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Wall Street Journal / Life - Entertain

The Best Men’s Underwear for Your Budget: We Tested 45 Kinds

In the end, we singled out a winner and two runners-up in three brand categories, from classic low-end standbys to online disruptors.

THE GODS MUST BE CLINGY If classical athletes had bothered to wear underwear, they would have demanded the best. Finding standout pairs is trickier now that the market is being swamped by new, high-tech ‘disruptor’ brands like Mack Weldon. Illustration: Neasden Control Centre


Jacob Gallagher


MATTHEW GARDNER doesn’t mince words when voicing his dedication to good underwear. “I actually f-ing care about it because I wear them all day,” said the 32-year-old co-founder of Highfield, a New York marketing firm. Mr. Gardner didn’t always get so strident about underthings; he used to unthinkingly rely on packs of banal cotton boxer briefs (boxer briefs generally constitute 60% of men’s underwear sales). Then he realized that he was obsessing over the rest of his wardrobe only to take the most intimate garment of all for granted. After some googling, he decided to try briefs from CDLP, a budding Stockholm label that makes taut underwear from lyocell, a natural wood pulp. “They’ve got this Marvel superhero shape to them,” said Mr. Gardner. “It’s a nice thing to put on in the morning.”

Mr. Gardner’s swap reflects a broader change across the underwear industry, and in men’s dresser drawers. New cutting-edge labels like Mack Weldon, Tommy John and Hamilton & Hare are muscling into territory populated at the low end by Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Jockey and at the higher end by luxury brands like Sunspel and Derek Rose. These upstart brands are the Ubers of underwear, out to disrupt the once complacent, ho-hum market. They offer subscription services so pairs arrive at your doorstep with optimal efficiency, and persuasively pack their websites full of techy terms like “antimicrobial XT2 silver” fabric, “anti-ride up leg bands” and “quick draw flys.” We’ve come a long way since a billboard of Marky Mark, snugly clad in simple Calvin Kleins, scandalized Time Square.

“We spent 9-10 months in the lab, really focusing on creating real innovation,” explained Brian Berger, the CEO and founder of Mack Weldon, who claimed that the label tested out fabrics used by Olympic athletes, NASA and the U.S. Special Forces while developing their underwear.

These scientifically sound skivvies tend to come, naturally, with high price tags. A pair of underwear from Mack Weldon can cost as much as a four-pack of Champion briefs on Amazon.com. But just how different can all these pairs be? I set out to answer this question by sampling over forty-five boxer briefs, from labels at every price point.

Bargain Briefs The Winner: Hanes Comfort Flex Fit Boxer Briefs

$36 for four, macys.com

Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Jill Telesnicki

Newsflash: Cotton is not the softest material for skivvies. Many brands use a smooth poly, but Hanes won me over by blending cotton with modal, a fiber made from beech trees, that has a supple, dare I say silky, feel. Hanes also demonstrates the importance of “paneling” the brief for a more flexible fit.

Runners-Up: Jockey’s Sport Outdoor Boxer Brief inserted a bonus mesh panel for breathability but was a little long in the leg, awkward if you’re wearing shorts. Uniqlo’s AIRism briefs were extraordinarily lightweight, but the barely-there style might feel too unsubstantial.

Deluxe Drawers The Winner: Sunspel Supersoft Trunks

$40, sunspel.com

Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Jill Telesnicki

Once again, fabric is key, and Sunspel, a 158-year-old British brand that also sells superior clothing basics, earns high marks for the smoothness of its cotton. The fit was neither skintight nor too bunchy. The ribbing around the thighs and waist didn’t protrude as much as that of some other high-end brands, which seem to think using more stitching justifies a steep price tag.

Runners-Up: Zimmerli’s 700 Pureness brief was plush, but its short inseam might be too revealing for the more modest man. The stretchy, poly material of Falke’s Sport System makes that brief a great option for gym rats.

Innovative Undies The Winner: Nice Laundry Boxer Briefs

$24, nicelaundry.com

Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Jill Telesnicki

Some newfangled brands eschew the fly completely, but why put a wall where there should be a window? Nice Laundry’s horizontal fly preserves the best of both worlds. And while many new-tech cuts extend too far down the leg, Nice Laundry’s brief comfortably ends at the upper thigh.

Runners-Up: Tommy John’s nylon-and-spandex light Air Trunk (which also has a horizontal fly) was noticeably breathable, but the fabric was a little wispy. If you can live without a fly, Mack Weldon’s poly AirKnitX (using “air” to connote lightweightness is popular in underwear nomenclature) offers exceptional comfort.

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article failed to specify that 60% of men’s underwear sales are boxer briefs. It originally said just briefs.

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