Q: I love my dark green husband, Russell. He’s passionate, intelligent, and fiercely committed to lessening his environmental footprint so that future generations can enjoy Mother Earth as much as he does. He also makes a mean ginger and tempeh stir-fry. But recently, very much to my chagrin, he stopped wearing underpants … around the house and in public. He thinks that by going commando, he’ll send the conventional cotton and fashion industry a message while broadcasting some socio-political message about masculine identity. I understand what Russell’s getting at (kind of) but it’s not 1968. The thing is, sometimes he gets so worked up he forgets about what is and what isn’t socially acceptable. This can’t go on much longer and I already have a “You will wear boxer shorts to work” intervention planned. However, I need some help. I know that basically any garment — from hats to shoes — can be made from sustainable fibers. The problem is, I can’t seem to find any eco-friendly men’s unmentionables at local stores and I’d prefer to have something to present to him as alternative to “nothing” when we sit down for our chat. Any leads?
Britney in Pittsburgh, Pa.
A: Hey Britney,
I’ll try to make this, ahem, brief since I assume you’re in a state of panic. First off, I understand Russell’s impulse … from a "call to arms" standpoint, not a hygienic one. Sometimes, when we believe so passionately about something— related to the environment or not — we wear big, fat blinders. The environmental impact of cotton used in the textile industry is worrisome on many fronts, pesticide and water use being the two biggies, and underwear is generally considered a throw-away clothing item after it gets a little ragged, so waste is also a concern.
I’m glad you wrote because I just rooted around my "intimates" drawer and found nothing but conventional cotton and cotton/synthetic blend underpants. So my mission to help you out is also one to help myself out.
As I’m sure you’re aware, clothing made from "green" fibers is pricey so keep this in mind … we won’t be finding any four-packs of tighty whities for $6.00. As far as I know, while familiar brands like Hanes do have some organic cotton offerings, this doesn’t extend to the underpants department. Let’s dig in, shall we?
For something "basic," Cottonfield is a good bet. Their basic organic cotton undies — boxers, briefs and boxer briefs — are made in the U.S. and come in one color: natural. Another good choice may be something from Rawganique, a natural-fiber clothiers that Russell may be familiar with. Rawganique’s sweatshop-free options are more varied but still classic — they sell everything from organic hemp boxers to organic cotton pima briefs — in several solid colors.
If Russell is more of a sporty dude, Red Dog Sportswear specializes in SKAL-certified organic cotton skivvies for "athletic" menfolk. Their undies are made in Turkey and colored with low-impact dyes. On the sexier, designer drawers front, C-IN2 makes an entire line of bamboo underwear that, as a bonus, is naturally antibacterial, while 2Xist produces a line of soy-fiber underwear.
There’s a few more men’s underwear brands out there working with green fibers but for the most part, shopping for eco-friendly men’s underwear is more difficult than, let’s say, eco-friendly T-shirts. Don’t expect to find much at your local big box or department store but take a look around if you have time to investigate.
I hope my suggestions help your intervention with Russell go a bit smoother. Maybe, before you even need to have that "chat," he’ll get over it and realize that in situations of personal hygiene, comfort and practicality, underpants do make sense despite the eco-setbacks of cotton. If he doesn’t, the above options will help him transition from au natural to natural.