“It’s as if the virgin or whore dichotomy extends into our drawers”: Why we should all wear men's underwear

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Harriet Hall
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I'll try to keep this brief. 

I was 12 when I bought my first thong.

I went into Tammy Girl at Bromley’s Glades shopping centre and came out with the smallest one they had to fit my pre-pubescent frame. Emblazoned with a Union Jack, I saw myself as some kind of punk Lolita.

This purchase, small though it was - both literally and figuratively - was my first major foray into womanhood.

I’d wear it uncomfortably hoiked up above the waistline of my Miss Sixty bootcuts. I thought I was the absolute dog’s.

When my mother found them in the washing basket, she found it hilarious, ruffling my hair and calling me ‘adorable.’

I’d never felt less punk.

I wasn’t alone in my penchant for miniscule underwear, though.

The nineties saw a surge in the popularity of the thong, perhaps thanks to the trend for tighter jean styles and also as an off-shoot of third wave feminism, ladettes and girl power. Showing them off above low-slung jeans was women’s way of rebelliously thrusting their sexuality into the face of passers-by, and those who still thought women should be ‘demure.’ 

The thong had such a moment in the nineties that it even made it into the charts – with the silver-haired Sisqo asking "let me see that thong, that thong th thong thong thong" in his aptly-named, Thong Song.

But the thong had its day. 

Following a desire for the fashion world to return to good taste and (I can only assume) rising numbers of yeast infections, the thong’s popularity waned.

Soozie Jenkinson, Head of Design at Marks and Spencer tells me that: “After the explosion of thongs as THE fashion shape of the 90’s, today less than 1 in 10 of the knickers we sell is a thong.”

Women, it seems, have reclaimed their drawers and are, as Jenkinson says, now “falling in love with bigger shapes.”

Personally, since my dalliance with dental floss, I’ve almost abandoned women’s underwear altogether.

As a fashion journalist who lives for clothes, it might come as a surprise that I couldn’t care less about what my underwear looks like. I don’t care if it matches, if it’s ‘on trend’, or even (don’t judge me) if it’s fraying and old. All I look for in a pant is comfort.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve got a rather sizeable bottom, but women’s underwear has always gotten my back up. If you’ve got a generous derrière, avoiding VPL is near impossible unless you opt for the laser cut finish, which usually comes in an unappealing synthetic fabric.

Lace underwear is only appropriate for the 5 minutes before you’re about to whip it off. A lace gusset – or those useless little sewn-on gussets - are a whole world of trouble, and don’t even get me started on French Knickers.

What even are they? A cross between a short and a pant, the French Knicker is a wedgie just waiting to happen - it only functions to show off the butt cheek. And they cause the biggest VPL of them all, cutting right across the rump like vicious piece of cheese wire.

When doing a quick poll around the Stylist office, it seems I am not alone. Most of us aren’t bothered about ‘feminine’ or ‘sexy’ underwear, let alone matching sets (seriously, who even has time in this day and age), we just want comfort – and to avoid that dreaded VPL.

Shortlist Media comps manager, Sarah Gardiner says:

“I live in fear of the VPL.  When I started wearing jeans (a recent discovery) I quickly learnt a French knicker was a total no-no.”

Others admit that if they’re going to wear ‘nice’ underwear, it’s rarely for their own benefit.

Just as women seem to have been told that vertiginous heels are the only smart option (Cannes Film Festival I’m looking at you), or that shimmying along in an impossibly tight pencil skirt is the best way to arrive at a business meeting, women seem to have also accepted that we should always be marginally uncomfortable in our undercarriages. 

As the gender with the most sensitive nether regions, why is it that we ended up with these thrush-inducing undies? Even when they’re comfortable, they come in some kind of nylon, instead of the necessary breathable cotton, or a lurid shade of pink or orange, in case your vagina gets lost in the dark or something.

And when you opt for the cotton ones, they arrive in a multi-pack of shame - implicit that you’re being cheap for wanting comfort.

Meanwhile, men wander around in comfortable shoes, comfortable trousers and all-covering boxers.

It’s as if the virgin or whore dichotomy extends into our drawers: red lace or Bridget Jones’ granny Spanks.

Today, the trend for large 1950’s high-waisted styles is prevailing, with the likes of Beyonce and Kim Kardashian championing the larger styles – sales of which Marks and Spencer report having increased by 67% in the last five weeks alone.

But, to me, even the high-waisted ones won’t do. I’m on the verge of abandoning women’s underwear for good.

I am a firm advocate of a men’s pant. Calvin Klein championed unisex-style underwear in the nineties, and I've never resented spending that little bit extra on their underwear for that reason (although I still prefer to wear the men's ones). As I write I am wearing a pair of black men's boxers. They’re soft, supportive and – because they extend below the bum cheek to the thigh- there is absolutely no VPL whatsoever. writer, Sarah Biddlecombe, says:

“I personally don’t like wearing a piece of floss as underwear. All about those 100% cotton panties. And I like the sturdiness of a man’s pant.”

She’s right. They just feel a little less flimsy than the female equivalent. Sure, there’s the slight problem of the in-build bulge, but I’d have that over a lace wedgie any day.

It’s not only the expensive designer ones that work – most men's departments have a great selection of tightie whities that can be embraced by women, and all of American Apparel’s underwear is unisex- which is how it should be, really. They’re like a hammock for the butt – insanely comfy.

From Acne trousers to Thom Brown suits and the rise of Vetements, fashion is seeing an overall move toward women adopting ‘mens’’ fashion, nicking clothes from the gents’ department is clearly the way forward.

The recent news that identical products are being sold at an average of 37% more for women, means it’s a logical idea, too.

So I say let’s abandon the lingerie and head to the men's department.

I’ll see you there.