Dear Marks & Spencer

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The Independent Online
A poll shows that one in 10 British men has the filthy habit of wearing the same underpants up to three days running ...

So the rumours are true. British men do not change their underpants every day. But before you start running down Baker Street in panic, let me offer a few words of comfort to help you overcome your grief and make good the damage that this news has doubtless done to a thousand carefully laid marketing plans.

Men's relationship with their pants is a deep mystery, principally because very few people understand that what we're talking about here is a relationship. To men, pants are not just pieces of plain or patterned material worn for the express purpose of keeping the insides of our trousers clean. They are a living, breathing thing that accompanies us through the day, bringing comfort, support and confidence in times of crisis. They are, in effect, our real best friend, and like any friendship this one needs to be given time, space and regular contact to grow into something beautiful.

The same is not true for women. Knickers - the very word is silly and dismissive - are the ultimate disposable item: characterless scraps of poly-cotton that are plucked out of a twisted mass at random like trout at a fish farm and pulled on without a second thought. Such a heartless and cavalier approach would be impossible for a man, to whom the the underpant selection process is as difficult and agonising as the choice of a fourth bowler for the Lord's Test.

For a man, every pair of pants has a unique character, carrying with it a history of the triumphs, disasters and delights that have occurred when they have been worn. There are Everyday Pants - strong, solid performers that will, in their own unspectacular way, get the job done without calling too much attention to themselves. There are Date Pants - flashy and dangerously new acquaintances that, by dint of colour or construction, key one up perfectly for that grandstand occasion.

And there are Lucky Pants - the most ancient and charged of garments that emerge from the back of the draw like a favourite uncle to guide one through that vital job interview or driving test. One such - a pair of your own purple coloured Y-fronts, in fact - saw me through the month- long trauma of A-levels. I don't think my ground-breaking thoughts on Henry VII would have flowed quite so easily from my biro without them.

The list of underpantal character types is as infinite and varied as the lives of the men who share them, and even an apparently lazy decision to give the tiredest of brown nylon briefs another run round the block is fraught with complexity and meaning. This close bond need not signal a disaster for you and your stores. Far from it. As you well know, people buy things for emotional rather than practical reasons. So forget words like "slip" and "demi-brief" - call your pants "Hunter" or "Raider" or "Black Demon". Sell us an identity instead of a garment and you won't be able to move for men waving tenners in your face. Unless of course we pick yesterday's boxers off the floor and convince ourselves we can get just one more day out of them.

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