What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

I am so incredibly glad that you guys enjoyed last week’s Underwear Thesis kick off post! Because I want to give this project the due diligence it deserves, I am not quite ready to share my first batch of brand reviews. So definitely stay tuned for those… but until then, I wanted to take some time to answer your questions about what to look for when shopping for underwear. I touched on this briefly (haha get it?) last week, but wanted to go into even more detail to arm you with knowledge to make an informed decision!

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

How to Buy Undies: What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear

The underwear that I am using as examples in this post are from Knickey. In my opinion as a former textile designer, they are constructed really well and are a great example on what to look for when buying new underwear. Let’s dig into each facet of what makes for a good pair of undies!

1. Fabric and trim

When it comes to underwear fabric, you have a LOT of options and there are more and more each day. But for our purposes, let’s focus on the main two: cotton and microfibers. There are pros and cons of each which is why I usually have a mix in my underwear drawer.

Cotton

We’re all pretty well versed in cotton, which is my favorite fabric for underwear. I love it’s breathability, comfort, and softness. When you’re shopping for cotton undies, usually they aren’t 100% cotton because you usually need a small amount of synthetic fiber for stretch. Some will say that cotton underwear doesn’t last as long as those made of synthetic fibers because it can get misshapen and stretched out in the wash or even during wear. Also, cotton underwear isn’t a great idea when you’re working out or being physically active because it absorbs moisture but doesn’t wick.

Microfiber/Synthetics

A microfiber is typically made of synthetics like polyester and have a much softer feeling to them because the yarns used to make the fabric are finer. These are the undies that feel smooth, cool to the touch, and super-soft. The fabric also tends to be thinner than cotton. This means it will lay flatter on the body and hopefully reduce visible panty lines (VPL). When we go hiking, backpacking, or camping, I usually wear synthetic underwear. I love that they are wicking and also dry quicker (especially great if you’re using them during an impromptu swim).

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

Trim

You should also keep in mind the trim on the underwear such as piping, lace, or elastic. These should stretch in the same way as the fabric so that they don’t tear, but also should be itchy or irritating to your skin. For example, I have tried a pair of underwear where the elastic waistband is so rough that Sean joked he could file his callouses with it! No thank youuuu.

Instead, I like elastic where the part against your skin has been softened either by brushing the fibers or because it’s got a coating on it. It’s also really nice when a company uses the same fabric for trim as the rest of the underwear. I like this because it means they are avoiding wasting fabric during the manufacturing process and because it’s one less material to worry about washing and wearing well. And lastly, be sure to pay attention to the trim and finishing on the edges of the openings for your legs — this is key to avoiding chafing!

I believe that it’s good to have an array of fabrics in your underwear collection so that you can select the pair that’s right for whatever you’re doing! It’s always nice to have options.

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!
What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

2. Seams and stitching

If you’ve watched any of my Stories and videos, you’ll know that I talk about stitching a LOT. I am really, really picky about the seams on my underwear because that is an opportunity for chafing. Stitching is also a place where a lot of companies cut manufacturing costs and opt for something cheaper and faster to produce. When shopping for underwear, take your time to examine the stitching and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is the stitching loose? Or is it so tight that it’s making the fabric pucker?
  • Do all of the seams stretch the same amount as the fabric?
  • Are there loose threads?
  • Can you see a raw edge on the fabric at the seam (that could mean it will fray when washed)?
  • Or is the fabric folded over and then stitched?
  • How is the gusset attached?

If you’ve ever pulled on a pair of panties and hear a seam rip, that means that the stitching is too tight or the thread used on the stitching doesn’t stretch enough. The ultimate balance is finding a pair of underwear where the stitching thread has a good amount of stretch, but not too much so that they don’t stay in place! I place a lot of emphasis on this part of underwear construction because if that thread breaks, then it will unravel and your underwear will fall apart. No one wants that!

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

3. Gusset

A gusset is in the crotch of your underwear. Usually it’s made with a piece of cotton that’s sewn directly into the underwear. Some companies will make the gusset the same fabric as the rest of the panty, while others will use something different. The latter is especially true for microfiber underwear. You may also see underwear (usually microfiber) where the underwear is one large piece with no seams and the gusset is simply a thicker yarn.

Gussets are important because they make your underwear more breathable and more hygienic. Even if your underwear is made of lace, the gusset should be cotton to help keep you dry and ventilated. While researching for this post, I also came across a few people who suggest sewing the back of the gusset down so that it isn’t open like a pocket. This is because they worry dryer lint can get stuck in the pocket and be unhealthy for your body. I’ve never really worried about this or even thought about it, but wanted to share that knowledge with you just in case!

What to Look for When Shopping for Underwear, tips and tricks from a textile designer and fabric expert to help you be a more informed consumer and better shopper. Information about the pros and cons of different types of fabric, trim, what is a gusset, and more!

4. Size and fit

This is where shopping from a more inclusive company really comes into play. For example, when you’re shopping for underwear online, a company like Parade makes it easy by showing their products on different body types. As more and more companies do this, I really feel like it means we’ll be able to make better, smarter buying decisions.

Everything I’ve been testing for this project has been ordered online… which means I’ve been returning a lot of styles! Don’t be afraid to try on anything you order (or even in store). But be sure to wear one of your existing pairs of underwear underneath, just in case. A thin thong works well for this.

And here’s the thing: when it comes to knowing what works for your body, you will inevitably have to try a LOT of options. Unfortunately, that’s just how sizing and manufacturing work. A brand that works well for me and offers the coverage I’m looking for may not work for you. But once you do find a pair you love, definitely get a lot of it. Just in case they stop making it!

5. Washability

The bummer about this aspect of underwear shopping is that it simply takes time. You never really know how a pair of underwear will last until you’ve worn them a lot and washed them a lot. During this project, I have yet to find a pair of underwear that hasn’t washed well at least for the first few washings — which is awesome! As I get into washing some of them for the 10th or so time, that’s when I start to take note of anything getting misshapen, shrunken, or seams coming loose.

When it comes to washing your underwear, skipping the dryer is always best… but I know it isn’t always possible. One thing that has helped me is to keep these lingerie bags next to our hamper. When I take a pair off, I put them in there. That way, Sean knows not to put the entire bag in the dryer — he’s notorious for shrinking my clothing!! You might notice that I recommend a set of 3 bags… that’s because I’m picky about laundry and separate my whites from my lights from my darks. You don’t have to be extra like me though.

Avoiding the heat of the dryer is important because the heat literally will eat away the elastic fibers… meaning that your underwear will last longer if you air dry it! I use a simple drying rack, but am looking forward to putting in a drying line at the new house.

And just in case you missed some of my longer format videos about my underwear thesis, here they are for you to check out! There’s tons of info in each one to help you navigate buying new underwear — I especially encourage you to pay attention to how I look at and react to each pair as I unpack it!

So what do you think of these tips on what to look for when shopping for underwear? I hope this post helps you be a more informed consumer and to evaluate your current collection of panties! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, too. Stay tuned for more underwear thesis!

Photography by Jojotastic.