My new favourite underwear: Hamilton & Hare lyocell

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Long-time readers may remember The Underwear Project in 2011, which involved trying every major producer of luxury men’s underwear to see which I preferred.

Zimmerli won that competition, and I’ve worn pretty much just Zimmerli underwear ever since. (The loyalty was reinforced by visiting the Zimmerli factory in Switzlerand for book The Finest Menswear in the World.)

Recently, however, I needed to replenish my supply and balked slightly at Zimmerli's prices, which are now mostly over €70 a pair.

I therefore tried out three other brands – Sunspel, TM Lewin and Hamilton & Hare – looking for an alternative.

Now, some of my criteria will be common to lots of people, others will be very personal. Breaking them down, they are:

  • Longevity. Probably the most important aspect of quality for most guys. They should wash and wear well without pilling, losing shape, discolouring or coming unstitched.
  • Luxury. Must have a luxurious feel, which could come from a fine pure cotton, another natural material, or a mix with only a small amount of stretch synthetic.
  • Fit. I wear boxer briefs/trunks, and they must fit well enough to be entirely forgotten about the whole day, never riding up the leg or requiring any other surreptitious adjustment. An issue for someone with a fairly small waist and big bum.
  • Simple. Minimal branding, one colour, certainly no loud multi-coloured waistband.
  • Mid-grey melange. More flattering than black, lasting better than white, and as I learned in the first Project, unfortunately about 20% more expensive as raw material.

I included TM Lewin in the list – which I’m sure will surprise some readers – because a friend swears by them. Said they’re cheap and feel as good as any designer brand.

TM Lewin does do a grey-marl boxer brief for £14 (above), with only subtle branding on the waistband. It did fit well, and feel nice.

But it didn’t last. Compared to the others, the material started to pill and otherwise deteriorate after about 10 washes.

Next, Sunspel. They do two stretch-cotton grey-melange trunks, in a long and short leg, for £28 (above).

They were good. Solid. Felt really nice, the long leg fit particularly well, and there’s no branding.

They held up very well too, as well as the eventual winner, from Hamilton & Hare. I’d recommend them both.

The reason I ended up going with Hamiton & Hare (above) was mostly the material.

A new range they launched last year is made from Lyocell – the cellulose material made from Eucalyptus tree pulp. It’s similar to other natural alternatives like bamboo and modal, but has zero waste processes, requires no chemicals or pesticides, and uses 20 times less water than cotton.

I confess these environmental benefits were of only secondary importance though.

Mostly I was taken with the feel, which is similar to fine cotton but softer and silkier - fine yet robust.

There is a pair in grey melange (above) for £35 in a mix of 64% Tencel (lyocell brand), 32% cotton and 4% elastane. These performed really well. They breathed well, fit well, and have lasted well.

Hamilton & Hare are keen on a few other design points too, such as having the waistband covered in the fabric, rather than just being elastane. I haven’t noticed a difference in comfort here, but others might.

The label is also on the outside at the back, again to increase comfort. Personally I’d prefer something printed on the inside, so the outside is free of all branding, but it’s a small point.

I also tried H&H’s tubular underwear, which should be comfortable in the same way as T-shirts made in the same manner, removing the seams. But I found they were too flimsy for me, and rode up.

So a five-pack of the grey melange lyocell it was. At £155 for the pack, it’s still £31 a pair, which isn’t cheap. But it’s a lot less than Zimmerli.