Boxers versus Briefs
A comparative essay
By Bruce McBaxter
Sure, laugh all you want, but briefs have been my closest companions all these few decades of my life. There’s nowhere I haven’t gone without them—school, work, airplanes, the subway, stores, ferries, soccer pitches, ski hills, ocean-faring container ships, Wall Drug in South Dakota, a baptism dunk tank, Finland, traffic court, the great American wilderness, Grand Central Station, Tijuana. Even, occasionally, the swimming pool. I suspect you’d say the same for whatever you’re wearing under your pants—assuming you’re wearing anything at all.
Underwear is one of the great human equalizers. That rich guy in the mansion on the hill? He wears underwear, just like you do. Of course his is made of pure silk woven with fine threads of real gold, but that’s beside the point. He wears them. You wear them. You guys are simpatico.
For most men, that’s about as complex as underwear gets. They’re not something we think—or talk—much about. A non-scientific survey of the guys who live on my street reveals … nothing. I have no idea whether my male neighbors wear boxers or briefs—or the much-ballyhooed boxer-briefs, or thongs, or women’s underwear—because the “Hi, how ya doin’? So whatchya got on under there?” line of casual questioning will likely lead to a slow backing away followed by an uncomfortable stare and the closing of doors and drapes when you later step outside.
Unlike the sensual relationship many women have with their undergarments, men don’t spend a lot of time thinking about underwear. We find a brand and fit that work and we stick with it. If we spend time thinking about our underwear—because they’re too tight or too loose or won’t stay put—it’s a bad day in Dodge.
Even shopping for underwear is blasé. At the department store (have you noticed there isn’t a Victoria’s Secret retail equivalent for men?), where everything from silk to cotton to nylon undergarments available in various sizes, lengths, and stretches are available, men generally sneak up to the shelf containing their skivvies of choice, maybe hide them under the shirt they’re thinking of buying as they walk around, and pay for them with as little conversation as possible. Put them in a bag and get out.
When it comes to briefs versus boxers, I suspect that most guys my age (37) went into adulthood wearing whatever style of underwear they were given right after potty training. This was probably the same style Dad wore all those years down in the coal mine. Perhaps because the Vietnam generation didn’t have Eminem’s drooping pants-waist as a cultural icon, the wearing of boxers was less of a fashion benchmark than it is today. I am vaguely aware of a switching-to-boxers revolution occurring in the mid-1990s, but by then I was out of college and well on the road to wherever it is I’m going. I didn’t then, nor do I today, have frat brothers to impress.
And yet, after half a lifetime of wearing proud-to-be-me tighty whities, I recently gave traditional boxers a two-week test drive. My primary impetus was to get some relief during a summer heat wave. As the temperature crept over 85 (yep, that’s a heat wave in Seattle), I felt a palpably greater degree of sweating and discomfort in the nether regions like never before. What I pined for was air—as in, circulation. As the mercury rose, those tight cotton briefs turned into fiberglass insulating foam. New thoughts into the nature of genital garmentation were born and I was suddenly on a mission.
While some would correlate the personalities of briefs and boxers wearers to those of PC and Mac users, or those who prefer vanilla to double-fudge chunk rocky road, I say nay. It isn’t that black and white. When it comes to choosing briefs, boxers, or the middle-ground boxer briefs, you have to take the whole package (pardon the pun) into account, which includes a fair evaluation of each of the four universally accepted Underwear Factors: Dribble, Dangle, Dazzle, and Double.Call me an “understudy” if you will, but here’s what I learned during my two-week briefs re-evaluation. All garments sampled were of reputable quality and roughly the middle of the price range.
Let’s face it—you don’t always get every last little bit of drainage out of your system when standing at the urinal. The nice thing about close-fitting cotton briefs is that any liquid reserve that makes its way to freedom is nicely absorbed. With loose-fitting boxers, I found said reserve sometimes traveling down my pant leg. Nope, it’s not a pretty image or feeling knowing you mildly pissed yourself and it may be showing. Sure, this could be chalked up to “operator error,” but when you’ve spent a lifetime not knowing such a problem could exist, perhaps a grace period is permitted. Either way, this could be an ongoing problem—and those extra few second standing and shaking at the loo is time taken away from a Lost commercial break.Advantage: briefs and boxer briefs.
One of the reasons I—and I suspect it’s true for many others—have stuck with briefs over the years is because of the snug feeling they give. Everything more or less feels held together. This is especially true where sports are concerned, but it’s nice even for just regular old walking around (insert Elaine’s Seinfeld quote here). For boxers adherents, I suspect the looseness is just as appealing. The preference may also have to do with natural endowment—either the need for more room or for “police line do not cross” style containment. Some claim that briefs reduce sperm count, but my two happy offspring that arrived all too easily seem to counter that argument.Advantage: three-way tie due to personal preference.
I’m not one to prattle about aimlessly in my bare necessities, but in certain situations—say the locker room or the bedroom—if you want to avoid ridicule, even some gentle teasing from your significant other, briefs probably aren’t the way to go. I can say for certain my wife likes the appearance of boxers far more than the other two options. And if I’m going to be the butt of a mysterious de-pantsing in public, I’d rather be left standing at the bus stop in something that resembles shorts over a slightly more materialized jock strap.Advantage: boxers.
The “double” I refer to is the roughly double amount of material one needs to stuff into his pants—and keep it there—while wearing boxers and boxer briefs. This was consistently the most frustrating aspect during my two-week underwear assessment. With briefs there’s no worry. You put them on and for the most part they stay put. With loose-fitting boxers I had to keep tucking them in at the store, in the parking lot, at my son’s preschool. I also found certain pairs of low-waisted jeans didn’t want to stay on my waist while worn over boxers. This wasn’t fun. And while boxer briefs are a tad less moveable by design than loose-fitting boxers, I encountered with them a different problem—they wanted to rise up my leg. I realize there are boxer designs out there that try to combat these migration issues, but I suspect this is a problem endemic to the anti-brief.Advantage: briefsAnd so, on the balance, this guy is sticking with briefs. I have a drawer full of boxers and boxer briefs now, so there may be times I’ll wear something different—especially if the certain somebody in my life persists in smirking and calling my briefs tighty whities. But the mild ridicule is a good trade for not having to think about what’s under my pants—and where it’s creeping to next.