best in class

The Very Best Women’s Underwear

No brief left behind.

Panties for everyone. Photo: Marcus McDonald
Panties for everyone. Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

The best women’s underwear, be it a bikini or a boyshort, feels like going commando instead. I should know: I have seen my fair share of wedgies and visible panty lines in my time as The Strategist’s resident underwear expert. But in trying all sorts of styles while making this guide, I found excellent everyday briefs, actually comfortable thongs, and everything in between. I also collected recommendations from lingerie connoisseurs, fellow Strategist staffers, and models to make sure no panty was left behind. And if you’re looking to upgrade your other unmentionables, I’ve got you covered with guides to the best bras, the best wireless bras for large breasts, and the best lingerie.

What we’re looking for

Sizes

The intimates industry has a reputation of being exclusionary — though that’s slowly changing. So whenever possible, I highlighted brands that make underwear in a wider range of sizes.

Cut

Whereas men’s underwear comes down to three main cuts (boxers, briefs, and boxer briefs), it’s the Wild West out there for women. There’s the sisterhood of briefs, bikinis, and thongs from which others descend, such as the boyshort, hipster, and cheeky. Then there are the capitalized cuts, like the French cut that harks back to the Baywatch days of one-pieces, and the G-string, which is the next best thing to nothing at all. Rise is another consideration — maybe you prefer a high-rise (à la “My Calvins” ), low-rise, or something in the middle.

Material

How a pair feels will depend on what it’s made from. Cotton is a favorite for its breathability. Modal is an alternative known for its softness and for being a bit more sustainable. Mesh (usually manufactured from nylon) is also popular and known for its airiness. Almost all underwear will contain some elastane or spandex for stretch, which makes it more comfortable and form-fitting. Since underwear is such a personal choice, there’s really no right answer to which material is best — but to help you decide, I’ve detailed the materials used in every recommendation.

Price

Even though almost all of us would consider underwear an essential, it isn’t always priced that way. My focus, therefore, was on the undies that truly feel well worth it. Each of the picks is denoted as $ (under $15), $$ (under $25), or $$$ ($25 and up). Note: For undies that come in sets, I calculated the cost of one pair to figure out which price category they belong in — and I noted any “buy more, save more” deals within the text.

Best women’s underwear overall

Sizes: XS/S–L/XL| Cut: Bikini, lower rise, seamless edges | Material: Cotton, elastane | Price: $$$

Behind the scenes, I considered just shy of 60 pairs when I started making this list. Commando, famous for a right-there-in-the-name, gone-commando fit, was the brand I heard about most in my reporting. “If you’ve ever wondered what the stars on the red carpet were wearing underneath those sheer, unforgiving gowns, the answer is almost certainly a pair of Commandos,” explains costume designer Alison Freer. That said, these don’t come in the widest size range. And I know, I know: $36 makes for a pricey panty. But now that I’ve been wearing a number of pairs from the underwear-maker over the past year, I can say that, across the board, they are all ultrasmoothing and supercomfortable. I usually wear some sort of Commando undie almost every other day now, and I think they are worth the splurge. The brand’s Cotton Bikini is a standout, with seamless edges and a not-too-cheeky cut. It doesn’t cause any panty lines, lays flat, and stays put. And it’s made from a combination of Italian cotton and elastane, so it has a very stretchy fit that doesn’t ever sag — even after countless trips through the wash. The only drawbacks are that the size range tops out at L/XL and that it only comes in neutral colors.

Best (less-expensive) women’s underwear

Sizes: XXS–4X | Cut: Tanga with higher-cut leg | Material: Cotton, elastane | Price: $$

Like Commando’s Cotton Brief, the Cotton Jersey Cheeky Tanga from Skims provides a good amount of coverage, with a more back-baring cut that doesn’t create a panty line, according to Strategist associate editor Jenna Milliner-Waddell. The tanga cut falls between a brief and thong: “The rise in the front comes about to right under my belly button,” Milliner-Waddell says, “without feeling like I’m in granny panties.” There’s no riding up — or rolling down, either. The style also comes in more sizes (XXS to 4X) and colors than our top pick. But I’ve ranked the Skims a bit lower than the very high-quality Commandos because Milliner-Waddell noticed that her pair seemed to get thinner on the first wash — something she’s paying close attention to with more time. You can get one pair for $20 or three pairs for $36 (exactly what the best-overall Commandos cost at full price).

Best brief

Sizes: XS–XXL | Cut: Brief, sits below hips | Material: Pima cotton, lycra, lace (nylon, spandex) |Price: $$

Then there are the Natori Bliss briefs, an all-time Strategist-reader favorite. “They’re cute. They’re comfy. The Pima cotton means they’re supersoft,” says Cora Harrington, the former Lingerie Addict and the author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. These are up to her exacting standards, as someone who literally wrote the book on lingerie, for their quality fabric and the placement of the seams. “If something is comfortable enough for me to wear every day, then it’s probably comfortable enough for everyone. My body simply can’t tolerate anything less,” she declares. Harrington doesn’t even mind paying full price for them — though the $20 briefs are often included in Nordstrom sales. And Dolley Frearson, co-founder and creative director of High Fashion Home, calls them smoothing, promising that “they will eventually replace almost all of your underwear.”

Best high-rise brief

Sizes: XXS–4XL | Cut: Brief, French leg, high-rise | Material: Cotton, elastane | Price: $$

Since I last updated this guide, the company formerly known as Knickey rebranded to Subset. Its bestselling High-Rise Brief is still the same after the name change, with one exception: It’s now offered in a larger size range that runs from XXS through 4XL. Self-professed “granny-panty stan” Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, founder of intersectional hiking club Hike Clerb, buys so many of these briefs because “it’s the only underwear I want to wear.” (She even included them on a list of the things she can’t live without.) Post-pregnancy, she focused on finding pairs that were softer and wouldn’t create a VPL, and these became a fast favorite. Stylist Mac Doyle likes them for the day-to-day because their secure fit doesn’t bunch. You can also stock up with a three-for-$50 deal (and you can mix and match any style from the brand to get the discount, if you’re looking to try different cuts).

[Editors’ note: Longtime readers might remember that Arq’s High-Rise Undies used to hold this title. But because the brand is taking a “break of undetermined length,” I’ve removed the brief from the guide for now. You may still be able to find a pair at the brand’s Farewell Sale, with all sales final.]

Best 100 percent cotton brief

Jockey Elance
$24 for 3
$24 for 3

Sizes: XS–4XL | Cut: Brief with a slightly high rise | Material: Cotton | Price: $

If you’re looking for a granny panty that’s really embracing, the Jockey Elance might be right for you. “You don’t wear these undergarments — they wear you. More exactly, they swaddle you. They’re the underwear equivalent of a hot water bottle or curling up with a puppy,” writes former Strategist senior editor Margaret Rhodes. The full-coverage, 100 percent cotton briefs have a tighty-whiteys vibe, and Rhodes especially appreciates their cotton-covered waistband: “Other high-waisted, ‘borrowed-from-the-boys’ briefs don’t do this, leaving you instead with direct skin-to-stretch-polyester contact,” she reasons. According to Rhodes, they’re the opposite of the sexier offerings on the market and “could be the least risqué panties you ever own,” which is exactly what makes them great.

Best bikini

Sizes: XS–XL | Cut: Bikini, low-rise with dipped waistband | Material: Modal, elastane | Price: $$

Free People’s in-house intimates line, Intimately, tends to be either super-sporty or effervescently frilly, but this bikini is a good in-between. It’s impossibly soft, made from a modal that’s light against the skin. Even with the seams and trimmings, plus a cheekier cut, there are no unseemly lines to be seen. (I even wore them underneath a sheathlike dress to be sure.) The low-rise, dipped waistband — sitting on my hip bone — keeps the underwear from peeking out of my jeans. The cut is lower than Commando’s, which I thought I would be uncomfortable with at first, but the underwear is still supportive enough with fuller coverage so that nothing’s hanging out. And I have been surprised at how well the briefs have held their shape, with no frayed edges, after once-a-week washes and close to a year’s worth of wear. For $16, that’s impressive. Even better: Free People has three-for-$30 and five-for-$45 deals to bring down the price per pair.

Best hipster

Sizes: XXS–XXL | Cut: Hipster, cheekier cut, high-rise | Material: Supima cotton, elastane | Price: $

Everlane makes minimalist underwear that, at first glance, could be mistaken for Hanes and are almost “aggressively plain,” says former Strategist writer Lori Keong. But that’s a big part of the appeal, especially if you’re in search of a high-waisted hipster that “makes your butt look like it’s starring in its own ’90s Calvin Klein commercial,” Keong explains. This pair rises to your navel without feeling confining or bunching up around your hips during the day, she says. They pass the very important VPL test, too. Lisa Buhler, founder of Lisa Says Gah, also vouches for Everlane, comparing its look to Hanro but at a fraction of the cost. Plus, Everlane offers a “buy more, save more” promo of three for $36.

Best hipster for plus sizes

Sizes: XS–3XL | Cut: Boyshort, high-rise | Material: Recycled fabric, cotton lining | Price: $

For a plus-size-specific pair, it was impossible to ignore the power of this hipster. Shanel Esaloo, buyer at luxury plus-size label 11 Honoré, has only two pairs of underwear that she “would literally scream off of the rooftops for people to buy” in multiples: Negative Underwear’s briefs and these classic Calvin Kleins. She wears a pair of the Calvins almost every day — they’re just that comfortable, with a thick, logo’d waistband that offers some midsection support.

Best boyshort

Sizes: XS–3XL | Cut: Boyshort, high-rise | Material: Recycled fabric, cotton lining | Price: $

Several of the people I spoke to recommended Parade for its commitment to sustainability and its comfortable, curve-hugging cuts. Two of them mentioned its Dream line (which was formerly called Re:Play but has since been rebranded). These boyshorts are a favorite of Megababe founder Katie Sturino. “While the underwear stays put, I wouldn’t call it overly supportive — and I mean that in a good way,” she says. They have a lighter construction that Sturino prefers to the control tops often found in plus-size styles. With sheer inserts on the sides, it’s the kind of “full-bottom underwear that works particularly great with dresses — which, if the wind catches them in the right (wrong?) way, can even allow me to show it off.” And if you prefer something cheekier, Doyle likes the brand’s high-rise briefs. Plus, you can get three of these for $25.

Best boy brief

Sizes: XXS–XXL | Cut: Brief-boyshort, mid-rise | Material: Nylon, elastane | Price: $

Aerie’s underwear is much loved among Strategist staffers. Because Aerie has a “seven for $30” deal, you can usually buy all its styles in bulk for cheap. Its Boybrief, a cross between a brief and a boyshort, caught my eye. Although this style is available in only two colors (a nude called “sand” and black), Lauren Chan, founder of plus-size womenswear company Henning, owns about 20 of them. In addition to being soft and lightweight, they have a mid-rise, low-cut leg opening, and full bum coverage that Chan considers to be the perfect silhouette — one that’s not always easy to find with the high-rise, high-cut legs popular these days. These come in a colorful crossover version that Strategist writer Brenley Goertzen likes for its ultra-flattering waistband. The “airy” pair also served Goertzen well during a bachelorette trip to Vegas when she wore them beneath a mesh dress that was a “tad see-through.” Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio owns several pairs, liking their minimal appearance. “I’m extremely averse to logos on my underwear,” she says.

Best thong

Sizes: XS–XXL (equivalent to 0–18) | Cut: Thong, mid-rise | Material: Mesh, spandex | Price: $$

Thongs are probably the most polarizing panty. Originally I awarded the “best thong” medal to Hanky Panky, but now I stand by Tommy John holding the title instead. I especially appreciate that this thong comes in a range of sizes — and is offered in a three-for-$54 set — in contrast to Hanky Panky’s one size-fits-all approach. (Strategist editor Maxine Builder, an avowed fan, advises checking this more thorough size guide rather than the one on the product page to make sure you get the best fit.) The phrase comfortable thong has historically been an oxymoron in my mind, but for the sake of due diligence in my research for this guide, I tested out Tommy John’s Air thong after Builder evangelized it. (Builder credits the material — “the lightest, softest mesh you’ve ever touched” that also happens to be “no show whatsoever.”) There’s decent coverage to the pair — about the same in the front as I would expect from a bikini. The back of the thong doesn’t dig in, which is usually my biggest complaint with thongs. I would warn you to cut off the branded tag in the back, because it rubbed against my behind annoyingly.

Best (less-expensive) thong

Sizes: XXS–XXL| Cut: Thong, high-rise | Material: Cotton, spandex | Price: $

This Gap thong is made from a breathable cotton rather than the airier mesh of Tommy John’s — and costs about half the price. “I don’t think a better pair of underwear exists,” says former Strategist deals writer Leah Muncy, who also suggests sizing up to get the perfect fit.  The combination of a high leg and dipped V-shaped waist makes them much beloved. “I am so glad that we as a society have rediscovered the universally flattering V-waist,” Muncy says. She buys them in bulk, especially when they’re on sale (which is often). And you can get three for $18, too.

Best seamless thong

Sizes: XS–3X | Cut: Thong, dipped waistband | Material: Lycra, elastane, spandex with cotton gusset | Price: $$

For truly undetectable underwear, ballerina Erica Lall relies on the Under Statements Thong from Spanx. She tends to skip underwear when she’s dancing, so when she does wear a pair, they have to have a similar invisible feel — these do just that with no VPL. “A lot of seamless underwear isn’t actually seamless, but this is,” she says, even going so far as to call the thong the softest she’s ever put on. (Spanx offers three for $48, if you’re hoping to stock up and save a few bucks.)

Best lace thong

Sizes: One size | Cut: Thong, high-rise | Material: Nylon, lace (spandex trim), Supima cotton lining | Price: $$

Hanky Panky has perfected the silhouette of a thong — and was the second-most-mentioned underwear brand behind Commando. Sullivan saw its popularity firsthand when she worked at a boutique in college: “Let me just say that Hanky Panky reigns supreme.” She has bought their thongs again and again.

Barbara Corcoran, founder of Corcoran Group, recommends the label’s Signature Lace Original-Rise Thong, which features a high-on-the-hips rise and a V-shaped waistband that’s meant to keep the panty in place. “Everyone seems to wear these,” she says. “They come in every color, so it’s like a lace crayon box when you open your drawer.” Corcoran considers them an essential, explaining that she has rarely thrown out a pair, as the stretch material never gives up. Though they’re labeled one-size, Hanky Panky recommends these for sizes 4 to 14.

If you want to stock up, Hanky Panky’s three-packs are your best bet. Iva Pawling, co-founder of Richer Poorer, owns several sets of the lingerie line’s low-rise thongs. “I am equal parts proud and embarrassed that I have been wearing only Hanky Panky underwear for, oh, about 14 years,” she says. “I don’t have to think about them, and they just work.”

Best no-show underwear

Sizes: XS/S–L/XL | Cut: Boyshort, high-rise, raw-cut edges | Material: Microfiber (nylon, elastane) | Price: $$$

Because boyshorts have been hit-or-miss for me, I didn’t think I would like Commando’s Classic Boyshort as much as I do. But these are made of a paper-thin microfiber, and I can barely feel them, let alone see any VPL — even underneath a tight pair of pants. I feel like the boyshort really contours around my curves instead of digging into them. The edges, which don’t have any elastic, also have a smoothing effect. These make for a really reliable pair of underwear that you can wear underneath anything. This versatility slightly softens the $30 price tag.

Best (less-expensive) no-show underwear

Sizes: XS–XXL | Cut: Cheeky, low-rise | Material: Polyamide, elastane, cotton | Price: $

Two model multi-hyphenates, artist Anna Theroux Ling and actress Hari Nef, namechecked Victoria’s Secret’s No-Show line, which they rely on for photo shoots. It’s an open secret that models should wear no-show underwear, “because you don’t know what they’re going to put you in,” meaning that if “you’re in your Hello Kitty underwear, that’s not the look,” Nef says. Nef likes Victoria’s Secret’s cheeky panties, which are cut more minimally but decidedly “not a thong, at least not the way we traditionally think of them,” Nef says, adding: “I hate those.” (You’re getting more coverage than a thong, but less coverage all around than with a boyshort or a brief.) These are made from polyamide, a cousin of nylon, and they come in dozens of colors and patterns. Victoria’s Secret often has the panty on sale, and you can mix-and-match five pairs for $30.

Best cheeky underwear

Sizes: XS–5XL | Cut: Cheeky with paneled front and double-layer mesh back | Material: Recycled fabric | Price: $

Although the Feels Like Nothing Cheeky from Parade is cheek-baring, it offers some modesty because of the double layer of mesh in the back. I like the super-stretchy waistband and breathable mesh paneling — the combination holds me in without making me feel constricted. These feature a lower rise, though you can pull the sides up higher around your hips for an even cheekier backside. The waistband will stay up. Parade also offers them in bulk at five or $30.

Best knickers

Sizes: XXS–XXL | Cut: Brief cut cheekier, mid-rise | Material: Cotton pointelle | Price: $$$

Intimates line Cou Cou makes a knicker inspired by French lingerie — it’s sewn from bespoke pointelle, edged with a little lace, and topped with a ribboned bow. The pair is frillier than a standard brief. I think they’re great if you want something that looks knickerlike but without too much bulk. Since these are slightly fancier, they’re like a pick-me-up when I want an underthing that’s not as unassuming. (Note that you can see their outline when wearing closer-fitting clothes.) These are reminiscent of traditional briefs, but they sit right at the hipbone and they don’t have as cheeky of a cut in the back. The cotton is breathable, especially thanks to the eyelets in the pointelle fabric. You can get them in a thong too, or a tanga (which is closer to a G-string).

Best (splurgeworthy) knickers

Sizes: 1–5 (equivalent to 2–12) | Cut: Bikini cut cheekier, mid-rise | Material: Cotton | Price: $$$

These made-in-London knickers are beloved by former Strategist senior editor Chelsea Peng (she also has a pair emblazoned with chile peppers). Peng thinks of them as her “sporting underwear” because she actually shows them off, usually underneath a sheer skirt. She describes the cut as similar to a bikini — with a bit of volume “depending on how high on the hip you wear them” — noting they lie flat “if you pull them up at an angle.” (She also assures that the knickers aren’t “bloomer level” in puffiness.) And the cotton fabric feels more “formal,” having a crispness similar to a shirt, without being rough. Since This Belongs To is a British brand, the sizing can be confusing — for reference, Peng got these in a size two and wears a 25 in denim.

Best French-cut underwear

Sizes: XS–XL | Cut: Bikini, French cut | Material: Italian mesh (polyamide, elastane) | Price: $$$

As an employee of Maude, maker of one of our favorite vibrators, Sullivan definitely has thoughts on both intimacy and intimates. The Canova, a slinkier take on the bikini, is one of her favorites (a feat considering she owns enough undies to not have to do laundry for about a month). “There is something I love about entirely sheer underwear, even if you’re just wearing them randomly on a Tuesday,” she says of the see-through Italian mesh and leg-lengthening cut. (And if you really love the look of mesh, On Gossamer’s Mesh Bikini is another good option: Kim France, founding editor of Lucky, describes them “as VPL-resistant as a thong but without the annoyingness of a thong.”)

Best (less-expensive) French-cut underwear

Sizes: XS–XL | Cut: Bikini, French cut | Material: Cotton | Price: $

For decades, Baywatch nostalgia from her formative years has led novelist Molly Prentiss on a quest for underwear with the same “vulgar V shape of those exaggerated high-cut suits.” Online window shopping has only led to disappointment — the Mishas from Arq have “substantial seams” that interfere with the look she’s going for, and high-rises from Pansy aren’t high enough for her taste. But a “midnight off-market marketplace deep dive” led her to Elsy Marie on Etsy. Prentiss says that she “hit the intimates jackpot” with this high-cut pair, which have a triangle shape well-suited “when slung above a curvy pair of hips,” are made from sustainably sourced cotton, and cost less than $15. She adds, “It was just the jolie laide my private parts needed, and I’ve ordered multiple times since. The rest of my underwear have begun to depress me in comparison.”

Best maternity underwear

Sizes: S–XXL | Cut: Brief, high-rise | Material: Tencel lyocell, elastane | Price: $$$

Montinique Dever, founder of Riot Swim, wore Boob’s briefs all throughout her pregnancy, but even after giving birth, she still reaches for these. They were designed with postpartum bellies in mind and have a double-layered front to provide more support (especially for those recovering from a C-section). The panties are made without any seams to dig into your skin, a feature Dever says she’s especially grateful for.

Best period underwear

Sizes: XS–6X | Cut: Brief, high-rise | Material: Cotton, spandex jersey, polyester (for leakproof layers) | Price: $

If you’ve been thinking of trying out period underwear, Phenomenal CEO Meena Harris recommends Period. Harris was initially a skeptic, but after two consecutive pregnancies, she found these panties at a time when she “was extremely over having a period and having to deal with tampons,” she says. This high-waisted style is her favorite because, “as a mom, I choose high-waisted for everything,” Harris says. Bryn Taylor, founder of Ouisa, is another fan, specifically of the lighter version, as “they’re not bulky like a pad” but absorb like one. The light can hold up to six tampons’ worth of blood, while the Harris-approved heavy one can hold eight to ten.

Some more women’s underwear we’ve written about

Our experts

• Karen Iorio Adelson, former Strategist senior writer
Harling Ross Anton, creative consultant
• Lisa Buhler, founder of Lisa Says Gah
Maxine Builder, Strategist editor
Jasmine Caccamo, stylist
• Lauren Chan, founder of plus-size womenswear company Henning
Barbara Corcoran, founder of Corcoran Group
Montinique Dever, founder of Riot Swim
Mac Doyle, stylist
Shanel Esaloo, buyer at luxury plus-size label 11 Honoré
Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, founder of intersectional hiking club Hike Clerb
Kim France, founding editor of Lucky
• Dolley Frearson, co-founder and creative director of High Fashion Home
Alison Freer, costume designer and Strategist contributor
Brenley Goertzen, Strategist writer
• Cora Harrington, author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie
Meena Harris, CEO of Phenomenal
• Lori Keong, former Strategist writer
Erica Lall, ballerina
Anna Theroux Ling, model and artist
Latifah Miles, Strategist writer
• Leah Muncy, former Strategist deals writer
Hari Nef, model and actress
• Iva Pawling, co-founder of Richer Poorer
Chelsea Peng, Strategist senior editor
• Margaret Rhodes, former Strategist senior editor
• Bee Stuart, personal stylist and founder of QueerYorker
Katie Sturino, Megababe founder
• Lily Sullivan, senior brand marketing manager at Maude
• Bryn Taylor, founder of Ouisa
• Jen Trolio, Strategist senior editor

Additional reporting by Hilary Reid, Lauren Levy, and Jenna Milliner-Waddell

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The Very Best Women’s Underwear