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Is Our Definition of “Lingerie Expert” Too Small?

Today’s post has been brewing for a little while. Last September I wrote an article asking “What makes someone a lingerie expert?” While all the comments on the original post were unfortunately lost during the move to WordPress, I received a lot of pushback from the mainstream lingerie industry which insisted, among other things, that “expertise” was something limited to people who had experience working for a brand or boutique.

As I said then, and still believe now, there’s more than one way to learn about lingerie. And even if someone who works in a lingerie boutique is an expert in all the brands they carried or even, more generally, an expert in all the types of lingerie they carry (which is usually bras, panties, and nightwear), I believe reducing lingerie expertise to just those three categories is much too small and much too narrow.

Though it’s not often discussed, lingerie is a huge world. It’s so much more than knickers and brassieres. Lingerie also includes corsetry, retro, pinup and burlesque styles, stockings, tights,  vintage lingerie, antique lingerie, loungewear, and lingerie made from non-traditional materials like latex and leather. These are just the categories I can think of off the top of my head, and every single one of them has multiple subcategories. And all of these groups as just as real and just as relevant as the big two — bras and panties.

Yet, when a conversation about lingerie happens, especially in mainstream society, it’s almost always about just one thing — the bra.

Now, I understand that bras are important. Bra fit, bra sizing, and bra advice is crucial not just for lingerie, but also for one’s wardrobe in general. Yet, for many women, bras aren’t the sum total of their lingerie lives. And when other kinds of lingerie (and their respective experts) are pushed out to the margins as “not really lingerie” or “not really knowledgeable,” I can’t help but think that does a disservice to women everywhere (especially when bra experts go outside their subject matter and give advice on things like corsets).

Here’s how this applies to my own life. When I want to know about vintage lingerie, I go to Slip of a Girl. When I want to know about corsets, I go to Lucy’s Corsetry. When I want to know about hosiery, I go to The Pantyhose Drawer. None of these people would be considered “lingerie experts” in the traditional sense of the word (among other things, they’re all bloggers) yet I’m always getting information from them that’s useful and relevant to my life… which, to me, is the whole point of a lingerie expert.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a knock on brands, boutiques, and their respective lingerie experts. But I am starting to wonder if there really is such a thing as a singular “lingerie expert.” I think it’d be impossible for any one person to know everything about the categories I listed above, yet I also think the way we define lingerie in mainstream society (and therefore what ‘counts’ as lingerie expertise) is incredibly narrow.

What do you think? Is the way we define lingerie expert too small or is knowing about bras and panties enough? Should a lingerie expert be able to speak about the entire world of undergarments? Should bras and panties be treated as their own unique category, in the same way that corsets, stockings, and pinup-style lingerie are right now? I don’t know the answers, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

21 Comments on this post

  1. ophio says:

    I have no thoughts to add, but I need to know: where is that set from?!

  2. Personally, I think the way we define ‘expert’ not only with the lingerie world, but in general as a society is wrong. In society’s view, you’re an expert if you go to school a number of years for a degree or a trade, but what about those people, like myself, who can’t go to school and take it upon their selves to self educate? Sometimes, we’re all JUST as knowledgeable as those people who went to school for years, we just don’t have that piece of paper to prove it.

    As for lingerie, I think someone should be classified an expert if they’re knowledgeable in one category, or in all categories. Like you said, lingerie isn’t just limited to bras and panties and those who know a great deal about each category or a single category should be able to classify themselves an expert.

  3. Tricia says:

    The introduction of blogging, especially as a mainstream media source, has redefined what an expert is. When most people watched tv or read books for information, most people wouldn’t pay money for a guide by someone who wasn’t in the industry they were writing on. Being a frequent purchaser just wasn’t enough. That’s changed with blogging. Since they are usually free and more easily accessible, more people want to get an opinion outside of the industry. Customer reviews are more important. That has led to bloggers maybe even getting to write a book, because having a popular blog has allowed them access and boosted their credibility.

    • Tricia says:

      Blogging has also encouraged authors to develop more of a niche market. Someone may not be an expert at lingerie in general, but they know more than anyone else does about slips, even if their expertise in bras is nonexistent.

    • Cora Treacle says:

      So true! There’s been a definite shift in what qualifies as a credible source since the introduction (and subsequent proliferation) of blogging. And, like you said, it all goes back to what consumers themselves find relevant. I know I put more stock in a review written by a blogger than I do one put out by a brand; after all, a brand is never going to say anything negative about their own stuff.

  4. Krissy says:

    Treacle, You are so right! The big brands dominate the industry and often squelch the smaller designer with her or his design concepts. Those of us who love lingerie experiment all the time with new clothes, combinations and looks. Therefore even if we are not in the industry we can be said also to be experts. I don’t need to totally understand the makeup construction of a bra in order to appreciate its theme and design concept. Keep blogging! You are doing an excellent job.

    • Cora Treacle says:

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Krissy! I definitely get what you’re saying about there being only a few big brands that pretty much dominate the conversation when it comes to lingerie (at least stateside). And I”m definitely of the opinion that the more brands we talk about and the more reviews that are out there, the better.

  5. I think that there are so many different ways of being a lingerie expert– and it definitely depends who your company is! In the general fashion category, Treacle probably would be considered an expert– but if you put her in a room of contour students, she might now a lot about different brands and styles and how they should fit, but nothing about how one could construct or design one. And an academic expert in lingerie (were there to be one) would be something entirely different. I agree that assuming that working with a particular store or brand bestows on you expertise is not really true– you might be an expert on your store but you may even have a comparatively limited knowledge on how it stacks up against what else is out there.

    The truth is, lingerie changes every day, so expertise is a moving target. You can never assume you know “everything” about what’s out there.

    • Cora Treacle says:

      Such a good example! I was thinking of contour students in the back of my mind when I write this (our columnists Karolina is one) as well as lingerie historians/authors like Valerie Steele (who wrote the book, The Corset). Karolina knows more about sewing lingerie than I ever will. And Valerie Steele is an undisputed expert in the field of historical corsetry (though I found some of the things she had to say about modern corsetry a little distressing). There’s absolutely room for more than one kind of expert…as you said, lingerie is changing everyday.

  6. Janey says:

    I think you are right in saying that no one could be a complete “lingerie expert”. There are so many different sub-groups to lingerie that I think you would have to give specific titles to the “expert”. One could be a “contemporary lingerie expert” and know about what is being produced today, one could be a “latex lingerie expert” and so on. I think one could also argue that being simply a “corset expert” would be difficult as well. The corset has been around for so long and has gone through so many changes that then you could break up corsets into groupings depending upon era and/or effectiveness of the corset. A person who specializes in latex corsets may not know anything about delicate lace and steel corsets.

    I really appreciate your broad definition of lingerie, especially including loungewear into the group – my personal favorite.


    • Cora Treacle says:

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Janey! I agree…it would be nice if someone’s sharing their expertise to know exactly what they’re an expert in. I’m thinking of a series on “corsetry” I read on another blog recently, and how not a single corset was included…they were all bustiers, waist cinchers, and longline bras. And I felt like that was a disservice to their readers. There’s something to be said for acknowledging when one is outside their knowledge base, and there’s nothing wrong with not knowing everything.

      And yes, loungewear is awesome. I’ve just gotten into it, but it’s my new favorite thing.

      • Elegy says:

        Hey, Treacle, what’s the difference between a waist cincher and an underbust corset? Visually, I have considered waist cinchers to be either corsets or strongly derivitive of them.

        • Cora Treacle says:

          Great question! In terms of construction and function, most waist cinchers today are closer to a girdle than a corset. Designers who still make antique style waist cinchers (i.e. the kind that look like corsets) tend to call them corsets.

          • Elegy says:

            Ah. I would not consider the first two linked to be waist cinchers, but rather girdles (modern, and vintage inspired). They’ve mostly the strength of high waisted briefs, so I can’t imagine them having much affect in the cinching department. That’s good to know, thank you.

        • Colonel Mustard says:

          I’m not an expert (wink), but I’d say that the difference between a waist cincher and an underbust corset is their shape and construction. I’d equate a waist cincher with a “waspie”, and as the names of them both imply, they’re not much bigger than, or don’t cover much more than the waist area, and are meant to nip it in. They’re under the bust, usually well under, and above the hips. Like a mini-corset, vertically speaking.

          In the end they’re all various types or styles of corsets, just like there are a variety of bra styles (push-up, plunge, underwire, soft cup, triangle, bralette, balconette, demi, minimiser, sports, etc, etc), which all serve different purposes (even if just cosmetic or fashion) and each has a particular shape, size, or application where it might work best (whether intended or not).

          Great blog, btw, Treacle. Keep it up. One day we’ll ALL be experts! =-) And perhaps we should lean away from the term “expert” and more towards the term “specialist”, which I think is the point you and most of the commenters have made (without explicitly say that).

  7. Hi Treacle,

    I agree with you. While I can instantly tell most women’s bra sizes and recommend brands based on a woman’s shape, style, etc., if you asked me questions about corsetry, fetish wear, or a vast array of other lingerie I wouldn’t be an expert in the slightest.

    I think we should consider lingerie expertise the same as we do for a fashion expert or style expert. There is such a large spectrum of knowledge in fashion, that one person can’t possibly know everything related to fashion/fit/brands/etc. We specialize in what we have an affinity for.

    Jennifer Carroll
    “Lingerie Expert” :)

    • Cora Treacle says:

      Hi Jennifer!

      I like that analogy. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a fashion expert to know everything about fashion, but then I really don’t know what goes into making one a fashion expert either. Spot on, however, about specializing in what we like. I just happen to like everything! ;-)

  8. Cristina says:

    Hey Treacle! I think this article is great – it actually kind of circuitously hits on what my own definition of an “expert” (in ANY field) should be. In my mind, an expert is really knowledgeable in a couple aspects of their field, but has a working knowledge of lots of aspects. More importantly, however, the expert knows where to go to get specific information when his or her knowledge is less complete. You, for example, know lots of things about bras, corsets, stockings, etc, but when you need some specific detail about any of them, you know who to trust and where to point your readers. I really think that’s important – the network, rather than just the knowledge you build over time.

    • Cora Treacle says:

      That’s my feeling as well, and it’s almost identical to a paragraph I edited out of the final piece (how funny!).

      I agree that, far more important than being an expert, is being able to point your readers or customers in the direction of where they can find the best information or products for their particular needs. It’s okay to not know everything. What bothers me, though, is how certain kinds of knowledge (usually that obtained from “non-traditional” channels) is consistently devalued.

      Edit: Over the past year, I’ve realized I’m more of a generalist than an expert, by the way. I know a little bit about a lot of stuff, but when it’s time to go really deep in any one direction, I bring in a subject matter expert.

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