The Life-Changing Power of the Right Kind of Underwear

Feeling affirmed in your gender can, literally, start inside your pants. And brands like Woxers and TomboyX are making sure we all get the basics we deserve.

Women’s Boxers and More Gender-Affirming Underwear Styles to Know About
Photo: Courtesy/InStyle

I looked for the perfect pair of boxers for years without much luck. As a non-binary person assigned female at birth, I'd always worn panties or boyshorts but could never find the right kind of underwear that soothed my gender dysphoria. Each time I tried boxer briefs, the shapes were all wrong, usually gaping waists and tight leg holes. Even worse, I found the extra fabric cut to accommodate external anatomy often folded awkwardly under my pants or caused chafing when I wore them for long stretches.

When I discovered TomboyX in 2015, it was like someone knew exactly what had been missing in my underwear drawer: boxer briefs designed for people who didn't need flies, hammocks, pouches, or sacks.

No one can deny the recent rise in popularity of women's boxer briefs. Several companies like TomboyX, Woxer, and Culprit, have taken up the mantle to go beyond the boyshort and brief to provide gender-affirming underwear with longer inseams. And they've been thanked by eager customers, and in the form of aggressive earnings.

TomboyX, which started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, is now a leader in the gender-fluid undergarment space. The company, which first sought to produce classic menswear for women, such as polos, blazers, and button-down shirts, now provides gender-affirming underwear, swimsuits, loungewear, and accessories.

With sales increasing an average of 50% year-over-year since 2017, TomboyX has shown that there's plenty of room to grow in this space. The company also didn't report significant revenue losses in 2020, when most other businesses were feeling the squeeze of the global pandemic. Instead, profits continued to rise (maybe we were spending more time sitting around in our underwear), and the company progressed to release new lines, including loungewear, and gender-affirming menstrual products.

Other businesses have noticed the opportunity in this relatively untapped market. The men's underwear brand Culprit recently released its LadyBoxerT™ line to start reaping the benefits. The line has been successful, regularly selling out of new pattern releases. Even underwear giant Hanes has developed a line of women's boxer briefs which people can find at stores like Target and Kohl's.

However, where companies like TomboyX and Culprit differ is in their branding, which a simple look at their Instagram accounts makes clear. TomboyX's posts show models and consumers of different gender expressions and sizes, while Culprit shows conventionally attractive influencer-style women (pouting lips, booties stuck out) wearing their brand. When Culprit and Woxer market "women's boxer briefs," they don't talk about gender affirmation, opting instead to push the practical benefits of longer underwear. Culprit's marketing mentions visual benefits, like butt-lifting technology and "Camelflage" for a cleaner aesthetic. Woxer touts its anti-wedgie advantages and chafing protection. While these are significant perks for most cisgender women, to be sure, they gloss over the population most likely searching for these very items.

Boxer briefs are essential for trans and nonbinary people because they can be truly neutral in presentation. Men's briefs often feel and look more like bikini underwear when made for women. Briefs also tend to be accentuated with "sexy" underpinnings, like lace, ruching, or "cheeky" cuts. "Boyshorts" seem to be a female-adapted take on a classic boxer brief, with a short inseam (usually 2.5") that often rolls up on larger bodies. Actual boxer briefs retain their utilitarian and practical shape, even when worn by someone without external anatomy.

While major retailers like Macy's and Nordstrom have been happy to carry and provide these popular, in-demand brands, their current architecture isn't adequate to depart from the gender binary. Each shop breaks its clothing into "Women's" and "Men's," without a category for non-binary options. Nordstrom, which currently carries TomboyX, categorizes their 4.5" trunks as women's "panties." (Though this week the retailer launched a Pride storefront full of queer designers and genderless fashion — including TomboyX underwear.) Macy's doesn't currently have any gender-affirming options but did have several TomboyX popup shops at the end of 2019. Hopefully the brand's ongoing success will point to more of a presence in the future.

While I'm not exactly thrilled about shopping for underwear in the women's section, I can't help but be excited knowing that there are gender-affirming options out there. I'm excited for teens and young people who struggle to find the right underwear while school shopping or hanging out at the mall, like I did. I'm excited for other people to feel the immediate validation of pulling on a pair of boxer briefs and feeling finally seen as who they are. As someone who's been driven mad by lace, little bows, and thongs — I promise, the right pair can bring tears to your eyes.

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