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The Top 4 Fabrics Used In Men’s Underwear: The Search for Comfort

  • by Alphx Admin

 

Medieval art representation of Adam and Eve in the Garden and medieval merchants in underwear

http://postej-stew.dk/2016/11/medieval-mens-underwear/

 

Underwear has been around since Adam and Eve first donned fig leaves in the Garden of Eden.  And no matter how styles have evolved over the millennia, men have been looking for comfortable materials to use for underwear ever since.  Our earliest ancestors used leaves and animal skins, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, used linen made from the flax plant, and Europeans in the Middle Ages turned to wool and cotton.  Today we have seemingly endless fabric choices for underwear.  In this article, I'll discuss the top four fabrics found in men’s underwear today. I will examine the pros and cons of each, and how we ultimately made the choice we did for ALPHX.

The Role of Fabric in Comfort

When it comes to how guys define “comfortable underwear,” we didn’t want to assume anything. So we spoke with a large number of men over several months. We asked them to describe what made underwear comfortable for them. The question was open-ended. They could answer in any way they chose. And while the men differed in age, size, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, their responses were very similar. For example, the most common words the group used were:  

“soft, lightweight, breathable, cotton, and natural”

in addition to agreeing on what characteristics they found comfortable in underwear, they largely agreed on what made underwear uncomfortable.  

“Stretching-out, riding-up, wedgies, material that made them hot, waistband pinching, uncomfortable tags, and poor quality “

In short, men used qualities associated with fabric to define comfort, and negative experiences resulting from both fabric and design details were given as examples of what made underwear uncomfortable.  

The fabric was the most significant factor for these men in comfortable underwear. Of course, design details could worsen the experience, but it was hard to see how design alone could overcome uncomfortable fabric. 

Based upon the data collected from these men and additional research, we realized that for ALPHX to create the most comfortable boxer briefs, trunks, and briefs, our underwear would need to be, 

“Soft, breathable, made from lightweight cotton or natural material, with no uncomfortable tags, and did not ride up, cause wedgies, pinch or fall apart after a few wearings.”

No problem, right?  

The Top Fabrics: 

 

Pie Chart showing percent of each of the top four fabrics used to make mens underwear today.

https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/mens-underwear-market

 

Cotton, Polyester, Modal, and Nylon are the top four fabrics used in making men's underwear today. Together they account for 97% of the sales in the category. As you will see, each of these fabrics has unique qualities that make it easy to understand their popularity. But they each have their own drawbacks that need to be considered, too.

 

Dupont Vintage Ad for Nylon Stockings

https://vintagedancer.com/1940s/1940s-stockings-history/

#4. Nylon

Coming in at number four, Nylon represents 4% of the market. It was first introduced in 1935 as a silk alternative for stockings, thereafter referred to as nylons. Nylon, also known as polyamide, is a petroleum-based fabric like its cousin polyester. 

Pros

Nylon, like Polyester, resists wrinkling, so underwear made from Nylon will always look crisp when worn. But, since Nylon was developed as a silk alternative, it feels softer against the skin than Polyester. It is also shinier, stretchier, and stronger, so garments made from Nylon will outlast those made from Polyester. 

Cons

Nylon absorbs water, so it does not have the same wicking properties as Polyester. It also does not take color as well and is subject to pilling in high friction areas.  

Image of Beech Tree and the stages of manufacturing modal fabric

https://www.shirtspace.com/blog/what-is-modal

#3 Modal 

At number three, we find Modal, which accounts for 10% of the men's underwear sales in the U.S. today. It is also the fastest-growing fabrication, and for good reasons. 

Pros

Modal is a type of rayon and, like cotton, is a cellulose fabric. But while cotton comes from the cotton plant, modal begins its life as a beech tree. Wait...What? It may sound hard to believe, but Modal is arguably the softest fabric we are discussing. It is also lightweight, provides ventilation, and has an overall luxurious feel. Despite its weight and softness, Modal is durable, shrink resistant, and takes color exceptionally well. These qualities seem to check many of the boxes guys are looking for in underwear, so it stands to reason that it would be growing in popularity. 

Cons

But Modal alone has a few drawbacks. While the hand-feel is luxurious Modal alone can be considered too "slinky" for some. It can also pill (like a cashmere sweater), particularly between the thighs or other friction points over time.

Imagess of vintage leisure suits from the 70's and modern swim trunks made from polyester fabric

https://www.cnn.com/cnn-underscored/fashion/best-mens-swim-trunks

https://twitter.com/70s_fashion/status/1010266445878579202

# 2 Polyester 

Polyester occupies the number two spot, and represents 15% of all underwear sold in the U.S. Polyester has come a long way since the leisure suits of the 70s and is definitely worth discussing. 

Pros

Polyester has many positive attributes: It is less absorbent than cotton or Modal. In fact, it is considered a hydrophobic material that draws moisture away from the body to the surface of the fabric, where it evaporates. In addition, Polyester resists shrinking, is durable, and it can be printed with greater clarity and vibrancy than either Nylon or Cotton. These qualities make Polyester a terrific choice for performance underwear or for brands focused on intricate prints with many details.

Cons

The drawback to Polyester is that while the fabric contains some mechanical stretch, Polyester alone will not move with your body, leading to ride-up. In addition, while it wicks moisture, it is not as breathable as some other fabrics we are discussing. Polyester is also less soft to the touch than its cousin, Nylon. That said, advancements continue to be made, improving the overall feel of polyester fabrics. 

Vintage Ad for men's cotton boxer briefs

https://vintagedancer.com/1930s/1930s-mens-underwear-history/

#1 Cotton

This brings us to the number one fabric used for men's underwear today: Cotton. Despite the growth of Polyester and Modal, Cotton is still king in men's underwear and makes up 68% of sales in the U.S. today.

Pros

It's easy to understand why this is the case. Cotton has remained the fabric of choice since 500 AD, with qualities guys are looking for in the category. It is soft, lightweight, and breathable. It's also durable, holding up well to detergents and heat, making it an economical choice for underwear. 

Cons

Sounds like we have a winner, right? Well, not quite. Cotton alone has drawbacks: 100% cotton can shrink by as much as 20% when laundered, and body heat causes cotton fibers to loosen and stretch out, leading to riding-up, bunching, and, God forbid, wedgies. Cotton also comes in different quality grades and finishes, which affect the ultimate feel, breathability, and durability of the garments.  

Why Choose Just One?

Fabric Symbols for Cotton, Modal, Polyester, and Nylon

 

So there you have it. The top four fabrics used in men's underwear are:

  1. Cotton
  2. Polyester
  3. Modal
  4. Nylon

Hopefully, I have established that fabric plays a crucial role in the overall comfort of men's underwear. I have laid out the pros and cons for four fabric options, which account for 97% of the men's underwear business. Each of the top four fabrics has positive attributes making them viable contenders for ALPHX. As discussed, however, each of them independently has its drawbacks.

Table of pros and cons of underwear fabrics

The great news is that we did not have to choose just one fabric for ALPHX.  Fibers can be blended before the spinning process to create yarns that maximize the best qualities of a fabric while including others that overcome a fabric's inherent shortfalls. Once the fibers have been blended and spun into yarn, they can be knitted or woven into various garments. Think of combining materials as creating an alloy of sorts. Fibers are blended In the same way that metal is added to pure gold to strengthen the end product for jewelry, or different grape varieties are combined to create a more flavorful wine.

Image of mixed fabrics

Honorable Mention as an additive:

While not used alone as a fabrication, adding elastane to the yarn is a game-changer.

Elastane

Also known as Spandex or Lycra is a synthetic fabric known for its elasticity. It was invented in 1958, and people have been grateful ever since. Elastane is incredibly durable and provides stretch and recovery. This allows our underwear to move with you without pinching, riding up, or stretching out.  

End-Use

After sifting through all of this data, it was time for us to decide on the fabric for ALPHX. Recapping what we discovered so far: 

  1. Material plays the most critical role in comfortable underwear. 
  2. The top four fabrics used today possess extraordinary qualities
  3. They also have drawbacks when used on their own
  4. Blending fibers enhances the positive attributes of one material while offsetting its shortfalls with another.

We wanted our underwear to be perfect for everyday wear. Your go-to underwear for work, hanging with friends or going out on the town. We also knew that we would expand the assortment over time. For these reasons, we eliminated polyester and nylon. They are excellent choices, but we believe they would be better suited for a true performance range in the future. 

Introducing ALPHX Everyday Comfort

 

www.alphx.com

That being said, we tested our trunks and boxer briefs in various workout settings, including yoga and strength training. No matter how many stretches, lunges, or squats were performed, we received no reports of ride-ups, wedgies, or pinching. PS no sweaty swamp-butt either!

Man Performing Yoga Split in ALPHX Army Green Trunk

Hopefully, this blog has explained the role fabric plays in comfortable underwear, the most popular materials being used today, and how blending fibers creates a superior yarn that highlights the best qualities of the individual fibers while minimizing the inherent drawbacks of each on their own. I also hope it explains why we used a blend of Cotton, Modal, and Elastane to create our initial collection of Everyday Comfortable ALPHX underwear.

I invite you to give ALPHX a try at www.alphx.com. We worked hard creating the most comfortable men's underwear, for guys of many different shapes and sizes. 

I also know how difficult it is to buy underwear online until you know the brand, so we make the buying experience as comfortable as possible for you.

  • We created a custom fit guide to help you find the fit the size that works for you. 
  • Shipping and returns are always free in the U.S.
  • If you aren't happy with your first pair for any reason, it's on us.
  • We take 15% off your first purchase with the code Giveusatry15, and if you sign up to stay in the know, we will automatically send you a code to make the discount 20%.
  • We are a stalk-free company and send out our emails sparingly on a need to know basis.  We know how annoying it is when Brands over communicate. 

While fabric is key to comfort, design details play a role as well.  I will point out how we enhance our comfortable fabric with gimmick free design solutions in a future post.

Tom










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