How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Period Underwear

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked when I found out that “period underwear” had taken on a new meaning! No longer is the term reserved for regular underwear that has become shark week underwear – whether due to staining, stretch, size, or maybe even pattern (note to self: add menstruation-themed underwear to wishlist). Period underwear is now its own product, not hiding at the bottom of a drawer, but displayed proudly in social media advertising.

There are different brands of period underwear, but the concept is the same: high-tech underwear made with absorbent material so that you can wear them as menstrual protection. They have a few layers of fabric that are marketed as anti-microbial, leak-resistant, and moisture-wicking. Different cuts usually correspond with different absorbencies (for example, a thong is typically built for a lighter flow than, say, a fuller-coverage brief). Style-wise, you can find basic ones, “sporty” ones, and even ones with elements from what we traditionally think of as lingerie, such as lace or mesh.

Period underwear gets to live a bit more of a glamorous lifestyle than cloth pads and menstrual cups, because, well, it makes a great model. It’s easier to present people with a new concept when it’s in a form they already recognize, especially when it can be made both subtle and visually appealing. Whether an ad featuring a model wearing period underwear is actually menstruating in them or not is irrelevant; the point is that they can be photographed using the product, making the picture both informative and enticing. On the contrary, there really isn’t a way to photograph someone actually using cloth pads or menstrual cups in a way that can be publicly shared. The options are to either 1) show the pads on their own, or 2) show a person handling them pre- or post-use (hanging them to dry, tucking them into a carry bag, holding them up for display, etc). True, ads for disposable pads and tampons also don’t show the products in use. But since virtually everyone knows what those products look like, the ads don’t need to be based around photos of the actual product in use. Large companies like Tampax and Always are household names. They don’t need to teach you what a tampon is, they just want to remind you that their brand is the best so that you think of them while standing before the myriad options in the so-called feminine care aisle.

When you’re in the business of reusables, the main sentiment is that we’re all in this together. Same team. Let’s just keep disposables out of landfills, shall we? I salute anyone who is providing people with options for a more Earth- and body-friendly period, and working to break taboos around menstruation. But underneath that, it can be hard not to feel like period underwear is cloth pads’ cool cousin, the one who effortlessly dazzles the family while Cloth Pad and Pantyliner stand off to the side. I’m not saying that it’s all a popularity contest, or that people can only choose one or the other (I actually have period undies in the drawer with my trusty GladRags). But as reusables of all types find themselves increasingly in the spotlight, I start to wonder how much looks, familiarity, and marketability matter. Will these stylish and powerful underthings eventually make cloth pads seem dated? Or worse…irrelevant?

I need only reflect on that for a moment to know it’s not true (and not just because GladRags are – pardon my bias – reliable and timeless). The part about providing environmentally friendly and body-safe period options? That really is the bottom line. Different products suit different people for different reasons. Sometimes one product is the gateway to another. Sometimes you open your drawer and see the various results of a friend’s recommendation, an eye-catching ad campaign, an irresistible pattern, a great sale, a brave leap, research, trial and error, your own values. Sassy ad campaigns aside, it’s all about promoting healthier period options, and we’ll buy into that!