs for generations, and they continue to design a myriad of new models that take advantage of current styles and materials to put a spin on the old classics. Their Staycool+ briefs are made from 100% breathable cotton that will keep you cool and dry. These are form-fitting briefs that still offer a range of motion thanks to their elastic waistband – they provide the support you want from a pair of briefs, but won’t feel constricting. Jockey’s StayNew technology claims to keep these looking fresh and crisp even after repeated washings, which is a selling point few other brands can claim.
Saxx Ultra Trunks
Saxx has quickly exploded in popularity due to their eye-catching “Ballpark Pouch” on all of their underwear styles that stores and supports your package in a stylish way while avoiding friction and chaffing. Their trunks feature a 3” inseam (their boxers run 5”) and offer a form-fitting middle-ground between boxers and briefs. These trunks offer moisture and odor control, 4-way stretch, and are some of the softest trunks on the market. They come in a variety of unique styles, but we’re partial to the Ultra, which boasts better breathability under shorts and pants, an essential element for the summer months. Saxx also offers a 30-day guarantee if you’re not satisfied, so you really have nothing to lose picking up some of the best underwear for men today.
Calvin Klein Body Modal Trunks
One of the most trusted names in the underwear game also offers a few trunk styles, including this version made from ultra-soft modal fabric. These low-rise trunks feature a wide waistband with the iconic Calvin Klein logo, and a contoured pouch to keep everything in its right place. Modal allows for an incredible comfortable fit and is also very breathable, ensuring you won’t overheat. Online reviewers praise their comfort and fit, but note that they tend to run a bit small, so if this is your first pair of CKs you may want to go up a step. These modal trunks are a bit pricey, but you’re definitely getting what you pay for here.
2(x)ist Pima Flex Trunk
If you lean towards skinny jeans and tight pants, the 2(x)ist Pima Flex trunk will be your new go-to. Like the incredibly popular “no-show” socks, 2(x)ist bills their trunks as “no-show,” promising a form-fitting trunk that will make your favorite pants shine without having to go commando. What makes the 2(x)ist trunks unique is the compression stitching in the leg, which avoids them bunching up and riding, allowing for a snug and flattering fit.
Made with 95% super soft Pima cotton and 5% spandex, these trunks offer the softness and comfort of cotton with some added stretch and flexibility from the addition of spandex. 2(x)ist offers a wide selection of eye-grabbing styles, from traditional solid colors to off-the-wall wraparound designs that will make your partner do a double take.
To keep your underwear in great shape, you’ll want to wash them in cold water on a gentle cycle. Hot water can wear out the elasticity in underwear, which is how guys end up with briefs that eventually start looking like they’ve been put through a paper shredder. Depending on the fabric, you may want to hang dry them as opposed to throwing them in the washer. Perhaps most importantly, wash your dirty underwear often – you don’t want pairs of unclean undies sitting in a laundry basket with the rest of your clothes for too long (or better yet, wash and store them separately if you can).
This is a bit of a tricky balance – if you choose briefs over boxers, you want a tight fit, but if they’re too tight you can end up with all sorts of risky issues. Briefs that are too tight can cause chaffing of the skin or can cause a build-up of bacteria that can lead to a whole host of medical symptoms you don’t want anything to do with. Your best bet is to experiment with sizes until you find the proper match. They should rest flush with your body but they shouldn’t be too constricting – at the end of a long day, you should have an idea if your briefs are a snug fit or if they’re much too tight.
Cotton is the most popular material for men’s underwear due to its breathability, comfort and great absorption properties. It’s also hypoallergenic! That said, MicroModal is ultra-soft, polyester has great moisture-wicking abilities, and silk is cool and luxurious. Your best bet is to have a selection so you can change it up depending on your outfit and activity.