Can a Pair of Underwear Truly Be ‘One Size Fits All’?: One Editor Investigates This Claim

In the summer of 2017, I threw out almost every single pair of underwear I owned. Perhaps it was because I had just moved in with my partner, or perhaps it was because I had just returned home to Toronto from a miserable year in New York, where I didn’t have the wherewithal or budget to maintain a proper diet and subsisted on takeout and limpid vegetables. But the cotton flimsiness of a size medium, which had once offered me full cheek coverage, became powerless against the tumescent swelling of my lower half. I had bloated up two full sizes, like a plastic Magic Grow figurine left to soak in water a few days too long.

I was always slender, and suddenly I was not. The surge was like a poltergeist: it failed to register anytime I stepped on a scale, yet left coin-sized purple welts on my body where the button of my too-tight jeans gouged at my softening stomach. It left me no choice but to replace a chunk of my wardrobe all at once. Yet shopping was no longer a straightforward activity and more of a Sisyphean gallop across Middle Earth in search of the one true ring. Because I had no clear indication of what size I was, the only way to accommodate my body was to clear off entire racks of sizes, trying on every single pair of pants, which is an inefficient and demoralizing way to shop.

To be perfectly transparent, I am not plus size, and I recognize the privilege inherent in being the girl who never had to ask for a size or two up at a fitting room. Yet occupying a body that has undergone mysterious and drastic changes is a distinctly bizarre space to occupy. At times it felt like my understanding of my body and my actually body had been cleaved in two and I had no conception of what my actual size was.

When I first heard of Chantelle’s ‘one-size-fits all’ soft stretch briefs a month ago, I had not yet exited this borderline dysmorphic relationship with my body (I still haven’t?) and was tantalized by the prospect of a pair of underwear that doesn’t require your body to conform to a specific size. Comprised of a blend of polyamide and elastane, the underwear won the 2018 Innovation of the Year Award at the UK Lingerie Awards. Nordstrom reviews for the panties sit at an average 4.5 out of 5, but the testimonials are extremely mixed. “These are the smallest “one size” underwear I’ve ever purchased,” one customer writes. “I’m a medium and they’re pushing it in size….no way anyone larger could wear these.” Another customer complained, “One size fits all did not work for me. I am a S/M in panties and these would not stay up.” Now that I can barely squeeze my buns into the size large offered at mall underwear stores, I was curious to see which camp I’d fall into.

When I peeled the package open, the underwear looked unremarkable. Small but not suspiciously so, in a beachy shade of coral. They felt silky to the touch and miraculously expanded just enough to accommodate my butt without stressing out the seams. My butt is normally the Bermuda Triangle for bikini underwear, a hovering vortex that sucks in anything that crosses its path. Yet I snapped up these briefs and promptly proceeded to forget about what kind of underwear I was wearing for the rest of the day, a luxury I haven’t been afforded for nearly a year.

The term ‘one size fits all’ tends to conjure mental images of ‘popcorn shirts,’ those pimply-textured ‘90s fad shirts that look like they might fit a small dog but then stretch to accommodate any girth, or the weirdly exclusionary sizing at teen emporium Brandy Melville. The soft stretch briefs hover somewhere between these two camps. According to their website, ‘one size fits all’ actually means ‘fits size small-XL’ which means a lot of plus sized bodies are left out of the equation.

That said, if you are like me and your body image occupies a phantom realm where living in the day to day world can feel like an out of body experience, ‘one size fits all’ underwear provides excellent solution to not knowing exactly where your body might be at from one day to the next.

In the past year, I’ve wasted more money than I care to think about on terrifically ill-fitting underwear. Even the new pairs I bought after last summer still tend to get subsumed by my butt by the end of the day, so the fact that these briefs stayed put helped restore a modicum of body confidence to my borderline dysmorphic perception of my lower half. I still have no clue what size of underwear I’m supposed to fit into but with ‘one size fits all’ briefs, it’s a relief I don’t have to.