3 NOVEMBER 2007, Page 15

I beg to differ... Boxers

About 20 years ago, while on a business trip to the Gulf, I unthinkingly proposed to a male colleague that we visit the souq together.

I told him that I wanted to buy some silk with which to have some boxer shorts tailor-made, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

I still remember the rather strained expression with which he looked at me: although he did eventually accompany me on my underwear expedition, I now realise that he thought I was trying to get into his.

Anyway, the silk was bought and for many happy years afterwards I wore slinky boxers until the cheap and — as I know see — garish Indian material eventually fell apart.

Boxer shorts are eminently Eighties, the age of aspiration. Together with cufflinks made of silk cord, mobiles the size of household irons, braces and scarlet lining in one's suits, boxers were the means by which to propel oneself instantly from humble nerdery into the social stratosphere. They were indissociable from the cult of the striped shirt and the silly tie with elephants on; indeed, they very often seem to be made out of the same material.

Above all, boxers were a badge of adulthood. When I was a child, I dressed as a child — in Marks & Spencer's Y-fronts bought by my mother. But I knew I had grown up when I got a job in the City and bought my first pair of boxers.

Pants, by contrast, are for boys: it is an indication of today's cult of infantilism that they have again become popular.

Of course children find pants very funny: at school, a snigger used to ripple around chapel whenever the hymn 'As pants the hart for cooling streams...' was announced. But the word continues to be shorthand for all that which is most worthless, and for good reason.

Boxers, by contrast, with their explicit connotations of virility and their clean elegant lines are the only attire for a gentleman.

John Laughland