Go with the flow: how period clothing went mainstream

Every woman who has ever had their period knows the horror story. But for many, it is a reality. My period happened while I was reporting on a festival at Governors Island in New York. It was hot and humid in August. I was wearing a white linen gown and cotton underwear. All day, I was interviewing people. I was approached by a woman later. I assumed she wanted to talk about the festival. She had another idea.
She said that I had brought you water as I believe you might have been sitting in something. A stain about the size of a football was found inside a portable toilet. It was the colour of red grapes and rust. It was the first time I had ever experienced my period. A dear woman saved me from it. This was the worst case scenario. It would have been worthy of a section in a teenage magazine. Yet, I had been having periods for 25 years. It is hard to believe how many years I have been doing this. This story continues to make me cringe. It is a long way to say that I should probably be investing in period-wear.

Thinx Period Wear

You may have already heard of period underwear. If not, then you might be familiar with knickers made of a combination of anti-microbial fabrics and moisture-wicking fabrics. These companies tend to keep the formula secret. The fabric draws liquid away from your body and traps it in the fabric, allowing you to bleed as freely as possible. They can be worn as either a backup to sanitary wear or in lieu of it, depending on how confident you are.

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Although period pants have been around since at least the mid-90s, my first attempt was more than a decade ago. I was working for a feminist magazine when we were given Lunapads (now known as Aisle) and it was over a decade ago. It didn't work out. It was cotton pants with thick gussets, almost as if there were cotton pads inside. They felt almost like wearing a sanitary pad. They were useful for back-up while on flights and camping trips, but I didn't feel completely reassured. They began to stretch and I decided to throw them away.

Period-swimsuits, period-sleep-shorts, and period-leotards are available in a variety of colors.

However, times change. The market for period pants has seen a lot of improvement and is now booming. They have also branched out. There are now colourful period-leotards and period-exercise-wear, period-swimsuits and period-sleep shorts. Thinx even offers a blanket for as low as $370 made from moisture-wicking cotton. This is presumably for sex.

Shama Amalean, Thinx, said that there hadn't been any innovation in period care since 1930s when we launched. This category was dominated in single-use disposables including tampons (88%), which have single-use application devices.

The goal is not to ban taboos about periods but to normalize them. Photograph by Kellie French/The Guardian

Although period-clothing is a new market, it is growing. Knix, a Canadian company that also sells leggings, bodysuits, and other clothing, raised C$53 million (31m) during a fundraising round last spring. Karla Welch (Hollywood superstylist) co-owns The Period Company. She counts Tracee Ellis Ross, Justin Bieber, and other celebrities as clients. Recently, the company launched a line affordable shorts starting at $12.

Ruby Love sells period-swimwear and Dear Kate makes leak-proof athleisure. Wuka stands for Wake Up Kick Ass and is the UK's first period-underwear business. It was founded in 2017 and sells periodproof boxers.

It's not just for savvy millennials. You can find it at Boots (17.95), Primark (13), and Boots (with Thinx) as well as at Left Bank Parisian pharmacies. They are becoming more common as people seek cheaper, more sustainable and more comfortable solutions than tampons or pads.

Although period-clothing might make my menstrual cycle easier, I was a little skeptical about its effectiveness. Are they really effective? Are five tampons of blood worth holding one pair of leggings? Does it feel like you're wearing an adult diaper? They smell!

I started with pants from Knix, a Leakproof High Rise ($35), worn underneath jeans. These pants felt sturdy and thick. I would normally wear underwear if I was free-bleeding on my heaviest days of my cycle. While I was running errands in heat, it felt a little damp but didn't leak. I slept that night in a pair Karla Welchs The Period Company sleeping boxers.

Welch says that my period was full of waste. I hate tampons. I feel better when I let my body breathe. They were financially sound by December.

Because I was horizontally asleep and mostly horizontal, I didn't feel like I was bleeding into my sleep shorts. I also liked not having to wear a tampon when I went to bed. The next morning, I looked for blood on my sheets as if I was a suspicious husband in a 19th century novel.

I looked for blood in my sheets as if I were a suspicious bride on honeymoon in a 19th century novel. I came up empty handed.

In terms of waste, period pants are better than single-use pads or tampons. Although menstrual cups can be washed and reused for many years, I have learned that most women are either very attached to their cups or they are uncomfortable and prone leaking.

There are many reasons to switch, not just environmental. After worrying about toxic shock syndrome, two of my friends adopted them. One of my friends gave me some tips. Wear super-absorbent pants during the bulk part of your cycle, and lighter pants on the days preceding and following.

For a lesson in tennis, I tried on a pair Thinx shorts that weekend. The pants did not leak, shift or smell. Most of the more recent brands have an odour control treatment. When I got back, I took a bath and used a tampon. It was then that I realized I didn't feel like liquid was being absorbed into me, but rather than leaking out.

Perhaps this is due to the same internalised shame, misogyny and insecurity that make periods stigmatizing. It is something I feel. I have the privilege of being raised by a hippy mother who gave me a speech about menstrual pride. I can only imagine what it must be like for trans men to menstruate.

I believe that adult incontinence sufferers are now also using period underwear. This is infinitely better than buying adult nappies.

Period-clothing is, in many ways, an extension of the so called menstrual revolution which includes Mooncups and free-bleeding (see also: the period scene in Michaela Coles drama I May Destroy You, and the tampon that briefly appears in the Bond film).

It is not the goal to banish taboos about periods but to normalize them. There is still some discretion with period underwear. What could be more normal than free bleeding into something everyone can see? I should also mention that these shorts and swimsuits are not available in white.

The last and most important test I had was to wear only Thinxs period Thongs underneath a pink silk slip dress to a party. It was impossible. It wasn't the leak threat that was the problem, but the constant anxiety of checking to see if any had occurred while I was dancing to Dua Lipa. I felt safe so I wore both the period thong and the tampon. My bra was the only thing I could forgo on that night. My bra.