Changing my underwear: how merino undies got me to change teams after 20 years of wearing Jockeys

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Siren Hipkini BotanicalA random piece of TMI you should know about me: I have been wearing the same underwear since 1991. No, not the same pairs, but the same style — a very basic black cotton string bikini from Jockey. They’re practical but a little flirty, functional and easy to order in bulk. They have been on my butt since I was in high school, and mostly I just don’t really think about them at all. But after two decades, I’ve finally changed teams. I’ve got new underwear, inspired by literature and mildew. Lemme explain…

This summer I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, about a Nigerian woman adapting to (and eventually rejecting) American culture. In it, the protagonist shares the tiniest detail about (of all things) how she washes her underwear:

Back home, she would wash her underwear every night and hang it in a discreet corner of the bathroom. Now that she piled them up in a basket and threw them into the washing machine on Friday evenings, she had come to see this, the heaping of dirty underwear, as normal.

I have no idea why this quote stuck with me, but somehow it did. I never really thought about it, but it IS sort of gross that I build this pile of crusted dirty underwear that just sits in the corner of the room where I sleep…

Then, a month later, I had an unfortunate incident with a load of my cotton underwear getting left in the machine for a few too many hours. Despite rewashing the load in hot water a couple times, I could not get the musty smell out of the underwear. And you know what you don’t want your most intimate apparel smelling like? Mildew. No one wants their vag-related clothing smelling like old musty gunk. It’s just not good synesthesia, you know?

These two things (random quotation from a book + mildewy underwear) combined to set a course for a life-changing event: I finally stopped wearing the same style of underwear. I made the change. And what did I change to? Merino wool underwear from Icebreaker.

Merino wool is a mysterious and magical thing. It doesn’t feel at all like wool, and almost more feels like raw silk. It’s soft, lightweight, breathable. It doesn’t get clammy (which is a good thing with underwear). It doesn’t itch and seems to never smell (also a good thing with underwear). Unfortunately, it’s also stupid expensive, and requires super delicate care and feeding.

[Editor’s note: readers have expressed concerns about how the sheep are treated in the production of merino wool. Icebreaker is super up-front about how they avoid animal cruelty. Read up if this is an issue that’s important to you!]

I justified the investment cost by purchasing the overpriced underwear as a travel item: I was going to be traveling for two weeks, and was trying to pack super light. I didn’t want to deal with lugging around my pile of dirty underwear while abroad, so I purchased two pairs of merino underwear, and resolved to wash them each night. I wasn’t sure how well it would work out (even my friends who travel light were like, “You’re bringing two pairs of underwear for 18 days of travel? Seriously?”), but it ended up being sort of awesome… so awesome that I’m making the change permanently.

So now, this is me: my only underwear are two pairs of merino wool skivvies. (Those two pairs cost me as much as my last 10 pairs of Jockey cotton underwear.) Each night, I carefully hand-wash the pair I’ve been wearing and, yes, hang them discreetly in the bathroom. It’s weird, but hand-washing my skivvies has become a really nice evening ritual, almost a form of self-care. For me, the ridiculous price of merino underwear feels worth it — they’re eco-friendly, super comfy, and (I’m hoping) uber-durable. I don’t know that I’ll be able to afford more than a couple pairs, but wow: I’m a convert.

PS: I feel the need to make it super clear that this post is NOT a sponsored, NOR is it an affiliate post. (Note the lack of sponsored/affiliate disclaimer at the top of the post.) I get nothing if you buy stuff featured in this post (which is too bad, because it’s expensive and I’d love to be making a cut!)… but I just really, REALLY like merino undies.

Comments on Changing my underwear: how merino undies got me to change teams after 20 years of wearing Jockeys

  1. I have a merino wool baselayer that is soooo comfy and breathable. I didn’t realise it could come as underwear!
    Not sure if I could change to just 2 pairs of knickers though…

  2. Oh my goodness, well this is exciting. I put my babies in knitted wool soaker diaper covers and they are fantastic. Even for the preschooler in regular ol’ pull ups for a nap, the “woolie” (as we call it) catches any accidents the pull up can’t take. Dry sheets, happy kid and mama. And you just air them out between wearings and wash them every few weeks, it takes like two minutes to do. They are so damn soft, I’ve always said how much I would love to wear something like that…but you know, not in diaper cover thickness. I must have one of these merino wool undies!

  3. I love my Merino wool! I have one pair of merino wool undies (no, I don’t wear them every day), and a couple pairs of long underwear, which are great for winter (I’m wearing them right now), a short-sleeved shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and a sweater (all of the above are from Icebreaker, which Ariel linked from the article), and a couple pairs of socks (not from Icebreaker). They are my favouritest clothes ever. I only stop wearing them when they really need to be washed. They’re wonderful for all-weather outdoor activities, such as cycling, since they handle moisture super-well. Now if only they made a merino wool bra that fit me (skinny + big boobs = hardly any bras that fit, let alone merino wool ones…).

      • Icebreaker has a sports bra or two, but none of them fit me. Even the large is too tight for comfort over my boobs (30E). If you’re slender and not-so-busty, you may have better luck, though.

    • Ibex’s size L sports bra (the basic, not-delicate one) fits me (everywhere from 30C/D to 32G/H nursing) pretty well–and it’s very comfy and durable. The band doesn’t get all loose and gap-y during the day (even after wearing it all week), which amazes me. Doesn’t dig into the neck muscles, either!

      • Good to know! Now if only I could actually find an Ibex dealer listed for my city… (I think a lot more places carry their stuff than they claim on their website, actually…)

  4. YES! I’m gonna gush about my Icebreaker underwear like I gush about my DivaCup! I love them! They don’t give me wedgies like all the La Senza cheap pairs did – it feels like I’m wearing nothing they are so incredibly comfortable. I will never go back to ill fitting underwear. Ariel’s right, they feel like silk but super breathable. And yep they definitely dry overnight.

    I’ve been wearing them for about 3 years (before they had pretty designs like the one above). Last year, I did a 3 month South East Asia/China backpacking trip where I packed light and brought 3 pairs of Icebreaker, so I had to wash a pair or two every night or every other night. I usually did it in the shower at hostels although the hot water is probably not ideal. It was amazing to have clean, dry underwear in the morning and not worry about soggy cotton. They were also extremely comfortable in the sweaty heat and long train/bus/plane rides. My husband did the same and raves about the men’s Icebreaker boxer-briefs. And they’re very sexy πŸ™‚

    Now in terms of wear, I have to say my oldest 2 have holes. And to get a little personal, the holes are right in the spot you wouldn’t want holes! By washing by hand for so long, I wore a hole in the merino at the spot I would scrub hard to remove.. ahem.. ladylike natural discharge. Even so, I recently bought 5 more pairs of Icebreaker on sale with a gift certificate and am looking into buying reusable mini pads (probably this unless anyone has recommendations: to protect the wool during my next trip where I’ll have to handwash. If I had used a washing machine the whole or the majority of the time, I don’t think this problem would have happened for me.

    I currently live in New Zealand and driving around the country, we see Icebreaker sheep “stations” ie farms from the highway. Super cool. You can actually look up using the code on your item’s tag to find where in NZ your wool came from.

    I’ll echo Sylvia’s thoughts: if only Icebreaker made everyday bras in my size (36DD or E)! Any recommendations?

  5. Do they show an obvious pantyline? They look lovely! But I have been wearing the same time of cheapy Hanes undies forever becase they are the only ones I have that don’t leave a super obvious panty line. I have tried like a dozen other undies that are advertised as “no pantyline” and they have all been terrible. I am anti-thong but I really like being able to wear leggings and yogapants without everyone getting a really graphic outline of my underwear.

  6. A question for women who have made the switch to merino wool: are these appropriate for sensitive skin?
    I deal with vulvar pain, and it’s recommended to wear “breathable” underwear (if at all). I’ve read a lot of mention of the fabric wicking moisture, but is the fabric also dry/breathable? As of right now, I wear 100% undyed cotton underwear – which are a bit boring, and so not sexy or flirty. I’d like to feel pretty, but also stay healthy.

    • I haven’t tried underwear, but I am a big fan of merino wool in general. Yes, it’s very breathable and does a great job of keeping moisture off of your skin and managing body temperature… but the fabric itself can be slower to dry than some other fabrics. I’m not sure the difference would be very significant when you’re talking about something as thin as underwear. I notice the slow-drying more in things like my thick socks than in my thinner shirts and stuff.

      Wool is also a natural fabric, so it’s probably less irritating on the whole than some man-made fibers. Merino is generally considered hypoallergenic, though I do know a few people whose skin doesn’t react well to wearing it (often from processing chemicals some manufacturers may use).

      • I guess the next question is: where can I find merino wool panties that aren’t processed with harsh chemicals/dyes?
        I personally can tolerate some dyed panties, and it’s the fabric that matters more than colors – but I’d love to find something endorsed by sensitive-skinned people.

    • I have the same/similar question. I had vaginal issues (shall we say) at one point in my life, and the doctor insisted that I wear only cotton underwear, which is a pretty good call in general anyways. But for those of us who worry about yeast/other infections, I am wondering how merino wool compares to all-cotton. I have never heard of it for underwear (just soft nice sweaters).

      • I would say for all of you with vulvar pain or prone to infections, this might be a good option. Now doctor protocol comes first, but I’d be curious if merino would be grouped in with cotton with doctor recommendations if it was more mainstream and accessible and researched like cotton. I’ll ask around to doctor friends here in New Zealand where wool/merino is more mainstream although still expensive.

        So it comes down to, is the doctor’s recommendation for natural fibres/non-synthetic fibres or specifically for cotton? Either way, I think a pair of these is definitely worth a shot since they are hypoallergenic, super soft, and most importantly breathable.

      • When I wear cotton sweaters or socks, I am sweatier and the dampness just kind of hangs around. My feet stink. In wool socks and sweaters, I am warm without being sweaty, and any dampness (from sweat or rain) disappears quickly. Wool is way, way more absorbent and breathable than cotton; people just recommend cotton because they generally assume the alternative is a synthetic. I would use wool if I were prone to yeast infections or other infections: the dampness that increases problems would be less of a problem with wool.

        • Agreed! The recommendation for cotton is a leftover from the days where your option was cotton or nylon. Cotton unfortunately just traps moisture once it gets slightly damp, and doesn’t breathe very well, though better than the nylon my mother wears. It is the absolute WORST thing for my own vulvar health. I had a set of microfiber boyshorts which are aaaaaaaaamazing but apparently I got them when they were being discontinued and now they’re really not suitable for much.

  7. Hmm, according to the linked website, it might be a wiser idea to machine wash the merino wool underwear:
    “We strongly recommend that our customers only wash their garments on a normal cool or warm wash cycle with regular washing powder. Hand washing can enable a residual build up of perspiration which could contribute to an odor problem.”

    It all sounds great but with sizes stopping at XL, it’s not for all of us. Sad, it sounds awesome.

    • I noticed the same thing about the care directions.

      Also, I tried searching online for any other brand that might make a similar thing in plus sizes. As far as I can tell, no brand goes above XL. πŸ™

        • For all the curvy girls looking for merino in larger sizes, Minus33 from New Hampshire has a good size range. Their palette is not much, and the briefs are WAY too brief for my taste (too low-cut for an XXL), but the quality is fantastic. Shirts, 1/4 zip tops, and a great tank.

    • I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW TODAY! Clearly, you read the instructions better than I did. I got used to hand-washing when we were traveling, but sounds like I can just toss ’em into a delicates bag in the washer now that we’re home.

      Thanks for having better reading comprehension than I do!

      • I washing machine wash ALL of my merino stuff! Some of it is over 5 years old and still getting shoved in the washing machine a couple of times a week all winter!

    • I worked in shops that sold this stuff for over ten years, and amassed around 50 pieces of merino undies, singlets, leggings, t-shirts, dresses, jumpers, coats etc… Icebreaker recommended against hand washing as it can cause the fabric to ball up. The slightly abrasive nature of a wash cycle knocks out the short fibres that can cause the balling (knocking out these short fibres also reduces any ‘itch’ that some folks may feel with merino- for most it’s the tickly end of these fibres that you’re feeling- except in the case of actual wool allergy). One thing to note though is that you make sure you do up all the zips on things that you are washing the merino alongside, as catching on the zips is often what will cause any holes. I wouldn’t wash alongside anything with velcro either. Many of the garments I have are over ten years old, and some are now starting to get holes- all have only ever been machine washed. I found that using shampoo worked well to get out spot stains on my merino stuff- particularly that white build up you can get under the arms of tops. I could carry on and on about the wonderful properties of merino clothing! I haven’t sold the stuff for about six years, but am still a massive fan πŸ™‚

  8. Those sound great! I’ve been looking for a new place to buy underwear since my favorite cotton kind was discontinued. (The manufacturer just stopped making women’s underwear a few years ago.) I’ve found some others that are okay, but not perfect.

    Unfortunately I won’t be able to get these, they don’t seem to make a size that would fit me. Why do so many manufacturers of interesting and unique clothing neglect the plus size market?

    • I live in New Zealand and love merino and may be slightly addicted to icebreaker. I’ve managed to buy most of mine on sale and try to grab pieces for my husband on sale too. I’ve found that especially in the guys it tends to be only the large and XL or even XXL left for the sale rack so I do think they have larger sizes…
      Hubby loves his merino undies but they are starting to get a little thin. I don’t do anything special just through them in the washer. Icebreaker does have a cheaper brand RedRam its pretty basic colour and style wise but it is cheaper but pretty similar quality.

      • Their largest size for women is XL. I wrote to them and they offered to tell me the measurements for a couple of their styles of underwear. They are as follows:

        Siren Hipkini Botanical:
        Front Rise- 10.0in
        Back Rise – 9.4in
        Waist- 32.28in

        Sprite Hot Pants:
        Front Rise- 6.45in
        Back Rise- 8.34in
        Waist- 35.03in

        In other words, they might work for women who wear smaller plus sizes (US sizes 14-18) but wouldn’t be likley to work well for women who wear sizes larger than that.

    • If you’re looking for cotton underwear, have you heard of thunderpants? They are sized from Small to 2XL, and they stretch so can go beyond that a bit if needed.
      They are organic cotton, have cool fabrics, and they are designed so they don’t ride up your bum.
      I love love love them πŸ™‚ They are seriously all I use now.
      (the only thing worth noting, is the gusset is wider, so if you use washable menstrual pads, you need ones that have an extra snap, or are wider to start with)

  9. Do you work out in them at all? I run and bike and (TMI warning) am very prone to yeast infections, so cannot just go commando under my lycra. How’s the crotch swamp factor after a lot of sweating?

    • Very good. I’ve never tried synthetic wicking fabrics, but merino is the best I’ve tried for that problem. And that’s after Thai and Malaysian backpacking trips! Even if they do get sweaty, they dry super quick even when still wearing them which cotton just never does.

    • Yep, totally work out in them, and can confirm that it’s a WAY better situation than cotton. Icebreaker has a running/fitness line:,en,sc.html

      PS: I feel the need to make it super clear that this post is NOT a sponsored, NOR is it an affiliate post. (Note the lack of sponsored/affiliate disclaimer at the top.) I get nothing from Icebreaker if you buy stuff from them, which is too bad, because it’s expensive and I’d love to be making a cut… but I just really, REALLY like their stuff.

    • I’m a dedicated (all-weather) cyclist, and also a die-hard Icebreaker fan, and I bike in their stuff All. The. Time. I basically live in my Icebreaker long underwear all winter (ahem, wearing it right now…), and I also have a pair (and would love more) of the panties. I find that Merino breaths super-well, better than cotton and way, way better than any “technical” fabric designed for wicking/breathability/what-have-you. I also have some trouble with yeast infections (which was super-fun on our bicycling honeymoon), and in general, my Icebreaker makes my ladyparts happier than anything else. (Also, eating lots of yogurt is supposed to help β€” probiotics and all that β€” and yogurt is delicious. So that’s kind of awesome…)

  10. I love this! I HATE the usual “quick dry” underwear that I have on hand for camping trips and longer hikes – they may wick away moisture nicely, but any kind of polyester just gets STINKY.

    I poked around a little bit – it seems SmartWool also makes a few styles of merino underwear. On Amazon they do have some in XL (though I haven’t found any larger πŸ™ ): Smartwool Microweight Bikini Silver

  11. I read this article with great interest and curiosity, because my undie habits are… well… the complete opposite of yours, but we share a love for great materials (merino wool ftw!).

    From the age of 14, I’ve always been very particular my underwear. That means I have loads of undies, in every colour, in every price range, for every occasion. I have powdery pink sets to wear under sheer blouses, bright-coloured cotton boy briefs for dark days, bullet bras to make vintage dresses look their best… You name it, I’ve got it. As long as it’s pretty and non-synthetical.
    I find a certain comfort & confidence in secretly wearing chantilly lace Agent Provocateur undies under a ripped pair of jeans. πŸ™‚ At least once a week, the clothes I’m wearing are significantly cheaper than the underwear underneath. Weird? Yeah, probably. πŸ™‚

    Anyways, reading about your experience, made a few questions pop up.
    Most of all: the washing issue. The thing about merino wool is that you cannot wash it at high(er) temperatures. I wouldn’t want to mob my floor or do the dishes with cold water.
    I don’t mean to judge, but do you think they can be sufficiently cleaned? (Same problem with hand washing)

    • I would think that because it’s made of knitted natural fibers, washing in cool water should work just as well as hot water. Washing in hot water is not recommended so that the fabric does not shrink. The things that make a big difference in how clean fabric gets at certain temperatures has to do with the fabric type and knit/weave.
      For example, you would never wash nylons/stockings in boiling water, yet we accept those as clean after (hand)washing with regular soap. I believe merino wool is washed under the same premise, except they should be tossed in with jeans occasionally to keep the fabric conditioned without chemical softeners.
      What I wonder about is whether an enzymatic laundry detergent would have a noticeable effect different from, say, Tide detergent. Enzymes that gobble up human detritus would likely leave undies the freshest. But any detergent works because it reduces water surface tension and breaks down proteins.

    • I can’t speak for adult underwear specifically, but I use Disana merino wool diaper covers for my kids, and they never smell. I think smellyness is the sign of bacteria, and wool is naturally antibacterial, and the electrical properties allow it to repel “dirt”. It’s maybe different for diaper covers, because they probably have more lanolin on them, to repel moisture better, and there is always a cotton diaper to catch the messes. I can tell you I was amazed when I started using wool for diapering. They can get wet with pee, air out, and have zero odor. I wash them like once a month unless there is a poo incident.

      • That property is why merino gear is so brilliant for travelling. You can literally wear it for weeks without washing (unless you have a major spill, and I’m talking about clothing rather than knickers at this point!) because you can hang it up to air and it truly, ruly doesn’t get stinky. No-one believes this till they see it for themselves, but it’s true πŸ™‚ It kind of cancels out the fact that it takes a little longer to dry than some other fabrics because you have to wash it less often.

  12. I wish I could afford to spend $30 on a pair of underwear. I received a pair of merino wool everyday socks (ie, not thick winter ones) as a gift once, and I wore them pretty much non-stop until I wore holes through them.

  13. I love how this site contains both this quote:
    “I never really thought about it, but it IS sort of gross that I build this pile of crusted dirty underwear that just sits in the corner of the room where I sleep…”
    as well as information about wiping poo off your butt with a piece of fabric you rewash on a not daily basis. I mean this genuinely! Vive la diffΓ©rence!

  14. As an athlete who lives in a cold climate and likes to cycle in freezing weather, I can vouch for Icebreaker’s merino base layers, socks, and gloves. Sooo much better than anything synthetic because it breathes and will not leave you with permanent stink. I have always wondered about their travel underwear, might have to splurge!

  15. My sister is allergic to wool, so I think I’ll pass. With my luck, if I wore wool on a daily basis I probably end up allergic to it, too.

    I gave myself an allergy to raw apples by eating them on a daily basis, so…

  16. I purchased some bamboo undies of the Boody brand just before leaving Aus, and I ADORE THEM. I also got some crop top type bras, as I don’t like wearing underwires and my boobs are small so these are just super comfortable for me.

    The undies alas, two pairs I got holes in the crotch. I have been handwashing them at the end of each week, in the shower with me. After reading this, I think I will instead put them in a delicates bag. I had thought that the handwashing would be kinder, but now I think about it my scrubbing by hand probably caused those holes.

    They are the most soft and comfortable undies ever, super discrete under tight clothes, non stinky non scrunchy non wedgie. I will be looking for more bamboo undies when I need them.

    Merino wool is amazing, but as I’m vegan it’s not on the table for me. And I’m not so into cotton seeing as it’s so incredibly water thirsty and cotton farms have destroyed a lot of land in Oz. But this is just a personal opinion.

  17. I had no idea! I love Merino sweaters, but the skivvies weren’t on my radar. They’re out of my price range right now, but I’m definitely putting them on my wish list.

  18. I have heaps of merino stuff, I just chuck it all in the washing machine, none of this hand washing business. Haha. It seems no worse for wear after several years. It’s awesome stuff.

  19. I love everything about this post and the discussion that followed in the comments. So excited to try out Merino undies and curious of some of the reusable pads mentioned in the comments. I hope the company that makes these panties comes to you and asks to do a sponsored post because that would be awesome. I’ll get even more pairs if OBH got a cut πŸ™‚

  20. So, do you still wash one pair each night? I like the idea of having just a few pairs. I’m wondering about logistics – 2 pairs and hand wash each night, or 3-4 pairs and machine wash every few days?

  21. Have an ibex cycling jersey that has held up for at least 2 years now, and I rarely wash it, but it doesnt’ smell! I do have sweat/deodorant discoloration under the pits, which totally bums me out.
    I’m a fan of ExOfficio’s undies for the moisture-wicking, but these sound even better.

  22. What a great blog post Ariel, it’s an oldie but still remarkably relevant. We find it surprising that more of these types of posts aren’t around. Merino has got some really fascinating qualities that make it remarkably well suited for underwear. It’s a shame we didn’t stumble across your post sooner – i.e. when we were doing fabric research. It certainly provides some great insight into the consumer perspective.

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