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Unlocking Comfort: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Performance-Driven Fabric for Men's Athletic Underwear in Three Simple Steps


Unlocking Comfort: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Performance-Driven Fabric for Men's Athletic Underwear in Three Simple Steps

What's the best fabric for performance underwear?  The simple answer is, it depends.  Although it may sound like a cop-out,  there is no one fabric that is best for everyone. In this blog, I'll walk you through a three step process to help you identify the fabric that aligns best with your personal needs and workout routine.

Step 1: Identify Your Priorities and Personal Preferences

Think about your workout habits and how your body responds to exercise:

  • If you sweat a lot, look for lightweight, breathable fabrics that manage moisture efficiently.
  • Sensitive skin? Prioritize super-soft fabrics.
  • If you never follow the care instructions on clothing opt for durable fabrics.
  • Eco-friendliness a concern? Look for fabrics that are better for the environment.

While this list isn't exhaustive, identifying what matters most to you is the first step in choosing the right fabric for your next performance underwear purchase.  

Step 2: Understand the Different Attributes of Popular Fabrics

Now that you’ve identified your priorities let's dive into the main fabric categories. Fabrics are either woven or knit from fibers which fall into three general categories.

Synthetic Fibers nylon, polyester, spandex, acrylic, microfiber, Lycra®, Tactel®, elastane
Natural Fibers cotton, wool, hemp, silk
Hybrid Fibers rayon, viscose, modal, lyocell


Polyester is a dominant fabric in today's performance underwear market, and for many good reasons. Polyester is durable, resists wrinkling, and colors don’t fade even after numerous washings.  These features make underwear made from polyester easy to maintain.  As raw materials go, it’s also generally less expensive than many of its natural counterparts, making polyester an attractive choice for brands and consumers alike. Polyester also dries relatively quickly, which is perhaps the key reason for its popularity in performance underwear.

On the other hand, polyester is not a breathable fabric, and can trap moisture and heat against your body. So, while it may dry quickly, polyester may actually cause you to sweat more, which is not the most comfortable or best smelling experience.  Polyester is smooth, which is why colors and prints are so vibrant on polyester fabrics. But, it’s typically not as soft as the natural or hybrid fibers and tends to have more of a “tech” hand feel. And while that is not in and of itself a negative, If you have sensitive skin that is prone to irritation, polyester may not be the ideal fabric choice for you. Polyester is also a petroleum-based product, so it does not top the list of eco-friendly fabrics. 

With advances in technology new softer-feel polyesters and micro mesh materials, enhancing breathability continue to be introduced. Additionally recycled polyester is being used today to help minimize environmental impact. There are also numerous finishes that can be added to polyester to enhance its performance qualities such as antimicrobial treatments, softeners, and cooling agents.  Many of these finishes are chemical in nature so those looking for greener alternatives should read the fabric contents carefully on those products.  

A Note on Elastane 

Regardless of your ultimate fabric decision, I suggest considering a blend containing 2-10% elastane. Elastane, known more commonly in North America as spandex and in Europe by the brand Lycra® is what gives your underwear stretch and retention. Some suggest the word Spandex itself is an anagram for "expands". Whether historically accurate or not, it its true that spandex is what enables fabric to expand and then contract without stretching-out or losing its shape.  And unless your underwear has a drawstring, elastane is likely in the waistband holding yours up. 

Stretch and retention are incredibly important for underwear in general and especially so for performance underwear.  Consider this example. It’s leg day and you’re wearing comfortable 100% cotton boxer briefs under your shorts. Cotton fibers expand when body heat is introduced, causing them to loosen and ride up.

The result: you’re dropping squats and your underwear is riding up, creating awkward and uncomfortable wedgies. Elastane will allow your boxers to stretch with you and not creep up on you.   Less than 2% elastane in the fabric may not perform as well and more than 10% will change the hand feel, make the fabric more clingy and shiny especially when stretched.  Elastane is also incredibly strong so adding it to your fabric increases the overall durability of the product. The great news is that every fabric we discuss is available in a blend containing elastane.  


When it comes to natural fibers, cotton is still the undisputed champion for men’s underwear in general. And yet, it often is overlooked when it comes to performance underwear. Cotton, however, is worth considering for your workout routine for the same reasons it is famous for every day. Cotton is naturally breathable, preventing heat from being trapped against the body and keeping you cooler. Cotton also absorbs moisture, pulling it away from the skin and storing it in its fibers. Cotton, however, does not dry as fast as polyester, so it will remain damp longer. 

100% cotton is more prone to wrinkles than polyester, can shrink up to 3%, and can stretch out over time. As discussed earlier, adding 2-10% elastane to cotton will prevent the garment from stretching out. It will also mitigate shrinkage. When it comes to environmental friendliness, cotton certainly ranks higher than polyester. However, the water consumption used to raise cotton needs to be considered. As with polyester, recycled and organic cotton are becoming more popular today.  


While polyester may dominate performance and cotton may still be king for everyday underwear, modal is the fastest growing fabric in popularity. Like the other hybrid fabrics, modal is made from wood pulp; in this case, the wood comes from a beech tree. Modal's silk-like softness, breathability, and absorbency are what make it so popular. In fact, modal is 50% more absorbent than cotton, making it an excellent option for athletic underwear. 

On the downside, fabrics made from a high percentage of modal can pill. Modal was developed as an alternative to silk so while soft and luxurious, modal can feel slinky to some.  And while modal comes from the wood of a beech tree, the chemicals involved in turning the pulp into yarn make modal and the other cellulose fibers a hybrid rather than purely natural or purely synthetic. As with the other fibers, there are also recycled modal fabrics in the marketplace to consider.  

Step 3: Select the Fabric that Aligns with Your Priorities

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the best fabric for performance underwear differs from person to person based upon an individual’s preferences and priorities.  By identifying your priorities and aligning them with the fabric(s) that best addresses them, finding your next pair of workout underwear should be an easier process.


We created ALPHX to help men feel more comfortable in their own skin one pair of underwear at a time.  That meant starting with the raw materials used to create the  fabric for our debut comfort class collection.  Our goal was to create underwear  comfortable enough for everyday, a night on the town, or an hour or two at the gym. 

After looking at fabrics in each of the categories discussed in this blog, we chose a blend  to maximize the best attributes of each category.

56% Cotton Softness, Absorbency, Breathability
38% Modal Luxurious Feel, More Absorbency
6% Elastane Stretch, Retention, Shrink-Control, Durability


To more closely align with our values and balance our use of elastane and modal, we use minimal biodegradable packaging and partnered with EcoCart to offset the carbon used to ship our orders.  

I encourage you to do your own due diligence to select the underwear best suited to your needs. Because the choice is personal, we offer a way to try ALPHX for yourself risk-free.  Try a pair and if you don't love them, the first pair is on us. And we ship free within the U.S. You can also save 20% by signing up for our newsletter. We send information on a need to know basis and don't abuse the privilege.



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