Aesthetics. My unscientific polling suggests that ladies dig 'em. While it has all the comfort, support, and fit of a knit brief, the boxer brief's full-cut thigh lends it the modesty of a traditional boxer. And that thigh is functional, too—its snug, ribbed cuff serves to hold the garment in place. This prevents the boxer brief from riding up or (worse) burrowing into one's posterior cleavage. (The Calvin Klein boxer brief is particularly well-tailored, and is my personal choice. I own one pair of boxer briefs from 2(x)ist, bought at the little store in my gym when I forgot to bring a change of underwear, but I find they take an overly presentational approach to the genitalia. Sort of a push-up effect.)
I'm confident there's really nothing the boxer brief can't do better. But just to make sure, I recently revisited the other underwear alternatives, to see if I was missing something.
Step 1 in my research was to buy a pair of Brooks Brothers briefs in a lovely, mercerized white cotton for $14.99. When I first slipped them on, I found them incredibly comfortable. And even a bit stylish, with that racy curve tracing the cup of the buttock. But all the old problems pertained. I felt naked, and also like a 7-year-old. I could tell that the bright white cotton would quickly dull to beige. Worst of all, the briefs crept way up over the course of a long day. Verdict: Too tighty, and too soon not-whitey.
Next, I picked up a pair of plaid boxers from Burberry's for $45. I felt as dapper as anyone can feel when dressed only in underwear. But the boxers simply wouldn't remain in place under my pants, always migrating 30 degrees around my waist in one direction or the other. The leg-openings would ride up and accordion, leaving weird marks on my thighs. And while Burberry's model prevented "flop-out" with a button enclosure, I found myself leaving the button undone. Who wants the bother? Verdict: Classic preppie choice—looks sharp, underachieves.
I've also tried trunks. There seems to be some disagreement as to what this term means, but my understanding is that trunks have an abbreviated thigh-length and no fly opening at all. I bought two pairs that qualify while traveling in the Netherlands last year. (I'd run out of clean underwear. The vast majority of men's underwear purchases, I suspect, are born of desperate and immediate need.) Trunks have many of the same benefits as boxer briefs, but I can't understand the lack of a fly opening. Standing at a urinal, you're forced to reach through the fly of your trousers and pry the trunks' elastic waistband down with your thumb. Should you lose your purchase on the waistband, it will snap back violently—with messy and painful results.
Some men endorse going commando. I find it thoroughly unhygienic. Also rife with potential for injury. No dice.
I couldn't bring myself to try on a thong. I realize this is a viable choice for some men these days (perhaps even some straight men), but it's just not for me. I have no need to prevent panty lines. And, more fundamentally: Half of what I'm looking for from underwear is wedgie avoidance. What is the thong if not a permanent wedgie? No doubt, future generations of men will adopt the thong as a comfortable, minimalist alternative and will urge me to ditch my fusty old boxer briefs.
Until then, I beseech you: Make the boxer-briefs switch. You, and your groin, will not be sorry.