When Jeremy Paxman, the Newsnight inquisitor-in-chief, turned his forensic intellect to questioning the degree of support he was receiving from his Marks & Spencer's underwear he initiated something close to a national debate on the state of the British male gusset.
His leaked email to the chain store's boss, Stuart Rose, prompted commentators to weigh into the argument, lauding the famously confrontational presenter for making a stand on an issue close to the vitals of men everywhere while pant-makers hoping for the rottweiler's endorsement inundated him with samples.
Today, however, the great bout of below-the-navel gazing looks set to be settled once and for all. In a comprehensive study, the consumer organisation Which? put the most popular high street pants to the test with the end result proving a poke in the nether regions for the journalist as Marks & Spencer emerge triumphant.
Researchers washed and tumble-dried a selection of underwear to see if it held its shape and colour. Their solemn verdict: "M&S pants, at £5 a pair, kept their colour the best after 10 washes. Asda's and Calvin Klein's faded the most."
Marks & Spencer welcomed the findings, insisting it had never doubted the efficacy of its product. A spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased with the test findings. We are very proud of our pants and always believed they provided appropriate support as we test them rigorously."
But there was bad news for Calvin Klein designer smalls which, though perfect for poking above the waistband of a pair of baggy skater's jeans, came in last place. CK's famous body trunks faded badly and shrank in the leg department. At £20 they were also four times the cost of the M&S cotton trunks. But experts found they did more to relieve Paxman's celebrated "gusset anxiety" than either Tesco or Asda pants.
The two big supermarkets performed well on price. George trunks from Asda were second overall, costing just £1.75 a pair, matching the durability of the overall winner. F&F, from Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco, became the first to develop a hole under the rigorous testing conditions, shrinking the most in the gusset though proving resilient to fading. As for the champion knickers, they were the only ones to stay black after washing, shrank the least, and proved their mettle in the strength test.
But Which? warned that, despite their current grumbles, men could well look back on the present as something of a golden age in the history of pants. An underwear insider warned: "There's a trend across the industry for cheaper cotton, so I can understand how Jeremy feels."
Go green with hemp and bamboo
They may be carbon-offsetting their holidays, harvesting rainwater and composting kitchen waste but the world's green consumers have been forced to betray their principles in their choice of underwear. Now, however, a pair of British designers have created a range of "eco-friendly" briefs for women in the hope of proving that "ethical choices can be beautiful and sexy". Available through at www.figleaves.com, the GreenKnickers range of organic hemp smalls, designed by Sarah Lucy Smith and Rose Cleary-Southwood, contains thermo-chromatic inks so that the daisy chain design changes as the fabric heats up. The French company Chantelle sells bamboo undies, said to be incredibly soft, and C-IN2, the men's underwear brand, sells bamboo jockstraps.Reuse content