In Men in Pants, writer Paul Flynn sat down with six men and asked them questions about their underwear.
The interviewees included a stylist, a boxer-turned-businessman, a cafe manager and an artist. None were fashion models or Instagram stars, but they all agreed to talk about – and be photographed in – their pants. Here are some highlights…
Words by Paul Flynn. Photography by Josh Hight. Styling by Stuart Williamson
When we talk of men in their pants, we talk of men and their bodies. When we talk of men and their bodies, we talk of men and their core selves. For so many men, appearing publicly in underwear constitutes a returning nightmare. Conversely, for a gym-honed show-off, there lies a natural compulsion to point his camera-phone at the bathroom mirror every time he flexes at full pelt before cheerfully, shamelessly self-publishing the results.
These are the polarities. In between, just a lot of ordinary men going about their business, developing mysterious relationships with their underwear which they will only share with their closest intimates.
For ‘Men In Pants’, we set about unravelling these unspoken peccadillos. The idea was simple enough. Josh Hight would take photos of men in underwear and Paul Flynn would quiz them how they felt about that discreet and revealing corner of their wardrobes.
These are the results. What secrets we keep beneath our clothes.
Elgar Johnson – Stylist and Fashion Director at GQ Style UK
What is your preferred underwear and how did you settle on that decision?
I wear them all. I like trunks, boxers, briefs. I always wore briefs because of sport. Then boxers… it’s almost like I don’t have a reason for what I’m choosing. It’s whatever’s there.
I have a sock draw and a pant draw. All the pants are thrown in together. They’re not ordered. I’ve got a lot of the same ones. I’d say 30% boxers, 45% briefs, the rest trunks.
How many pairs of pants do you own?
Loads but probably not quite as many as socks. Maybe 100
What do you wear to sleep in?
Boxer shorts. Just that. It’s comfortable and you almost feel like you’re not wearing anything. But I have to wear something because what happens if someone breaks in? Or I might have a fire and have to run outside naked. I always wear decent shorts, too.
Would you pick out what underwear you’re wearing before you get in the bath or shower?
I think so. If I was wearing shorts to go into town, I wouldn’t wear briefs, I’d wear trunks. I don’t want people to think, ugh, he wears little briefs.
Are you pants or socks on first out of the shower?
Pants, obviously. I’m not evil. You never put socks on first. That’s what exhibitionists do at the gym.
Would you let the brand or band of your underwear show when getting dressed?
I am a grown man and I don’t think I’d do that sort of thing. It’s a bit juvenile, a bit 90s.
Is there any form of underwear you’d draw the line at and refuse to wear?
A thong. Or a jock strap.
Even for sport?
I’ve never had to.
I wouldn’t even call cricket a sport.
Is lucky pants a truth or a fallacy?
It’s total truth. I have three pairs of lucky red pants. Every time I wear them, my football team [Liverpool FC] wins. I plan this in advance, so they’ll be washed for me to put on for the game. I’ll come home from work, get changed into them and only then be ready to watch the game. It is actually crazy saying it out loud.
Have you ever ironed a pair of underpants?
No, never. But I have steamed a pair. I steamed a pair today for this, as it happens.
Ryan Pickard – Founder and Trainer at 12×3 Gym
What is your preferred underwear of choice and when did you settle on that decision?
To be honest, the most basic boxers, that’s me. Do they call it a tight boxer? Quite tight, not baggy boxers. They’re my preferred but my preferred is probably only about 50% of what I’ve got. I like grey or black.
What do you sleep in?
Whatever I grab. I don’t think about it.
When you wake up in the morning, would you pick out what underwear you were going to wear that day before taking a bath or shower?
Nah, never. I grab whatever’s clean and in the drawer. I never, ever think about it.
If you’re going to the gym, would you select underwear for either vanity or practical reasons?
No, but I’ve always got a spare pair. If I’m going to sweat, I’ve normally got a big bag with a couple of pairs of boxers knocking around in there somewhere. I grew up in a boxing club where nobody gave a shit, Repton Boys Club. The changing room was men and no-one took any notice of each other. You have a chat before the training and afterwards, take the piss out of each other a bit. Locker rooms break down any barriers. But there wasn’t even a mirror in those locker rooms, just a skanky shower at one end, usually cold. Now, I own a gym and train people and our showers are a bit of a different thing. I like to think so, anyway. There are mirrors.
How many pairs of pants would you say you owned?
I haven’t got a clue. If they’re all clean and in my draw, then I reckon there would be about 15 pairs, socks something similar.
When do you throw them out?
It’s a comfort thing, so when boxers have been knocking about too long. If they’re just starting to irritate me then they’re gone. Also, if there’s a hole. I don’t walk around with holey boxers. That’s not a good look. I don’t have holes in my socks either. I don’t like something that’s supposed to be white turning a bit grey, either.
Is underwear advertising more aimed at women buying for boyfriends or husbands?
No, I think that men are much more in tune with the way they look and what they’re wearing these days. I, personally, don’t really care. I’m Plain Jane. But I know that blokes do care. I wouldn’t be consciously persuaded by an advert.
Is the idea of lucky pants a fallacy or a truth?
As in, pulling a bird? That is ridiculous. First of all, boxing got any sort of superstition out of me young. I got rid of that thought early on, because if you forget your lucky pants one day or your lucky socks, you might start thinking “oh, I’m not going to perform as well today”. So, you put that thought in the bin.
Have you ever ironed your own underwear?
I have definitely not ironed my own underwear. I don’t even fold them. I did watch Marie Kondo on Netflix with [partner] Lisa and tried all that. But it didn’t last long.
Michael Wall – Artist
What is your preferred underwear of choice and when did you settle on this decision?
Boxers. I’ve got two older brothers and when they were teenagers, they graduated to shorts, so I guess I made a choice based on that.
Would you usually pick out your underwear before getting in the bath or shower in the morning or do you prefer a random decision?
It’s a comfort thing, I’m selecting with a utilitarian approach. But a pre-shower grab is pretty accurate.
Are there certain socks you would never wear with certain pants?
I’m not into the matching look, if that’s a thing. I don’t know if it is a thing. Thinking about it, if it is a thing then I’m really not for that.
How comfortable are you with locker room etiquette?
I’m not a talker but I’m not rushing about, either. I’m pretty comfortable with my own nakedness but I’m not going to be sitting down talc-ing my feet, all hanging out. I think my peeve is a really niche situation when you come back to get dry and changed and your locker is in close proximity of some chatterers. You have to negotiate the perimeters of your changing location with them but without using eye contact or words. I was a little fatty growing up and that never really leaves you. However, I’m a big fan of a good sauna and you can’t do that responsibly if you’re not naked, so I’m now pretty comfortable with most situations.
At what age did you take control of the decisions for what underwear you would be sporting?
This comes back to that life choice I made, I must have been at that point where you think “I’m choosing to be a big boy now” and I decided that I was going with what my brothers did. Pre that I was wearing the classic briefs.
At what point would you decide to throw out old underwear?
When the holes connect to each other.
What man in popular culture has looked best in his underwear?
Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad has cemented the dad pants into pop culture for a new generation. I think it’s important that this isn’t lost and someone else picks up that touchstone when it is needed.
Is the concept of ‘lucky pants’ truth or fallacy?
I like to think you make your own luck, so I guess if you have something that makes you feel lucky that’s only going to help.
What is the last item of clothing you take off before bed?
Jos Gibson, Mens Groomer at Vidal Sassoon and Micka Agosta, Film & Television Costume Designer
What is your preferred style of underwear and how did you settle on that decision?
J: When I was younger there was a real thing for boxer shorts. But I’ve always liked briefs. I can get a bit of chafing with boxer shorts.
M: I’m always a brief, with a boxer short for bed. I’m quite hairy so it can be quite a minefield. I like a short-short, but you obviously can’t wear a short-short with a boxer short because your nuts are going to pop out. So that would be briefs. For work, I will always wear a brief because I like everything contained.
What do you sleep in?
M: I’ll start off with a brief, get into bed in them and end up kicking them off at some point.
In the morning, do you pick out what underwear you’re going to wear before you get in the bath or shower?
M: When I’m working, because I get up so early, around 6am, usually the day before I’ll put my complete outfit for the next day out, including underwear. Socks, pants and depending on the weather, maybe a vest. The underwear will be picked depending on the colour of the trouser. All my underwear is pretty much black or white.
J: I wouldn’t decide before the shower. I’d see what was in the draw and which colour I wanted to wear that day. I’m very spontaneous. But it would always be colour led. M: I’m quite unitilitarian when it comes to underwear. It’s just a part of my uniform.
How comfortable are you with your own nudity?
J: I’m fine with it. But if I’m at the gym I like to come home to shower, but that’s more of an athlete’s foot issue.
M: Because I’m so hirsute I have had to come to accept that everyone’s going to stare at me. I’ve come to own it. I really don’t care.
Are you usually the hairiest person…
J: [laughing] In the world?
M: In the changing room, yes. And I have very rarely met any man as hairy as I am. Men stare. You get a slightly open-mouthed look from people, which you sometimes can get confused about. Is this cruising? J: I mean, children on the beach have been known to stare and start crying.
M: Little shits.
How susceptible to underwear advertising are you?
J: Terrible, since Instagram.
M: I’m not, because I know the ones I like and I like to stick with classics. Typical underwear models that are chosen now don’t really sell underwear to me. It has to be someone a bit more real. It’s a very different kind of man I want to see in an underwear advert than the man who is usually projected, usually quite lean and hairless. They’ve always got a six pack, mostly highly photoshopped. It’s quite formulaic. I suppose they’re more for the wives or girlfriends who buy the underwear. They represent a kind of fantasy. We’re all a bit stuck on the idea of that being the kind of man we want to look at in those adverts, but haven’t we have all stepped away from that by now? All the straight muscled guys at my gym have massive beards now.
There is that Love Island archetype who looks exactly like an underwear model.
M: That man is just not in my world at all though. I have no interest in him. He feels a little dumb to me. Are we really falling down that rabbit hole?
Have you ever ironed a pair of underpants?
Both: No! M: I have, though, once put a pair of pants in the microwave to warm them up on a cold morning. And it works!
Alexander Campbell – Café Manager
What’s your preferred underwear choice and how did you get to that decision?
Probably a slip. A brief. I’ve always worn them when I was younger and I find boxers a bit too loose. I like tight-fitting pants too and I feel like boxers are too baggy for that.
What do you wear to sleep in?
A t-shirt and underwear.
Would you pick out a specific pair of pants to wear before you get into the shower or would that strike you as odd?
Sometimes I will, if I maybe have something… [becomes bashful] planned. If I’m just going to work, then I don’t really care. If I was expecting to meet someone, I would make a decision. Maybe a little daytime rendez-vous?
How do you store your underwear?
Just in this jankety little draw under my bed, here. It’s fully broken. As you can tell from my wardrobe, I don’t wear a lot of colour. So my underwear doesn’t take a lot of storing. They’ll go straight in the laundry bin in the corner of this room after I’ve worn them.
Why is men talking about underwear implicitly funny?
I don’t know, maybe because I’m nervous or shy or something. I laugh a lot anyway.
How comfortable are you with your own nudity?
Oh my god, I am very comfortable with that and that is due to… another thing entirely, which I’ll keep to myself.
Please, you’re among friends.
OK, for two summers, which was maybe four months I worked at a certain profession. I was a stripper. I did my foundation course at Central St Martins and the year before I left I really needed a lot of money. It was in Toronto, where I grew up.
At what age did you start taking ownership of your underwear choices?
Probably when I moved out of my parent’s house, so maybe 18? I wouldn’t put any effort into it before then. I would wear any underwear. I was not cool in High School and didn’t care about any of my clothes choices.
What a change between you being 18 and 19, Alex.
What happened that year?
What do you think happened that year?
You started having sex?
I mean, right? Yeah.
Why are men’s underwear concessions in department stores always silent?
But there’s music. Maybe because men are embarrassed by what they’re buying. I’m the opposite, I’m very obnoxiously loud when I’m buying underwear. Oh my god, look at these! I guess it’s because I’m North American, I don’t know.