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russell smith

The question

I am dating again after a long time off the market and am wondering about my underwear. Do women notice it at all? If so, any advice on how to impress once the outer layer is off?

The answer

Women don't want to notice your underwear. If they are noticing it, it means that you have done something wrong.

Women, it seems, like undergarments plain, clean and new. That's all that matters, if you're trying to impress them. Any other form of undergarment self-expression – that is, underwear that you feel are sexy or clever – is bound to do the opposite, to make your prospective partner question your taste and possibly (even, yes, in this enlightened age) your manliness.

How do I know this? I've asked a lot of women about men's underwear at intervals over about 20 years. Most recently, I surveyed a group of acquaintances through social media and got about 100 responses, entirely from a socially progressive, educated, artsy group of women.

I was astounded by their uniform conservatism. Instead of saying what kinds of undergarments they find attractive, most women will tell you first what kinds they don't.They will first stipulate no "sexy" underwear. That is: no thongs, no leopard-print briefs (many of my friends say no briefs at all), no silk boxers. All of these things say "perv" to them. (That very word came up several times in their responses.)

The idea of vanity came up a lot, too. One friend said, "There's something creepy about guys making a statement with their underwear." Goofy or quirky choices also came under fire: no Joe Boxers with happy faces on them, no cartoon characters. (This makes me wonder about all the women's magazines articles that claim a sense of humour is the ultimate turn-on. But that is another column.) In short, "nothing that calls attention to itself," one fashionable woman wrote.

Old-fashioned Y-front briefs were also unpopular, especially if they were white. "Makes you look like a six-year old," one commenter said.

One choice guaranteed to be safe across the board is the boxer brief in a plain solid colour. They must of course be ultra-clean and new – that means no pilling on your microfibre, no greying to your whites, no sagging bums.

All of this is, I suppose, why I get several anonymous letters a year from conservative guys telling me that they secretly wear women's underwear and nylons under their suits – because men's fashion, and society at large, are so damn square.

Novelist Russell Smith's memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a men's style question? E-mail