Any stylist worth their salt will tell you the importance of the right underwear, often referred to – when it has a more important role to play in the success of an outfit - as foundation-wear, but always a key player in the way any woman looks and feels. So I thought I would take a brief look at what our knickers seek to say about us and why we wear what we do.
I will start with thongs. That is, I will start by talking about them, not by wearing them. Ever.
We have Monica Lewinsky to thank for the rise in popularity of thongs. Until she famously did not have sex with Bill Clinton thongs were very much on the outer margins of fashion. Invented for Burlesque performers in 1939 to get around a ban on nudity ahead of the New York World Fair they remained the prerogative of the nearly naked and naughty until the Starr Report, published in 1998, noted that “In the course of flirting she (Ms Lewinski that is) raised her jacket in the back and showed him (Mr President that is)the straps of her thong underwear." At the time, few people knew how thongs worked, and it took a Seattle lingerie boutique to confirm that thong bikini straps — unlike traditional bikini straps — often continue above the waistband of a woman's trousers.” She was”, they went on to stress, “not stripping out of her clothing to show off her body to the President”.
Really! You think?
This female friendly (or in my opinion extremely unfriendly) version of the hitherto male only G string enjoyed - because of this - a surge in popularity and mainstream exposure. Enter the low-rise jean and there is suddenly a fashion marriage made in heaven – if walking around with a permanent wedgie is your idea of heaven. Allegedly favoured to avoid Visible Pant Lines, thongs became the seductive underwear of choice with the straps becoming ever more decorative and colourful as they peeped cheekily out from above your 501’s. Avoiding a VPL by showing the world your VPL makes about as much sense as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. And I must take a moment here to ‘out’ the likes of Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoria’s Secret where the sale of thongs emblazoned on the front with sayings like “Eye Candy” “Wink Wink” and “Call Me” were being targeted at pre-teen girls. Not funny, not smart, not stylish. However ‘high street’ the sale of thongs has become - and they are available everywhere now, from Marks and Spencer to J Crew - they remain to my mind the underwear of choice for a sexy, risque look. Worn to be seen they are an invitation. As a stylist I certainly do not outlaw them; as a woman there is something in my feminist core that finds them demeaning.
And so to the varied world of the brief or not so brief. The range of underwear for women is immense. Almost all the styles I am about to mention are available in laser cut, seam free versions of themselves so there is no need to ruin a good outfit with a VPL, whatever underwear you decide to opt for. Your Style Personality and your body geometry (inextricably linked as they are) will have a lot to do with your knicker of choice – if you have more of a curve through your lower body you are likely to favour a bikini brief or a high leg midi brief, if you are straighter, a low rise short is likely to feel more comfortable, If you have a lot of Romantic in your SP you will love the look and feel of silk and lace, if you are more Gamine a sporty short will get your vote every time. So, with all that in mind, here is a brief resume of what brief to wear with what, to at least get you started. Having a range of options in a well - stocked knicker drawer is what you should be aiming for.
1. Boy Shorts were as the name suggests inspired by men's boxers and are super-comfortable. They go well with trousers and shorts, skirts and flared dresses.
2. Classic Briefs are your regular underwear, the ones you buy in a pack of three or five. Hugely versatile they are the real workhorses of the underwear drawer
3. If you are a woman of a certain age, Full Briefs are the ones that your mother wore and pegged out on the line on washday. You can pair them with mostly anything, usually sitting high on the waist and/or with a high-cut leg opening they are a good antidote to muffin top; what they lack in sex appeal they more than make up for in coverage. If knickers went to school these would be the dinner money monitors.
4. Midi Briefs fall - as you would expect- somewhere between the classic and the full brief, more coverage than the former, cut high enough on the waist to sit comfortably with a mum or high waisted jean and with a mid cut on the leg.
5. Hipsters are low-rise and have a wide coverage on the sides. They go with almost everything, particularly great with pants and low rise jeans so make sure you have more than just a couple of them.
6. Bikini briefs, like hipsters are low rise and with less coverage on the side. Good for pants, jeans and shorts, skirts and summer dresses.
7. Brazilian knickers, more than a thong (although not much more) they do at least have some fabric on the back so are designed to sit on, not in, the butt cheeks. Good for bodycon dresses.
Finally I must pay tribute to the underwear out there doing more than its fair share of the hard work. Whilst the corsets and the girdles of the early 20th Century may have been cast aside in the enlightened and liberated 1960s, fashions are cyclical and the growth of the foundation-wear market – the Spanx and assorted shapewears that are nipping and tucking us in all the right places - show we are not yet over our historical obsession with flat tummies and pert bottoms.
And a quick P.S. as I couldn’t leave without shining a light on a few of the weird and the wonderful; New York based company Wearable-X has teamed with condom manufacturer Durex to create interactive underwear called Fundawear. I will not go into too much detail, sometimes these things are best left to the imagination. Suffice to say there is an app and some vibrating, if you want to know more please feel free to research. Modibodi and Thinx are two brands that have developed reusable underpants for women menstruating or experiencing incontinence. Manufactured from bamboo, merino wool and microfiber fabrics, the eco friendly breathable and moisture-wicking layers draw fluids away from the body, securing them in a waterproof outer layer. The fabric technology allows the underpants to be rinsed in cold water, machine-washed and, once dry, reused. And UK brand Shreddies (not the breakfast cereal I am assuming) have developed "flatulence-filtering" underwear for men and women using carbon-absorbing cloth. According to its website, the underwear uses "the same activated carbon material used in chemical warfare suits" which ought to be enough, although…………………………….