The Blog

What Lies Beneath: Why Underwear Is the Underdog in a Man's Wardrobe

They have helped make stars and history, formed political fashions and pharaohs' essentials for the afterlife and are counted as one indicator of economic boom and bust. They also stay closer to men for longer than their wives or girlfriends ever will. So, why is it that men apparently give so little consideration to their underpants?

They have helped make stars and history, formed political fashions and pharaohs' essentials for the afterlife and are counted as one indicator of economic boom and bust. They also stay closer to men for longer than their wives or girlfriends ever will. So, why is it that men apparently give so little consideration to their underpants?

I'm not only thinking about the results of a recent Mintel survey which suggested that almost a quarter of British men don't change their underwear every day.

Over many years of working in the fashion and presentation industries, I've come to accept that, in a man's wardrobe, underwear - pants and socks - are the underdogs. I want to halt all talk of hosiery for now, though, and concentrate instead on underpants.

Men may take a lot of time and spend a lot of money choosing the right suits, shirts, ties and shoes for a range of occasions but, when it comes to underpants, very few men give anything like the same thought that women do in making a purchase.

It's not as though the fact that, because they're out of sight for much of the time, they should be out of mind. Flick through any glossy men's monthly magazine and there'll be advertising images of toned Dolce and Gabbana models in your face whilst, after his ultimate undie-clad role for Armani, David Beckham's current range of figure-hugging briefs for H&M stands out over our heads on billboards across the country.

Their prominence isn't only a new development either. The 'boxer short' was originally developed as an undergarment for boxers, surprisingly enough, in the 1920s while the Jockey short (which wasn't only intended for those riding horses) were available early in the following decade.

This year also sees the 30th anniversary of the first pair of Calvin Klein men's underwear going on sale. Appearances in promotional campaigns for that brand, of course, helped Mark Wahlberg's transformation from the rapper Marky Mark into the film star we know him as today.

So essential was underwear considered that, going even further back in history, 150 loin-cloths were among the less celebrated items removed from King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter.

And, in these times of recession, can we overlook the counsel of Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of America's Federal Reserve? He is one of many who subscribe to the theory that sales of men's underwear are an indicator as to our broader economic fortunes.

I know that few men feel comfortable talking about their underpants. Such considerations didn't bother Winston Churchill, though, whose taste for expensive pink, silk boxer shorts would have caused eyebrows to be raised had he not been celebrated as Britain's wartime leader.

One of Churchill's successors as prime minister, John Major, had the misfortune not only to have his blue Y-fronts feature in Edwina Currie's account of their adulterous affair but be derided as an MP so dull that he tucked his shirt tails into them.

One of the questions asked of the current PM, David Cameron, when he was battling to become leader of the Conservative Party was whether he followed Major's underwear example or entrusted his very personal majority to boxer shorts. (He chose the latter, if you must know).

That tongue-in-cheek teaser is more typical of the under-estimation of under garments. They are more likely to be found in the comedy routines of Billy Connolly or 'Monty Python' star John Cleese than discussed in earnest by males together or with their partners.

When Jeremy Paxman accused that staple stockist of the British underwear draw, Marks & Spencer, for taking its eye off the ball when it came to giving men's boxers and briefs proper support, he became a figure of fun. Yet 'Paxo' had a point. Men should take greater interest in what they wear beneath their suits.

I always advise men never to buy underwear that's too fancy or fussy and novelty pants should be absolutely avoided - unless you are six years old (And believe me, even then your purchase might not be regarded as 'being cool' by the little wearer with sense for style!). Sheer pants and wacky colour schemes are also a no-no.

The safest option is to play it safe with simple cuts in black, white, grey or blue. Whether you opt for pants by Polo Ralph Lauren, Armani, Sunspel or the Swiss company Zimmerle (known as makers of "the world's best underwear"), make sure that you have more than enough pairs to last you a week and that they're all in good condition. Many men's reputations have been undermined by having underwear full of holes.

It's not as though men will ever truly be able to aspire to the heights of sophistication and the positive, sexy psychological effect that some well known ladies' lingerie brands - La Perla, Rigby and Peller or Agent Provocateur - have had on their wearers.

However, I believe that men owe it to themselves to consider any outfit, on any occasion or in any conditions quite literally from the bottom to the top. After all, the German playwright Bertholt Brecht had it right when he said that "from the cradle to the coffin, underwear comes first"!