When it comes to comfort and functionality, the type or blend of fabric(s) is one of the most important aspects of a pair of underwear. Fabrics differ in numerous properties, such as how well they breathe, whether they absorb moisture, whether they wick moisture away from the body, how warm they are, how well they keep their shape over time, what kind of washing machine and drier cycles are appropriate, how fast they air dry, and whether they tend to shrink. While some underwear can take the abuse of being repeatedly washed and dried alongside clothing like casual socks and jeans, I tend to subject my underwear to a gentle cycle in the washing machine and then air dry them so they retain their size and shape longer.
Below are the most common fabrics you’ll find in men’s underwear.
- Cotton—cotton is a natural fiber that is the most common fabric used in underwear. It is durable, fairly flexible and breathes well, but can shrink considerably, depending on how it is washed and dried.
- Nylon—one of the most common synthetic fibers, nylon is quite durable, does not absorb well, and tends not to wrinkle.
- Polyamide—a family of fabrics that can be either natural or synthetic, polyamide is often used in mesh fabrics due to its sweat-wicking properties. Polyamide is more absorbent than most synthetic fabrics.
- Polyester—a synthetic fabric that is durable but not breathable, polyester does not tend to shrink or wrinkle, and dries quickly.
- Rayon—a synthetic material with a natural base, more fragile than most synthetic fabrics, stretchy, absorbs well, and can shrink if not washed and dried properly. Rayon can imitate the feeling of natural fibers.
- Modal—a high-quality form of rayon. Modal is common on high-end, form-fitting men’s underwear. Modal fabrics can take a little longer to dry than other fabrics like cotton, nylon or supplex.
- Viscose—a fabric very similar to rayon, differing in minor aspects of the production process.
- Silk—silk is a natural fabric used in many luxury products. Very soft but not flexible, silk is sometimes used in loose-fitting boxers, but is not common in more form-fitting underwear.
- Spandex—also known as elastan, elastane or lycra, spandex is a synthetic fiber that is quite elastic and durable. Often used in blends with cotton and other fabrics, spandex makes garments more flexible but less breathable.
- Supplex—a synthetic material made from more common fabrics such as cotton or nylon, supplex is very durable, stretchy, and resists wrinkles. It also seems to dry quicker than any of the other fabrics I’ve encountered.
- Wool—is a natural fabric often used in coats and suits due to its warmth and ability to keep its shape. Wool tends to be tough and sweat wicking, but its warmth makes it unsuitable for many styles of underwear. For this reason, wool is often found in long underwear and thermal layers, but not in normal briefs, boxer-briefs and jockstraps.