You’ve heard about them, but how does period underwear hold up? Carolyn Wadey-Barron tests some locally made pairs to find out.
This story was first published by Ensemble magazine.
It’s shark week. I’m painting a red feature wall. My monthly subscription just got renewed. See you later Aunt Flo, euphemisms for periods have been updated and so have the bits we use to stop the blood. It only took six million years but finally we have begun to see a variety of environmentally conscious beaver dams.
However, as much as I love the planet, I really hate period cups, and in turn hate that once a month I feel guilty about the pads and tampons I use. My period is enough of an ordeal without the heaviness of climate culpability hanging over me, so I was stoked to try out some period undies. Armed with a selection of styles and absorbencies, I found myself oddly eager for my period to start.
Day one (daytime)
Usually discovering I am out of tampons on the first day of my period would be a shambles, but luckily I have a pair of AWWA ALL DAY to test. Feeling optimistic and brave, I wear a light blue chambray skirt – this will surely be the greatest test. While the briefs are the same size I usually wear, the band is a little tight, though I am not sure if this is due to menstrual bloat or because, as the marketing literature says, these undies fit more snugly to help them stay leakproof. The bulk is in the crotch more so than the bum, and while I’m not so much an Hervé Legér bandage dress kind of girl, I still think I could be comfortable in these in all the clothes I would usually wear while perioding.
For me, tampons are in the same category as bras: strictly only for outside the house. Home time is for pads and free-boobing. For this reason, I’m not used to feeling that special “drip drip” while I’m at work and while at first it feels a bit weird, I soon realise it’s actually a superpower. Yes motherfucker I am standing here BLEEDING while I make small talk with customers. I am practically an Amazonian warrior!
After a day of anxiously examining my behind in bathroom mirrors, wondering if the ALL DAY undies will live up to their name, late in the afternoon I make bliss balls and somehow manage to spread mashed dates all over my rear end. So while it appears I have shat my pants, there is not a spot of blood on my bum at the end of the day. Impressive!
The best part about period undies is that they really cut down on all the period jobs that need to be performed every time you go to the loo. Every menstruating person knows the tight-fisted walk to the public bathroom with a tampon or pad secreted between curled fingers. And then the retrieval, disposal and reapplication, all while attempting to keep things sanitary. Or the search for a sink-adjacent toilet when it’s time to change your cup. With period undies, there are no jobs! You can go to the loo as if it were a non-period day! What bliss!
I was a little worried about smell, which is a hangover I suspect most of us who menstruate have from puberty. Although my mum would always reassure me that smell only goes straight up (in hindsight, this seems unscientific but kind), as a heavy-bleeding 13-year-old at intermediate, I went through a can of Impulse each month to ensure no-one could detect the whiff of two-cent coins on me.
The magical material in the crotch of period undies is apparently as good at absorbing smells as it is the blood though. Each time I go to the loo, I perform a sniff test and am pleased that I can only detect notes of stranger’s dried urine. Maybe “pleased” is not quite the right word to use when discussing the smell of a public bathroom, but you get the drift.
Day one (nighttime)
To get through the night, I try The Sleeper from The Period Company. At first I can’t decide if they are super cool or just a giant nappy: shaped like men’s briefs, the inside is the texture of a soft, shaggy old towel.
Wearing them to bed with my favourite ancient T-shirt, I feel kinda like a grunge goddess. The nappy-ness of them actually makes me feel swaddled and sleepy, and the fact that the towelling covers my entire backside (and frontside) leaves me feeling secure. I sleep like a giant bleeding baby and my nappy lasts all night until I wake up around 6am. Had I slept in there could have been trouble, but I am generally an early riser so the sheets are looking spotless.
I actually love these so much that the first thing I do after I wake up (after rinsing them out and hanging them in a sunny spot so I can wear them again as soon as possible) is go online to order another pair. Alas they are sold out – obviously other people are as impressed as me! I ask to be notified when they are back in stock, something I never do.
When I was a teenager my period was a blood tsunami, and so at bedtime while bleeding I would take to bed with me a soft old shaggy towel from the back of the hot water cupboard. I would fashion it into a kind of nappy, and it would allow me to sleep through the night without fear of waking in a blood puddle. These pants are that funny old towel but reborn in a cute comfortable format and I am here for them.
Sometimes my second day can be heavier than my first, so let’s see what these AWWA ALL DAY undies are really made of. [Spoiler: it’s really absorbent science stuff.] Once again I am impressed with how much they hold. I’m really cramping badly today so it’s great to have one less thing to worry about.
Apparently the late afternoon is a dangerous time to be me, as when I take the dog for a walk on the beach at around 5pm, I suddenly know I am going to vomit. This happens sometimes after a day of bad cramps. As the realisation hits, I clock that I am a long way from a public toilet and discretely vomit into a nearby bush. I sit back, clammy and shaky, and try to prevent the dog from eating what I have just regurgitated while panic-texting my partner to leave work and come and get me.
When you have puked in a busy public place and then your dog has attempted to eat said puke, it’s really good to know that at least your period undies didn’t leak. So I’d call the day a success! Right?!
Here’s the downside of period undies: they take forever to dry. And the thicker the padding, the longer the drying time, meaning that unless you are some kind of gold-plated billionaire who uses a dryer on the daily, it’s gonna be a struggle to repeat undies (especially the all day or night ones) during the same period.
So, I have switched down from the super soakers to the AWWA cotton brief, which promises to hold two tampons’ worth of blood. I’m working from home today so it suits me fine, but I think in future I would save these ones for the final days of my period, AKA the danger days when your period turns into the killer in a horror movie and suddenly rises up from nowhere to ruin your day and your best white knickers.
At lunchtime I switch to The High Waisted from The Period Company, which look exactly like all my non-period undies – I like ones that come in multipacks and could double as a car cover. As with the nighttime numbers, these ones look cool! This could be because The Period Company was co-founded by stylist to the stars Karla Welch.
It’s a strange sensation, feeling snazzy under your clothes when you have your period, and I really like having that extra little boost when I am frankly feeling pretty shitty. These ones also claim to last all day but don’t feel nearly as thick as the AWWA ALL DAY ones. I wear them for about six hours and it’s a heavy-ish day, so I’m still pretty impressed.
With a sink of cold water and some low-allergenic laundry detergent, I literally rinse and repeat for the rest of my period.
Pros of period undies
– Good for the planet
– Not as many “jobs” each time you go to the toilet
– Look cool/feel cool
– Transform you into an Amazonian warrior
Cons of period undies
– Take ages to dry
– Expensive at the outset but cheap in the long run if you can manage to build up a full collection to get you through each month without tampons or pads
– Once in your undies drawer, it’s a bit tricky to tell which ones are just meant for a couple of hours and which are meant for all day/all night. Notice to all period undies manufacturers that this info should go next to the washing instructions to save the guesswork of crotch-squeezing to evaluate the absorbency
AWWA at a glance
The ALL DAY undies are the real deal and the absorbent padding is some Nasa shit. While the fit is a bit snug for my liking, my next purchase is gonna be the Skye High because they look so rad! Massive bonus points to AWWA for being an Aotearoa-based company and for using a diverse range of bodies in their advertising.
The Period Company at a glance
Love the styles that are perfect if you are someone who likes a no-nonsense slouchy style of undergarment. Great absorbency and good price points.
A side note: I love clever period euphemisms. We even have a family one – going to Kawau. I am one of three sisters, and when my eldest sister got her first period, we were staying with my grandfather and his wife on Kawau Island. This was in the mid-1980s, and poppa had to go to the neighbour’s house to place a phone call to the mainland and arrange for some sanitary pads to be sent over on the delivery boat. It was about the most public menarche since Carrie.
Full disclosure: We were gifted samples of the AWWA period undies to try, and purchased those from The Period Company.