Will there be a G-string in your stocking?: Britons have a weakness for underwear: we buy more than any other European country. Tamsin Blanchard examines what's good in men's knickers and socks

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE British buy more men's underwear than anyone in Europe - and most of it is bought by women for their male partners. We buy four pairs per man per year, compared with 2.8 in France, and only 1.8 in Italy.

French men prefer their underpants skimpy, while British men buy the most boxer shorts in Europe. However, there is strong evidence that sales of boxers have peaked and that continental briefs and good old Jockey Y-fronts are making a comeback. The most recent revival in men's underwear is the all-in-one; a range of striped all-in-ones sold out in three weeks flat at Sock Shop.

Hom. The first Hom shop in the UK, which opened in London last week, stocks 44 styles of men's underwear. The minimal G-string ( pounds 7.99) is for the wild at heart. There are seven choices of all-in- ones, which Hom calls bodysuits, priced from pounds 35 to pounds 50. Also look for a range in denim-effect Lycra and Hom's hook- and-eye front-fastening trunks. Hom, 12a Fouberts Place, London W1; 071-434 0627.

Paul Smith. The designer's underwear includes everything from the ultra-classic to the ultimate in fashion, attracting customers such as Jonathan Ross and Mick Hucknall. Look out for boxer shorts in cotton ( pounds 25), and silk ( pounds 49), jersey trunks, (from pounds 15) and the most recent addition, longjohns, ( pounds 24). Paul Smith 43-44 Floral Street, WC2; 10 Byard Lane, Nottingham.

Calvin Klein. The American designer's undies are being worn this winter with hipsters to show off the elastic waistband. A packet of three costs pounds 12.95. Button-fly shorts are pounds 12.95 each. Available at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1; Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1.

Marks & Spencer. The nation's number one retailer of men's underwear has been surprised by the popularity of all-in-ones since it introduced them in May. The company also notes a definite move towards closer fitting underpants. The new Authentic range is proving popular, including all-in-ones priced at pounds 14.99 and trunks at pounds 6.99.

Paulo Cavali. A brand sold exclusively by Sock Shop, branches nationwide. Includes poplin-front jersey boxers, pounds 7.99; grey marl all-in-ones, pounds 14.99.

Mark David Tomlin designs underwear for the environmentally conscious made from 'green' Novotex cotton. The collection includes fitted boxers at pounds 11.99 and vests at pounds 16.99, in natural or black. Available from Off The Cuff, The Pallasades, Birmingham; 93 and 254 Regent Street, W1, and branches; Debenhams nationwide. Inquiries: 0462 481082.

Jockey. Y-fronts are back on the fashion map. New Jockey colours are navy and a rather dubious red (or beaujolais, as they call it): pounds 3.99 from all department stores.

Armani. The Italian designer sells a luxury range of briefs ( pounds 35) and silk boxers ( pounds 39- pounds 59). Giorgio Armani, 178 Sloane Street, SW1. The Emporio Armani collection includes briefs with the Emporio logo on the waistband ( pounds 15.99) and trunks in grey or blue at pounds 39.95. For Christmas, Emporio Armani is selling trunks with 'Peace for 1993' printed on the waistband ( pounds 35). Emporio Armani, 191 Brompton Road, SW3; 57 Long Acre, WC2; 84-86 King Street, Manchester.

Socks

At least a quarter of all men's socks are bought in the run-up to Christmas. They need to be chosen with care: the most durable include nylon or Lycra in the fibre content. Socks made of 100 per cent natural fibres might be more comfortable against the skin, but they need careful washing. A quality sock should have hand-linked toe seams to make them feel smooth; the sign of a cheap sock is an uncomfortable ridged seam.

According to Harrods, colours and designs are toning down all round. Colours are muted; black, navy and grey are still the most popular.

Exquisite luxury socks are made by Pantherella, a classic Italian brand. The socks are made from 90 per cent cashmere, and 10 per cent nylon for toe and heel reinforcement. Short socks sell for pounds 49; long for pounds 56.

Sock Shop. Always worth a look. The current best-selling range is the wool-mix City collection. Among the Christmas stocking socks are a range of character designs including Dennis the Menace wearing a Santa hat ( pounds 3.99). For the more serious sock buyer, Sock Shop has a pure silk sock in wine or black ( pounds 9.99).

Domodo. Rich colours and intricate designs are the hallmark of Domodo socks. Made in Japan, they have hand-turned heels that don't slip and are completely seamless. Around pounds 12, from Jones, 35 Floral Street, WC2; Liberty, Regent Street, W1; Maison, Neal Street, WC2. Inquiries, 071-247 9195.

Burlington. Best known for argyle-patterned socks, which come in every colour known to man, priced at pounds 5.50, and available at Sock Shop, nationwide. Another pre-Christmas best-seller is the boot sock in thick, ribbed cotton, pounds 6.99, from Longpoint Bay, Long Acre, WC2. From next February, look out for Burlington's new universal one-size plain sock in fine cotton and 32 different colours, pounds 5.99 from Harrods, SW1, and Fenwick, New Bond Street, W1.

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