Readers of this site will know that I’ve slowly been working on reducing the synthetic fibre content of my clothing and the fabrics in my environment. I’m allergic to polyester (including things labelled olefin), lycra/spandex/elastane, which is made from polyester, and nylon, whose fibres are lubricated with oil containing isothiazolinones. Given that, I’d rather not have other highly-processed fibres in my clothing either, like acrylic, rayon, ramie, or bamboo, but most clothing sticks to the polyester/spandex/nylon formula. The next step on this journey is one I’ve been dreading – underwear.
Men really have it easy with underwear. If they want 100% cotton, without any stretch/synthetic fabrics, they just need to find a good pair of boxers. Often the elastic is even fully covered. Of course, the thread is still polyester, but it’s a great start. Women’s underwear tends to be rather more stretchy, which leads to stretch and synthetic fibres. Certain times of the month, that tight fit is very much appreciated. How was I going to find safe underwear?
Since I’ve been replacing all my polyester seams, I didn’t want to create more work for myself by buying 100% cotton underwear with exposed elastics and polyester seams. I’d have to put a ton of work into my underwear before I could even wear it, and I have enough on my plate trying to get my t-shirt seams converted. That didn’t leave many options. Lace is out, because most is stretch nylon or full of elastane. Nevertheless, I really wanted some functional, sexy, and fun underwear.
My first stop was Rawganique. Rawganique caters specifically to the chemical contact allergy population, so they should have something there, right? They do, but the selection was surprisingly limited. In talking with their customer service, they informed me that if I wished to have seams sewn with cotton thread I needed to look for the “prima cotton” or “pima cotton” designation. They carry about four women’s styles in this category, some with a drawstring waist and some with elastic (usually covered, but check each style to confirm). Choices are limited to black, unbleached, and white. I ordered two Ladysmith drawstring boy shorts (I think probably because I once lived in Ladysmith), and two bikini style with elastic. Not overly cute, but functional.
Next, having found nothing else suitable on a large commercial scale, I checked Etsy. I found a number of woollen underwear suppliers, but none were willing to use a natural fibre thread. I found a lingerie maker willing to make her silk lingerie with *real* silk and silk thread. The additional cost was about 1/4. That had the sexy mostly covered. I then found Fox in Jocks, also on Etsy, who makes cute underwear out of woven cotton fabrics. She was willing to encase the elastics and sew with cotton thread, though the increase in cost was a bit more than I had expected. To be fair, the elastic casing required extra work and fabric, cotton thread is expensive, and one of those pairs had a lot of extra fabric and work involved for a second kind of “sexy” pair. It was worth it to me.
I received the Rawganique underwear first. They arrived in little plastic bags, though Rawganique is willing to ship in alternate packaging if you contact them. The tags were made with cotton twill tape – nice! The drawstring boy shorts seemed huge, and one pair had conflicting size information on its two tags, but since the two pairs were identically-sized, I assumed that things were okay. I put everything through a warm water wash with my new cotton, linen, and hemp socks, which left white fuzz all over the black underwear. Of course. Nonetheless, the underwear fit well. They are comfortable, and I haven’t had any issues with seams. The bikini style fit similar to how I would expect any underwear to fit. The boy shorts take a bit of getting used to, as you have to undo your underwear after pulling down your pants, but they did have the added bonus of allowing me to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without anyone seeing me and thinking I was running around in my underwear. They just looked like short pyjama shorts. All in all for functional underwear these pairs were, sadly, the best-priced, at over US$30 per pair. There was a discount for ordering quantity, but I think I will have to build up my collection of underwear slowly after this initial purchase.
Next, I got the Fox in Jocks underwear I’d ordered on Etsy. The underwear was folded into a small lingerie bag, wrapped in tissue paper, with a typewritten note detailing my purchase and explaining the special measures she’d taken. Because I’d ordered four custom pairs at once, I received a bit of a discount, as well as getting the free small cotton lingerie bag (minimum order for the free bag is two pairs). I again washed the underwear and machine-dried it once before wearing. The maker (Felicity) suggests hand washing, especially because of the cotton thread, but I wanted to get the shrinkage out of the way in the first wash. I’m not yet used to fitted underwear made from non-stretch fabrics, but I was (mostly) pleasantly surprised. The underwear looked big because it would not stretch on my body, other than at the elastics to help hold them up. The quality of stitching looks excellent. The maker left the polyester care tags off and attached her personal business tags with only one small set of stitches so that they could be easily removed. The underwear fit well, though due to the nature of the fabric they tend to bunch up at the hips a little. The customizations were done well, and the special pair was perfect. These underwear do have elasticated leg holes as well, so proper sizing is important. People who frequently gain or lose large amounts of weight would probably not be comfortable in this style.
I have yet to receive my silk sets, but I’ve been told the package is on the way. These pairs will have one covered elastic at the waist and be loose at the bottom around the legs. I also ordered a silk bra top that might provide light support but will mostly be for wearing under thin tops in place of a bra, or for times when I want to be more…decorative. I anticipate silky, drape-y softness. I hope I won’t be disappointed. I certainly wasn’t by the first eight pairs I’ve gotten.
I would love to be able to order most of my underwear from the Fox in Jocks, but the prices required for the extra materials are going to make her underwear more of a special purchase thing for me. I expect the majority of my underwear going forward are going to be of the functional, Rawganique variety. Either way, I am VERY happy to have new, beautiful underwear that doesn’t make me hurt or itch. Someday I’ll find the time to make my own underwear, especially now that I have an idea of the designs that I can achieve, and then there will be no stopping me.
Have you found any good sources of natural fibre underwear? Comment below.