A decades-long battle over whether boxers or boxers briefs are better culminated in... confusion. Now, we're left wondering which really are better? And what exactly does better mean here? The style of underwear you layer beneath your bottoms is ultimately up to you, but some boast benefits others don't. Care to find out more? Keep reading.
The Underwear Origin Story
First, let's have ourselves a history lesson. In 1929, Jockey, then called the Cooper Underwear Company, introduced a one-piece undergarment they called the Singleton. It had shorts that extended to mid-thigh and an upper half that looked like a tank top. Of course, it was an entirely different design, but it served as a precursor for products to come. Namely, briefs, which they debuted under their new name, Jockey, in 1935. It offered support similar to that of a jockstrap, hence the name, but offered better coverage. To put it simply, your ass wasn't out in the wind.
Months later, Jockey dropped the Midway Brief, better known as the boxer brief — the first of its kind, my research suggests. It featured a Y-front inherited from the shorter brief, fabric that covered the buttocks, and a skin-tight fit through the hips and thighs. These certainly weren't made of performance fabrics, but they were a serious upgrade nonetheless.
As evident by the information above, John Varvatos did not invent the boxer brief during his brief — get it? — stint as head of Calvin Klein's menswear collection, contrary to popular belief. Klein's print ad starring Mark Wahlberg, however, did turn the style into a household name. The fire sparked by cameos in 1980's American Gigolo and Giorgio Armani ads was finally fully lit. American men suddenly were infatuated with boxer briefs.
Briefs vs. Boxers: Which Should You Wear?
But what made them better than plain boxers, which had, at this point, been around since 1925? Well, for starters, compression keeps things in place — and the general public from having to see men adjust their undercarriage every few seconds. Founded by then owner of Everlast, Jacob Golomb, boxers were worn by... boxers. Compared to leather bottoms, they offered flexibility and proved less heavy. A natural split between boxers and boxer briefs grew, dividing wearers generationally and regionally. Older men, but those with military experience, in particular, were used to boxers. City dwellers targeted by trendier ads gravitated toward briefs.
By the 1970s, young folks who favored the looser fit made up a minority of underwear shoppers. That was until 1975 when Nick Kamen stripped down to his Sunspel boxers in an ad for Levi's 501 jeans. In the same year, Sears let an unfortunate mishap slip into their seasonal catalog: a man modeling boxers seemed to be, well, hanging out. Sears denied it, citing a mere editing issue, but the formed lore worked in the style's favor. (So did the sexy Levi's ad.) Boxer sales surged. But, they've declined ever since. The rise of novelty underwear, the boxer brief as a fair compromise, and DTC brands marked nail after nail in the archaic icon's coffin.
That being said, I can hear it now, the fervent few still clinging to their boxers sounding off in the comments section below: "Boxers are better! They're more comfortable, more breathable, and not as tight. They're more mature! They don't lower your sperm count!" Is there any validity here or is this some boxer cut conspiracy theory you've yet to uncover? Well, sort of.
Could Constant Compression Cause Problems?
A Harvard study published in 2018 claims tighter underwear — namely briefs made from synthetic materials — may lower a sperm-producing man's count by up to 25-percent. Something to consider if you're interested in conceiving? Certainly. Cause for an absolute freakout? Absolutely not. "These results point to a relatively easy change that men can make when they and their partners are seeking to become pregnant," Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón, lead author and research scientist at Harvard's Chan School says.
Looser-fitting boxers aren't for everybody. Neither are boxer briefs, no matter how flattering they typically are. In the same ways we gravitate toward certain mugs in the morning and blankets at day's end, underwear remains a matter of seemingly innocuous personal preference. After all, few people see them, and switching your allegiance from one style to another will go largely unnoticed. You'll have to adjust to how you, well, feel inside 'em, so be careful about adjusting yourself in public.