If the corset fits, wear it: Your guide to buying lingerie

    This is not your grandma’s guide to lingerie:

    1. There will be no mention of girdles, bloated white panties or other articles that could easily be mistaken for deflated parachutes.
    2. None of these bras or undies can be purchased with war bonds. (1940s hollerrrrr…. anybody? No?)
    3. It is my earnest hope that your grandfather will never see you in lingerie. So, uh, ew.

    But potentially scarring mental images aside, buying lingerie is something that trips up even the most fearless, most sexually-liberated among us — you know, those chicks who own all six seasons of Sex and the City and wear those “I’m a Samantha” tank-tops. They blush at the mere mention of discussing their underwire needs with some perky, $7/hr sales associate, so shopping for lingerie becomes an in-and-out, special-ops mission: Can she locate a 34B nude bra, pay at the register and get to the parking lot in under a minute? Stay tuned to find out after commercial break.

    Communication sophomore Erica Hart. Photo by Lauren Virnoche / North by Northwestern.

    As much fun as sprinting a slalom around half-dressed mannequins can be, this kind of attitude can have some consequences. For one thing, 85 percent of American women wear the wrong bra size — hell-O, back pain. The whole point of lingerie is to have fun with it and to feel sexy (and I suppose, to not be That Girl Who Goes Commando In A Miniskirt. She’s so much fun.). You’ll never find out what makes you feel like a vixen if the only way you’ll go into Victoria’s Secret is in dark sunglasses and a trench coat.

    Lucky for you, I’m here to solve all your lingerie problems. What fits? What is it? And what’s hot? What can I say; I am a miracle. And just in time for the holidays, too.

    It’s time to measure the twins.

    Nearly nine out of 10 women wear the wrong bra size. If you’re experiencing back pain around your bra line, or your underwire is leaving red marks underneath your breasts, then it’s pretty clear that you’re in the damned majority.

    Furthermore, your bra cup should be lying smoothly on your breast. If it is creates an indent (sometimes referred to as “quadraboob”) where the fabric meets your skin, then the cup is too small. If there’s a big ol’ air pocket between the fabric and your breast, the cup is too big.

    So how do you find out what size you should be wearing? All you need is a tape measure and the math skills of a second grader.

    1. Wrap the tape measure around your ribcage, right under your breasts where they meet your ribcage. Measure in inches.
    2. Add five inches to that number. This is your band size, or the number that goes in front of the letter on American bra sizings. So if you measured a 31, you would add five to get 36. Then you would shop for 36-sized bras.
    3. Now, wrap the tape measure higher around your body, this time placing it around the fullest part of the breast (usually across the nipple). Record this number in inches.
    4. Subtract this new number from your first measurement. Say your new number is 33. You would subtract 33 from 36 to get three. Got it?
    5. This new number corresponds to your cup size. If it’s 0, you’re a AA. If it’s one, you’re an A. Two? You’re a B cup. And so on from there.
    6. Now put the number from step 2 together with this letter. Our example, a girl who got a 36 for step 2 and had a three-inch difference, would be a 36C.

    If you get an odd number for your band size (like a 33 or 37), you can go up or down a number. I recommend going up for comfort’s sake. If your cup size falls between letters, a pretty cool option is Hanes, which sells in-between size bras called “nearly A” and “nearly B.”

    Also, don’t forget to adjust the straps to your desired level of comfort. Most women prefer to move the little plastic piece to the middle of the strap for a good level of slack without slippage.

    As for your bottom half, most panties are sold in a Small (S), Medium (M) and Large (L) sizing scale but lots of girls don’t know what the hell that means for a size 6 or a size 8. This will inevitably vary by store, but Victoria’s Secret sizing chart is as follows:

    • XXS = 0
    • XS = 2-4
    • S = 6-8
    • M = 10-12
    • L = 14-16
    • XL = 18-20

    Great. Now what does it all mean?

    Now that your measuring tape has seen more action than most of the NBN staff, you may find yourself wondering: what the hell is a demi bra? Is “chemise” something in my French book? And, most importantly, why is there a hole in the crotch of these panties? All respectable questions, to be sure.

    Lingerie is a business, and it markets itself through product descriptions designed to evoke specific feelings in the consumer. “Full-coverage” makes you feel like the product’s got your back, while “Holy shit your tits are huge; here, cover them up” just makes you feel moderately suicidal.

    So let’s clear up the names of these articles, so you know what you’re actually buying on your next covert ops mission to the lingerie department of JC Penny’s.

    The NBN Lingerie Dictionary, 1st Ed., Vol. 1.

    • Babydoll. Part-bra, part peep-show. The bra part can have a full-on underwire or just be a lacy or silky material, but at the base of the breasts the sheer fabric will flow (like an empire dress) down to about the hips. Typically paired with a thong.
    • Bikini. Typical set of undies, the bikini is a broad category. Generally full-back with about an inch of fabric on the sides. A subset is the string bikini, which has only a string of fabric connecting the front and back fabric of the bikini.
    • Boyshort. Often confused with the hipster, the boyshort has more of an inseam (about an inch, give or take) on the inner thigh. A sporty style, the boyshort covers the butt and has a several inch-think panel of fabric on the outer thights. A comfy choice.
    • Bustier/corset. This is where the phrase “lift and separate” comes from. The bustier or corset often has paneling from the mid-stomach up to the breasts to constrict the torso. The bra part is designed to push up your breasts and, well, make ‘em look good. The corset is enjoying a revival in popularity thanks to Keira Knightley’s role in Pirates of the Caribbean. It can be worn under dresses, or worn by itself as sexy lingerie.
    • Chemise. Traditionally, a chemise is a smock or shift worn under a (somewhat see-through) dress; however, several companies market silky, embroidered chemises to be worn with nothing else.
    • Crotchless panties. Um, so, according to the literature I could find on the matter, nothing makes a woman feel sexier than wearing crotchless panties under her clothes. That said, I think this is a huge waste of money and fabric. Why spend $15 on a pair of fishnet undies that, by definition, serve no purpose? But if you’re into that sort of thing, crotchless panties quite literally have the crotch cut out of them. The usual retailers generally have one or two styles available, so if you’re serious about your crotchless panties, get ye to a sex shop.
    • Demi. A demi refers to a half-coverage bra cup. It lies low on the breast, close to the nipple — ideal for smaller breasts and low-cut tops. Most women under 30 prefer the demi cup to more extensive coverage.
    • Full-coverage. The demi’s older, wiser counterpart, the full-coverage bra cup does just that — it fully covers the breast. Full-coverage bras are not minimizers, but they’re not known for being particularly sexy. Most customers who buy full-coverage are in their mid-30s or older, or have large-C or D cup breasts.
    • G-string. A G-string is a thong which only has a string (not a wider strip of fabric) giving you a wedgie. Good for hiding panty lines; bad to fall asleep in if you don’t want to feel “inivisithong” all day.
    • Hiphugger. The boyshort’s flirtier twin sister, the hiphugger covers the butt but may leave a glimpse of the bottom exposed. It has wide side panels, but doesn’t extend down the thigh. A cute, demure option.
    • Lightly-lined. It’s not a padded bra, but lightly-lined has more than one thin piece of fabric. It provides better nipple coverage (no peek-throughs), and shapes the breast well. Most bras you buy are lightly-lined; you just don’t know it.
    • Padded. Thousands of dollars cheaper than a boob job, padded bras aren’t just for the “I’m 12, but I’ll be slutty in February” crowd. Padded bras have an extra layer of material (usually cotton) evenly distributed throughout the bra cup.
    • Push-up. Push-up bras, on the other hand, focus the padding on the bottom and sides of the bra cup. Why oh why, do you ask? Because this adds up to maximum cleavage — that crease in your breasts that basically caused the Trojan War. Great with your LBD.
    • Seamless. Whether these bras and panties actually have seams (stitches) or not, they’re called seamless because they’re not supposed to show lines under your most scandalous skin-tight attire. Seamless panties are often made of lots of synthetic materials, so don’t sleep in them, lest you risk infection. Seamless bras, made popular by Victoria’s Secret’s Secret Embrace (oh, the shroud of mystery), are usually made of a foamy feeling material. Some people dig it; others would rather feel the warm embrace of an Iron Maiden. Try this one on to find out which camp you’re in.
    • Sports bra. Comfy and wireless, sports bras are specifically designed to give you support while conquering the world. Also great for study groups, when you just can’t hunch over for another damned minute.
    • Thong. Refer to the Sisqo song. Thong tha-thong thong thong.
    • T-back. Whereas the regular old G-string has a triangle shape where your butt crack starts, the T-back looks much like the letter for which it’s named. The strings meet perpendicularly at the top of the butt, making for minimal coverage.
    • V-back. Just like the G-string, but the “triangle” at the top of the butt isn’t “colored in,” to to speak. It creates the “V” shape with strings, not a V-shaped piece of fabric.
    • Wireless. Like the name may imply, wireless bras have no underwire (that hard part along the bottom of the bra). They provide less support than underwire bras, so to compensate, some companies have made wireless bras extra padded and run a little small. They can have a sports bra feel, but some women swear by them.

    Okay, I get it. Now tell me what’s HOT!

    If a guy is lucky enough to get you — a willing and able member of the female species — down to your skivvies, you could be covered in Orgo practice problems and he would still be turned on. So if you wore Grandma’s control top hosiery instead of a G-string on your big night out and unexpectedly brought home a gentleman friend, fear not. You will be fine.

    That said, not all lingerie is created equal. The most popular color for lingerie is black — in fact, 77 percent of Frederick’s of Hollywood’s popular Seduction collection is black. That’s why Victoria’s Secret’s sample bras, kept by the fitting room, are all black — it makes women look thinner and feel sexy. Guys prefer it, too; male customers overwhelmingly go for black for their ladies over other seemingly salacious colors like red and hot pink. Lace also gets a popularity nod among the men, so if you’re looking for a no-fail classic, go for a black bustier or a lacy chemise.

    Now, lingerie is a fashion in itself, so certain trends do become… oh, how would a fashion writer say this… en vogue. One popular look this season is the pin-up girl — think curvaceous ’40s calendar girl, with red matte lipstick and hair just released from rollers. Frederick’s Pinup Parade with Dita Von Teese collection is at the head of this lingerie style. To get the look, shop for bustiers, tights with garters and wow-’em colors like red and turquoise.

    Bows are also enjoying the limelight (or as much light as can reach under your Northwestern hoodie and token sorority philanthropy t-shirt) this season. Look for contrasting colors, like black on red or mismatched bright colors.

    It’s easy to go cheap on these trends, too — by no means should you feel obligated to splurge at Victoria’s Secret or Frederick’s of Hollywood. You need look no further than Wal-Mart to find pin-up red babydolls, aqua bustiers and fun bow details.

    There you have it: a guide to lingerie that leaves you so equipped that, though you may feel confident enough to spend hours poking around Victoria’s Secret, you really don’t need to; you’ve got all the skills you need to decode sizing charts, mysterious terminology and fashion trends.

    Now that’s something that’s going to make Grandma (but not Grandpa, never Grandpa) proud.

    NBN’s Lisa Gartner worked as a sales associate and cashier at Victoria’s Secret from 2006 to 2007, where she was routinely flashed, duped women into buying Angels cards and amassed the bulk of the information in this article. When asked about this clearly masochistic choice of employment, Gartner blamed the media.

    Editor’s note: Part of the story that was removed due to an editing error has now been restored.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.