When it comes to his underwear, Olly Mann is having a bit of an identity crisis.

Would it be ok, dear reader, if i talk about my pants? After all, men’s pants don’t often get discussed.

Photoshopped billboards of sportsmen in budgiesmugglers aside, thinking about men’s pants seems eminently avoidable. Occasionally I’ll encounter a highstreet gangsta at the bus stop, wearing his jeans low (somewhere between posterior and ankles), and I’ll catch a glimpse of pant: Calvin Klein’s, usually.

Oh, and there was that funny clip of a city boy’s private parts falling out as he ripped his chinos dancing to Rihanna’s “Work”. I watched that online about 20 times. I would reckon his pants to be black cotton boxers. But, generally, I don’t think much about men’s pants.

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I do remember how pants used to be, though. In 1986, my grandfather took me swimming—and, like every other septuagenarian in that brown-tiled health club, he was sporting Y-fronts. They were immaculately clean, as I recall, and baby blue; not the off-white, stained variety one associates with Bernard Manning or Homer Simpson. I believe Grandma ironed them.

Sadly it now seems that Y-fronts are comic shorthand for oafish laziness. As if the convenience of having a clearly signified “access flap” is somehow slothful, rather than an industrious design perfectly suited to the male form! Still. I’m not here to mourn Y-fronts. I’m here to talk about my pants.

 

"This was 1986: old men wore Y-fronts; middle-aged men wore black or white briefs; and boys wore coloured briefs"

 

Back in that locker room in 1986, I was wearing briefs. Of course I was. Every little boy was. Mine were green, or they may have been red, or possibly blue, but they wouldn’t have been black or white because those were grown-up colours.

It wasn’t an option to have Batman or Yoda emblazoned across them. It may have been in America—but in North London, cartoon characters had yet to hit the pants market. By the turn of the century, we’d all become so infantilised it seemed reasonable for chaps with honours degrees and grandchildren to wear pants with South Park on them, but this was 1986: old men wore Y-fronts; middleaged men wore black or white briefs; and boys wore coloured briefs.

 

 

Ah, but what about young men? Adolescents, teenagers, men in their twenties? That was simple, too: they wore boxers. So by the time I sprouted body hair, I followed the road map established by my adolescent contemporaries and went and got the best boxers I could afford (I opted for the nowdefunct high-street retailer Fosters. In modern terms I would describe this as a hybrid of Peacocks and River Island.) The pants were thready and irritable—but cotton comfort wasn’t my concern. The main thing was, I wasn’t wearing boy pants anymore, and I wasn’t wearing old-man pants. I was wearing youngman pants. Sexy pants. I had arrived.

I never looked back. For more than 20 years since, I’ve continued buying essentially the same style of cotton boxers. I guess I’m of the generation that indelibly recalls the Levi’s ad with the ripped bloke in his crisp white boxers turning heads in the laundrette, legitimising reversesexism for decades (and, crucially, forgetting to wash his pants). Mind you, my average price per boxer has risen sharply over the years. I once went a bit mad in American Eagle and bought £100-worth (I was drawn in by the quirky graphics), and I’ve paid as much as £25 for a Saville Row pair (they were in the sale!).

 

"I went on a research trip to—where else?—Marks and Sparks. The range was bewildering"

 

But then, last month, I was absentmindedly considering my consumer habits, and realised most of them had swung upmarket. I used to drive a manual car, brush my teeth with a plastic stick and wear NHS glasses: now I drive an automatic, use an electric toothbrush and wear daily disposable lenses. And yet, my pants had remained unchanged, as it were. Had I researched the market? Had I considered which pants were best for my needs?

I went on a research trip to—where else?—Marks and Sparks. The range was bewildering. There were trunks (more support than boxers), sport trunks (more shape at the bottom), hipsters (shorter and straighter), A-fronts (the acceptable face of the Y-front), and slips (I still have no idea). Trying to choose a pair was like backing a horse in the Grand National. I went hipster. Hoping for maximum comfort, I plumped for the Autograph variety.

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Don’t worry, I’ll spare you graphic details, but suffice to say that, during the summer months, the support was most welcome—the lack of breathability not so. So I dabbled around with other brands and settled on some other hipsters from Next, which seemed to better fit my requirements. (Also, as it turned out, my father-in-law wears Autograph hipsters from M&S. This was too much to bear.)

So tomorrow I’m going to throw away all my boxers: 30 pairs. I’m going to face the world, confident I’ve now upgraded to the right pants for me.

But I’m also going to have to confront the fact that, to that boy who bought boxers from Fosters, I may just have become middle-aged.

 

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