Jeremy Langmead On The Sensitive Subject Of Men's Underwear

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Men aren’t supposed to notice other men’s underwear, but I’m afraid I do.

Three times a week in the gym, while standing on the scales and discovering I’ve lost no weight at all, I’ll glance around and take note of what’s going up or down, so to speak.

Are boxers back, or does the brief predominate? White or coloured? Do people really find skimpy bum-flossers with logos bigger than the posing pouch that comfortable to wear?

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Over the last decade, while many of you have been worrying about the economy, Homeland or female bishops, I’ve been weighed down by Y-fronts.

In a previous incarnation editing The Sunday Times Style magazine, I even commissioned a column called “Lucky Pants”.

Each week, we asked a celebrity to tell us about his favourite pair of smalls alongside a photo of the item.

This slot kicked off with the late Michael Winner, the only subject in the column’s short life who actually sent his underpants to our office.

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I recall opening the package that landed on my desk and pulling out a giant pair of Mr Winner’s white Y-fronts. He said if they weren’t returned the next day, or if they appeared in Private Eye, my life wouldn’t be worth living.

For many reasons, I handled them with care; and will always be grateful to Michael for being such a cantankerous joy to work with.

While “Lucky Pants” wasn’t perhaps a career highlight — the column oddly didn’t win any press awards that year — it did prove popular.

There was the comedy value, but also a certain satisfaction in checking out what others considered practical, stylish or even sexy in the underwear department; it was sartorial curtain twitching, or should that be trouser twitching?

Today, the choices facing the pant-conscious man are bewildering. The size of Selfridges’ underwear department is overwhelming; as is the array of packaging with moody shots of bulging, sock-filled crotches trying to catch your eye.

My favourite brand is a German one called Schiesser (I know, unfortunate in a pant context): not only because the shape and fabric of their cotton boxer briefs is neither too loose nor too clingy, but because the thick cardboard boxes, with retro illustrations of athletes on the front, look like they’re designed to carry table tennis rackets in the Thirties.

The head of a leading underwear brand came to talk to me earlier this year about a new line; little did the poor man know I would keep him there for hours with my fears for underwear’s future.

Why, I asked, are most boxer shorts so baggy that they cause unsightly bumps and creases in slim-fitting trousers? Why are the slits in Y-fronts largely unused?

What are you supposed to do if you like white pants but drink a soluble Berocca before going to work each morning (I’m not explaining that one)?

And can’t someone invent a waistband fabric that doesn’t leave an unsightly mark on your skin?

Perhaps you don’t share my concerns. If not, here’s a conundrum you might feel is more relevant: the T-shirt.

For decades, the T-shirt has ruled unchallenged, a classic worn by everyone from James Dean and Marlon Brando to Ryan Gosling.

But now it does have a challenger: the Henley. Many designers, for this summer and next autumn, suggest a Henley is a viable alternative to the T-shirt.

It adds a little interest when worn under a blazer, seen peering through a plaid shirt, or worn on its own.

It feels substantial and it feels like a change: sometimes, that’s reason enough.

As with many things, however, be careful how you wear it. I wore one to a Nineties-themed birthday party for the beautiful Daisy Lowe recently (thud! did you hear that name drop?).

I teamed mine with faded denim dungarees and a pair of Timberlands in order, I thought, to look like an early Nineties’ raver.

Soon after my arrival, however, I was asked if I’d come as early-era Dannii Minogue. And that wasn’t quite the look I was after.

Jeremy Langmead is Editor-In-Chief of Mr Porter

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