Ever since Tall Order introduced underwear, one of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received is, “what material are your underwear made of?” We’ll explain our materials and logic in time, but it’s clearly something of interest to consumers. People want to know what materials go into the clothes they wear. Whether it’s to evaluate the performance of a fabric for certain conditions and activities, or if it’s to know how comfortable the underwear will be, it’s important to know what fabrics comprise your underwear.
In this blog, we’ll examine some of the most popular materials found in men’s underwear today. We’ll analyze what makes them great or bad for certain situations, how they feel, and the pros and cons of these fabrics. We’ll also give you some recommendations on what fabrics perform well in specific environments or activities, and give you some general tips on how to pick the best underwear for you given all this information.
Note that there will likely be some overlap between the information presented here and that which you can find in our previous blog on the best materials for socks.
The 7 Most Common Materials for Men’s Underwear
Before we examine each fabric in detail, here is a quick reference guide you can use to narrow down your search for the ideal fabrics:
|Material||Best Features||Worst Features|
|1. Cotton||soft; breathable||holds on to moisture|
|2. Modal||extremely soft||no support|
|3. Silk||comfort; lightweight||fragility; difficult to clean and maintain|
|4. Merino Wool||soft; moisture wicking; best for cooler temperatures||difficult to maintain|
|5. Polyester||durability; support||synthetic; not naturally moisture-wicking|
|6. Bamboo||lightweight; breathable||thin and flimsy|
|7. Nylon||flexibility & stretch||too light by itself|
When most people think of men’s underwear, they picture a classic set of cotton briefs or boxer briefs. Cotton has been a popular fabric in underwear because it is inexpensive, widely available, easy to produce, comfortable, and breathable. This can make cotton underwear cheap, though you likely will sacrifice some quality with the lower price. Cotton underwear holds on to some moisture, degrades relatively quickly, and is prone to cause irritating chafing in between your legs.
Pro Tip: If looking into cotton underwear, be sure to look for a premium cotton blend, like that in Tall Order’s Boxer Briefs to minimize these annoyances.
Modal (also known as micro modal) has come on the scene in recent years as a popular men’s underwear fabric. It is a natural fabric spun from tree cellulose fibers. The result is a set of underwear that is breathable as cotton, but as buttery soft as silk. Modal underwear is some of the most comfortable underwear you can find on the market. However, be advised its greatest asset is also its weakness; its softness and comfort means it lacks rigidity for support, especially during active activities.
Silk is a natural fiber spun from insects and silkworms, which use the material for cocoons. It is extremely soft, smooth, and lightweight, with natural moisture-wicking capabilities. However, it is an extremely fragile fabric and it is difficult to clean; it requires delicate care when laundering as it can degrade under the wrong conditions. The high-maintenance barrier it poses, along with a high price tag when compared to similarly soft fabrics, such as modal, means silk underwear is best reserved for only one or two pairs in your underwear drawer.
Merino wool is a natural fiber harvested from a specific breed of sheep. Unlike traditional wool, which can be itchy and can pill after repeated wear, merino wool is much softer and not itchy. It also has built-in moisture-wicking capabilities and is great at regulating skin and body temperatures in cooler conditions. That said, it is difficult to maintain and not the most durable fabric, leaving it a poor choice for more active lifestyles.
Polyester is a generic term for several synthetic materials made from a chemical reaction of certain acids and alcohols. For the purposes of underwear, think of polyester as the opposite of a lot of natural fabrics; it is extremely durable, provides a lot of support, is easy to maintain, and is flexible enough to hold its shape. However, by itself it is not very moisture friendly; it holds on to sweat and is not naturally breathable. You’ll typically find polyester blended with other fabrics to help with moisture control and breathability. These types of underwear are great for athletics and more active lifestyles, where support and rigidity are more desirable characteristics for underwear.
Bamboo is a natural fiber made from bamboo grass that has gained popularity in recent years due to its biodegradability. Like other natural fabrics, it is breathable, lightweight, moisture-wicking, and soft. However, because it comes from a grass, it tends to be thinner and less durable than other fabrics. So be sure to find bamboo underwear that is reinforced by other, more rigid fabrics. This would make bamboo blends a good choice for not only everyday wear, but also for an active lifestyle.
Nylon is another generalized name for certain synthetic materials derived from petroleum. Nylon is lightweight, smooth, flexible, moisture-wicking, and stretches and retains its shape well. However, nylon must be blended with other fabrics, as it is too light to stand up on its own. Additionally, while it repels moisture, it’s not very breathable, so it’s not a great choice for warmer environments.
How to Pick the Best Underwear for You
A lot more than just the fabric goes into selecting the best set of underwear. In all likelihood, you’ll want to keep several types of underwear in your top drawer to handle whatever life throws at you. However, definitely take the following into consideration when purchasing a new set of underwear:
- Style - men’s underwear comes in many different shapes and form factors to suit a wide variety of activities, preferences, and body types. For more information on the types of underwear styles, check out our previous blog on types of men’s underwear
- Size - this holds especially true for big and tall. Not only do you need to make sure that the waist is comfortable (not too tight to be painful, but not too loose to sag down during the day), but also, if you’re choosing a style such as boxers or boxer briefs, that the leg portion goes down long enough to cover your upper thigh. You also want to ensure ample room for your genitals, and look for sufficient length in the leg to prevent chafing.
- Price - you need to decide if you want more pairs of underwear that are cheaper but less durable, or if you want to invest in a more premium product with the prospect of them lasting longer
- Brand - how do you identify with the brand on the underwear and what do they support? Do they give back to charity? Are they environmentally sustainable?
Our Expert Picks: The Best Fabrics for Men’s Underwear
After talking with our fellow underwear fanatics here at Tall Order, here are our consensus top materials for each type of activity and environment:
- High Activity Underwear: polyester blends, especially those with moisture-wicking capabilities, offer the best combination of support and sweat control for athletics and very active lifestyles.
- Cold Weather Underwear: merino wool underwear will do the best job of regulating your body temperature and insulating you from frigid conditions. In cold weather, you can also look to long underwear to cover more of your legs.
- Warm Weather Underwear: cotton blends, bamboo, and other natural, breathable fibers are best to promote airflow during warmer days.
- Lounging/Everyday Underwear: for lounging, you’ll want to enjoy softer fabrics such as modal, silk, merino wool, and even some cotton blends. Cotton blends and some polyester blends can be more durable for everyday wear.
- Affordable Choice: plain cotton tends to be the cheapest choice for underwear, just know you’ll replace them more often as they are less durable than other fabrics.
Upgrade Your Underwear Drawer with High-Quality Boxer Briefs
If you don’t own a good set of underwear to fit a specific need, we recommend starting with Tall Order’s high-quality Boxer Briefs 3-Pack. They are built from ultra-flexible and ultra-breathable moisture-wicking cotton stretch blend, so you’ll feel comfortable and cool all day long. They stay in place, and don’t sag down or bunch up on the thigh. In addition, the comfort waistband won't dig into your waist, providing the perfect fit. And with big and tall sizing available, men of all sizes can be their best selves without worrying about their underwear. Tall Order Boxer Briefs come in convenient 3-packs, allowing you to quickly fill up your top drawer with your new favorite underwear!