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What Is the Best Underwear for Kids?

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

After years of diapers, I was excited when my youngest, now 5, finally graduated from potty training — until it turned out he was adamantly anti-underwear, finding it both foreign and cumbersome to his new bathroom skills. Though my first attempts to bribe him with dinosaur and robot patterns failed, we eventually found a winner in Hanna Andersson’s Star Wars Boys Briefs. I discovered them in the midst of an intense Darth Vader phase; he embraced them and never looked back.

But favorite characters are only part of the kids’ underwear equation: Finding a cut that’s comfortable for your kid’s body type, that doesn’t restrict movement, ride up, or chafe against the skin can require a lot of searching and trial and error. My daughter is very picky about cut and fabric, especially given how much she’s running around, climbing the jungle gym, and riding her scooter day-to-day. Kids with sensory sensitivities, meanwhile, often refuse to wear undies with prominent seams, exposed elastic, or tags.

So I spoke to parents who’ve been through the underwear ringer about the styles their kids like best. Many of them mentioned brands that have lasted for years, are made with high-quality organic cotton fabric that can withstand many washes, and have thicker waistbands — either without elastic at all or with elastic that’s covered in fabric to avoid chafing. I’ve also detailed which brands and cuts have worked best for my own kids.

Note that most brands designate certain cuts as gender specific, though some newer brands have taken a unisex approach, and some kids may find a certain cut more comfortable no matter which gender is listed on the package. With that said, styles designed for boys tend to come in a brief or boxer brief, with extra fabric in the crotch area for support. Styles designated for girls tend to come in briefs, bikinis, and “boy shorts” (or girl shorts) with varying bottom coverage and waist heights. We’ve grouped the underwear in this story into two umbrella categories: briefs and boxers and boxer-briefs.

Best briefs for girls and boys

Hanna Andersson’s underwear — like its famous cotton pajamas — are known for their extreme durability. “They have held up really well to so much washing,” says Emily Douglas, a Seattle-based parent of two kids, ages five and two and a half. Both of her kids wear Hanna Andersson briefs, for girls and boys, respectively. “I found Hanna Andersson’s cut for girls in particular to be comfortable and not likely to ride up,” a function of the full-coverage cuts and relatively high waist.

Hanna Andersson offers packs with classic stripes, seasonal prints, and rainbow colors, and also partners with kid-favorite characters from Pokémon, Sesame Street, and Star Wars. In addition to the Star Wars briefs that converted my son, he was also thrilled by the Pokémon set, since the franchise is his newest obsession.

For those who like the quality of material of Hanna Andersson but prefer a lower waist or different amount of coverage, the brand also offers a bikini cut, “girlshort,” and boxer brief made of the same durable cotton in many patterns and colors. Most styles are available in sizes for kids as young as 18 months and as old as 16 years; note that many parents told us the toddler sizes run a bit large.

Additionally, New York deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff vouches for the underwear from Hanna Andersson’s Amazon-exclusive Moon and Back line, which her four-and-a-half-year-old son wears and she finds to be just as high-quality as the flagship brand. It’s currently available in training, briefs, and boxer-briefs styles, but sizing options are limited.

Amelia Larsen, a Boston-based parent of two kids, 4 and 7, recommended the Lucky & Me Girls Brief, her daughter’s favorite. Multiple parents mentioned styles from Lucky & Me for both girls and boys: “Their underwear runs true to size and my kids always mention how comfortable they are!” Larsen says — which is notable since underwear is usually more likely to stand out for its discomfort. “The patterns are also fun and the colors are kid-friendly,” she noted. The briefs (and other girls’ offerings from Lucky & Me, including a popular full-coverage shorts style) come in packs of between three and seven pairs. They’re available in sizes 2 years to 10 years, as well as tween sizes up to 14 years.

Another company offering standout comfort is Oddobody, a mom-founded brand making 100 percent cotton underwear to allow for maximum breathability. Oddobody emphasizes education about the body alongside its products — there’s an activity manual intended to spark conversations about body parts in every package. My son liked that Oddobody’s unisex briefs felt thick enough without having too much fabric in the crotch area, and he liked the soft waistband. Oddobody also offers a bikini brief and a kids short in solids and cute contrast-stitched styles. The brand’s kids’ sizing starts at 2/3 and goes through 8/9, roughly spanning toddlers through early tweens.

Ana de Almeida’s daughter, who is now 7, made the jump to underwear at age 2, even before de Almeida had considered potty training her, which led to a very last-minute run to find underwear. De Almeida, who is based in Amsterdam,ended up in a Benetton shop where I found some comfortable underwear without elastic that are all cotton but have some stretch. They are great if you want something all white, not fancy, and quite practical.” De Almeida adds that “they washed well and didn’t wear out.” By the time her daughter outgrew them, “they were still in great condition, so I passed them to a friend” who was potty training their child at the time.

Mabo Kids, a domestically produced clothing brand founded by Utah-based Emily McMaster in 2010, focuses on using natural fibers and making apparel without synthetics. My kids have long worn its basic cotton tees and tanks, which have lasted us for years, so I recently got the unisex-style underwear for my kids to try out. It comes in several Liberty floral prints, and also in the same range of solid colors as many of the brand’s other cotton styles. My daughter likes the high-waisted cut, as it’s comfortable on her slimmer frame. Mabo’s sizes start small, at 18 months, so the briefs can also be worn as a diaper cover, and run all the way up to 14/15. They offer full-bottom coverage without added elastics for maximum comfort.

Another high-waisted brand I first tried in the adult style, then got for my 7-year old, are the child undies and tank set from the women-owned, domestically produced, independent brand ARQ. Both the tank and the undies are made with 92 percent cotton and 8 percent spandex, offering more stretch than some of the other brands recommended here, while still having structure and shape. My daughter often wears the undies — most of which come in a variety of colors and patterns that match the brand’s camisole tops — as pajamas or lounging clothes on hotter days.

Jaycina Almond, model and founder of the Tender Foundation, also loves ARQ underwear, adding that the colors are gender neutral, making these easy to pass down. ARQ uses organic cotton and dye processes on all of its offerings. In my family’s experience, the tank sizing runs on the smaller size, whereas the bottoms run true to size.

For toddlers who are ready to move into undies, Target’s Cat & Jack Toddler Undies are recommended by Boston-based Renee Manorat, a parent of a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. “I potty trained my daughter some time last year when she was about two and a half years old, and we loved these,” Manorat says. “They have pretty cute designs (we have a few mermaid and unicorn ones), which was great to get her excited to wear them.” Manorat also notes that they are “super economically priced,” which is helpful for kids who may still have accidents, and 100 percent cotton “so they felt soft enough.” This style is expressly for toddlers, in sizes 2T to 4T, but Cat & Jack makes a comparable style for older kids that runs in sizes 4 to 16.

Almond also told us she “really likes Tiny Undies, because the brand was founded by a mama that is an expert on potty training,” adding that “the undies are very thoughtfully produced.” The cut is low-rise to accommodate babies’ big bellies and tiny waists, and the solid colors make it easy to spot any wetness. The brand uses OEKO-TEX 100 certified cotton and ecofriendly dye, and the briefs are gender neutral, she says. Tiny Undies’s underwear is best for younger children between 6 months and 5 years.

Best kids boxer-briefs and boxers

Multiple parents recommended Lucky & Me’s Boys Boxer Briefs, lauding the softness of the material. “The waistband is soft and doesn’t scratch or irritate my 8-year-old,” says Alexis Ching, a Brooklyn-based HR professional working at nonprofits. “They’re pricey, but they stand up to a boy’s butt, they’re soft, and best of all they’re not irritating,” adds Ching. Larsen echoed Ching’s sentiments, explaining “they really do wash well, and the organic cotton is very soft.” The brand also makes a few different styles of traditional briefs and boxers, in kids sizes 2 years to 10 years and tween sizes up to 14 years.

Ching also recommends Uniqlo’s Boxer Briefs as a well-priced option. “Other brands either have a garterized/stretchy waist or that thick elastic band. Uniqlo has cotton waistbands that are the same material as the rest of the underwear,” she explains of the 100 percent cotton, ribbed-knit style, making them more comfortable. Their colors tend to come in stripes and solids, and the boxer brief hits a bit higher on the thigh than some of the other styles on this list.

These Sophie Girls Shorties are Lucky & Me’s “girl” style of boxer brief, made of a cotton, modal, and spandex blend with flat, minimal seams. It’s an ideal style for kids who like more coverage, especially under dresses, or who want to avoid wedgies at all costs.

Another go-to brand for many parents is Primary, whose unisex styles come in a literal rainbow of colors. Alma Aldrich, a Brookline, Massachusetts–based parent of a petite four-and-a-half-year-old, buys Primary’s Boxer Briefs in bright yellow, her son’s (current) favorite color. “They’re snug without being tight, and they give room without being baggy. The fabric is soft but stretchy, so the fit is very comfortable, I’m told,” she explains. In contrast to some other brands, Primary’s Boxer Briefs are made with 95 percent cotton and 5 percent spandex, giving them stretch and adding to the softer feel. For smaller frames, the Primary style can also be preferable to brands like Hanna Andersson, which Aldrich pointed out are “longer on the torso” and have a higher waist.

Storq CEO and San Francisco–based parent of two Courtney Klein recommends H&M’s 10-pack of Boxer Briefs, which come in boys and girls styles. “I don’t usually shop fast-fashion brands, but H&M is my go-to for kids’ underwear. I first stumbled upon them because they offer sizes as small as 2T, making them a perfect fit for smaller-than-average kids like mine,” she says. On both styles, there are a variety of color options, and Klein says “the covered elastic waistband ensures extra comfort, and they hold up even after numerous washes.”

As the former editor of Earnshaw’s, a magazine about the children’s fashion industry, Emily Beckman saw a lot of kids’ underwear. She recommends the made-in-the-USA bottoms from Esme because they’re “extremely soft, comfortable and lightweight.” She called out the brand’s muted boxer briefs, which are sold in two-packs and available in a range of solid colors and non-garish prints, including skateboards, camo sharks, and rocket ships. Beckman also notes that the brand’s “girls’ styles are made with finishing touches of lace and rosettes for a cute, age-appropriate look.”

In our shopping guide for trans kids and teens, many trans people recommended the brand TomboyX for high-quality underwear for all genders and body types — including flat-front boxers, tucking underwear, and leakproof period boxer shorts.

Additional reporting by Karen Iorio Adelson and Dominique Pariso.

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What Is the Best Underwear for Kids?