Earlier this week, I was on a mission to buy lingerie that crashed and burned. I was looking for something sexy, but also elegant. I want to be provocative without objectifying myself. I want my lingerie to help me feel empowered, not cheapened. I don’t mind throwing a little money at something that is just right, but I don’t want to sacrifice a good portion of my paycheck. Is that too much to ask? Turns out – yep, it is! After almost two hours of searching online, I turned my computer off feeling totally discouraged, somewhat ashamed, slightly appalled, and also confused. I had just as many questions about the industry as I did about myself. Admittedly, my online search started off badly. My favorite lingerie place, Kiki de Montparnasse, “doesn’t pay its bills” and no longer exists. I had never actually bought anything there (talk about losing your paycheck!), but I liked to use the brand’s pieces as inspiration, to get a sense of what I liked. In my mind, Kiki executed its designs with a perfect sense of balance that only the French can pull off: It exuded a sense of sexual freedom without it feeling like a STATEMENT. It wasn’t so much, “LOOK AT ME!” as it was a cheeky “Oh this?” I sighed, but then thought, There are a lot of fish in this erotic sea! I’m sure I’ll find something. I didn’t. The second wave of disillusionment came with a twinge of shame. In several online stores, I had to click under the "Naughty" menu to find anything that wasn't a super basic cotton panty and bra. Really? Anything that’s not virginal or functional gets placed in the “mildly rude, or indecent” category? And, yes, I understand that the word naughty can be applied playfully, but it felt insulting to me. Just because I have sex and want to attract sex (in this case, with my longterm boyfriend), does that make me "naughty"? There was also a lot of "baby doll" stuff which just felt... infantilizing. Many of the other items I saw were in the bridal category, looked flammable, felt too desperate, had Playboy bunnies on the butt, or reminded me of Halloween costumes. The more I clicked through, the more I felt my posture sink. When I looked a little more upmarket, I was shocked to see that I’d spending upwards of $1,000 to wear what is essentially sheer material with a bra sewn in, or artfully arranged ribbons that would fall over my nipples and vagina. Sometimes with crystals on them. Now, I know that a lot of people would argue that the baby lingerie vs. naughty archetypes are reflective of many men's fantasies about women, the whole Madonna/whore complex. But I ask you: Isn't there room for something that's a little more all encompassing? And isn't perpetuating these types of sexual stereotypes problematic in keeping women stuck in dualistic roles? Not to mention, maybe making it hard for men to understand what women are really like? And can't women want to embrace their sexuality and sexual power without it being considered anything but perfectly natural (and not "naughty")? Generally, I feel that no matter how carefully I tread in the sex arena, I am either too little or too much, never on the mark — a feeling I think many women share in this and other facets of their lives.
I went into the office and ranted about this to Connie and Ana and they agreed, but also told me to take a deep breath: there are some smaller/indie lingerie brands that are empowering, sexy, sophisticated AND won’t break the bank. To my delight, they are right. Take for example, Morgan Lane’s Isabeli Bodysuit which to my eye looks equal parts provocative and polished. It also reminded me of La Perla’s Neoprene Desire bodysuit that I was seriously coveting, but for a lot less money.
Lonely Label immediately grabbed my attention with their body positive campaign images; this is clearly a brand for women by women (in other words, they get it). I love Lonely’s strappy Penny Bra and Penny Brief set, which has a unique, flattering, sexy cut and can be mine for just over $100 (hurrah!). And speaking of pretty strappy things, Uye Surana has some great options as well. And — JOY OF ALL JOYS — Kiki de Montparnasse lives on in the form of another (more reasonably priced) brand called Fleur du Mal! I love everything that comes out of Jennifer Zuccarini’s brain: she’s got a certain touch and “je ne sais quoi” that makes all her designs feel sexy and effortless (much like her style icon, Jane Birkin, I would note). A lot of brands have bodysuits, but only Zuccarini makes hers out of crushed velvet. A lot of people make slips, but only Zuccarini knows how to make one that you could potentially wear out to dinner — see what I mean?
I have to point out that it is the newer brands led by women that are really hitting the mark when it comes to balancing allure with empowerment. I am a 33-year-old woman who has a Master’s Degree, is a homeowner, holds down two jobs, and just finished writing a book. I am also a sexual and sensual being who wants to be desired, respected, and celebrated. All I am asking for is lingerie that encompasses all of that. Lucky for me (and all of us), there are a few people out there who get it.