The market in men's underwear is burgeoning. As M&S launches a new range, Melanie Rickey checks out the latest trends
At Marks & Spencer, the biggest retailer of men's underwear in the UK, they have noticed a change in the type of underwear men want. Sales of the traditional Y-front brief have slowed in favour of 50s-style trunks, boxers and hipsters. "But there will always be the man who wants more classic items, " says a spokesperson for the company. M&S took a close look at their sales figures, and bearing in mind competition from designer brands, decided to develop a portion of their range to meet increasing demands for comfort and fit and fashion. The hipster trunks below cost pounds 6.50 and contain cotton, Lycra for comfort and shape and Tactel because it is cool to wear.

Men certainly do not buy underwear in the same way as women, but fit and comfort is always high on the agenda, hence the popularity of traditional Y-fronts and boxers, but now men require sex appeal, and the "stand-alone factor". As one male friend puts it, "If they don't look good on their own without clothes then I won't wear them."

Indeed, men are now concerned with visible panty lines (VPL), the height and width of the elasticated waistband, (too thick and it creates love handles), and the branding - most prefer logos, others discretion.

The men's underwear market is one of the biggest to have emerged in the Nineties and sales in the UK last year topped pounds 303m. Geri Macauley, men's underwear buyer for House of Fraser stores, believes Calvin Klein changed the way men buy their undies forever. " He created an entirely new gift idea for men, and made it ok for them to talk about their underwear too," she says.

The newest ranges this season are by Dolce & Gabbana Intimo and Ralph Lauren, who have switched manufacturers to create a cheaper and more comprehensive range. Also worth keeping an eye in is 2(x) ist, the brand that's taking over from Calvin Klein in American stores; it was voted the gay men's underwear of the year in 1996 in the US. 2 (x) ist was launched here last year, and is favoured for its use of PIMA cotton, which is naturally elasticated and therefore uses no Lycra.

Calvin Klein is still the most popular brand in the UK, and their biggest selling style is the button-fly boxer, which carries through to all brands from Paul Smith, Hom, Moschino, Versace, Jockey and Dolce & Gabbana. Macauley recommends Klein, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana this season, first because their prices are fairly reasonable, but also because these companies are coming up with the ideas that move the industry forward. Klein's pants costs from pounds 16 for a basic pant to pounds 20 for button-fly boxers, Lauren from pounds 10 for a brief to pounds 35 for a sporty trunk with a wickable lining that absorbs sweat and D&G from pounds 16 for a pouch front to pounds 20 for a button-fly boxer; 2 (x) ist start from pounds 15 a pair.