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Panties, briefs & underwear: What's the difference?

Ever stood in front of a pile of underwear on sale and wondered what all the different tags actually mean? There are briefs, panties, thongs, hipsters, cheekies, trunks and many more. We’re living in a brave new world of underwear options - and yeah, it can be a little dizzying.

But don’t fret! The Tommy John team put together this handy little field guide to underwear styles, so you can figure out what you like and what works for you. Here’s the low-down on your down-low wearables:

Some basic facts about underwear

“Underwear” is just the umbrella term for all the things worn in direct contact with the skin, under your outer layers of clothing. Underwear has a few different purposes - it keeps the outer layers from getting dirty too quickly, reduces friction in sensitive areas, and offers support. If you live in a cold climate, you probably have a deep appreciation for long underwear as well.

Have you ever forgotten to pack a fresh pair of underwear to slip into after having a shower at the gym or a friend’s house and been stuck going commando? Then you know how much of a difference those little pieces of cloth can make. Of course, underwear is also about looking good and feeling sexy. Don’t forget about style!

Let’s take a closer look at the subcategories of underwear. Generally, there is underwear for the top parts, usually only worn by women, and for the bottom parts, worn by all genders alike. A recent trend in bottom underwear have been unisex fits, but usually women will still be reaching for panties, while men prefer briefs or boxers.


While there are many different styles of panties - which we’re get into below - they all have a few things in common. The waistband is generally made from elastic materials while the crotch area is lined with absorbent and breathable materials like cotton. They are usually designed to fit female-bodied people.

If you’re already in the market for some new women's underwear, you might as well choose the ones that best fit your shape. You can play with the rise height, thickness and type of fabric, size of leg holes, etc. A quick overview:

  • Bikinis and women’s briefs: These styles are great for women with less volume around their bums. There is more fabric to add accents in the right places. If you have a more square shape, try high-rise options as they enhance your proportions. For an additional dose of feminine allure, go with some lace.
  • Thongs and g-strings: Have a round bottom? Don’t hide it! Styles with little fabric in the back and large leg-holes are your friend. These are also the best choices under very tight clothing.
  • Boyshorts and cheekies or hipsters: These styles combine form and function and work for all shapes. More lace adds sexyness while colorful styles can contribute to a cuter look.

Fun fact: Don’t tell a British person that you got your pants dirty, unless you want to see them get very uncomfortable. Pants is the British term for panties, interchangeably used with “knickers.”


There are actually just as many style and fit options for men as there are for women. The aim is to find the underpants that match your physique and lifestyle, whatever that may be. While briefs mostly refer to men’s underwear, the term also applies to certain kind of panties (see above).

Brief underwear tend to offer a more snug fit, unlike boxer shorts that extend lower down the leg and don’t offer much support for your stuff. If you care about conture and comfort, briefs are definitely the right choice.

  • Square cuts and boxer briefs: These are right for you if your upper body has a square shape as well. You can get away with looser fits if you find them comfortable.
  • Briefs: The tighter styles are more flattering to rounder body types. Not adding a lot of additional fabric and volume will make you look snazzy.
  • Trunks: This is the perfect choice for a V-shaped body type but also fits rounder bodies well.

Now go feel awesome

We hope this little guide has made the wild world of underwear styles a little less confusing. In the end, it’s less important that you can correctly categorize all your undergarments - and more important that you can strip down, look in the mirror, and feel awesomely confident. So try out some new underwear styles already!