No, You Don’t “Deserve” Luxury Lingerie

Karolina Laskowska Lingerie - photography by Tigz Rice Studios, modelled by Yazzmin. All of these lingerie pieces are handmade in the UK at low retail margins but are still very far outside most people's lingerie budgets.

Karolina Laskowska Lingerie. Photography by Tigz Rice Studios, modelled by Yazzmin. All of these lingerie pieces are handmade in the UK at low retail margins, but are still very far outside most people’s lingerie budgets.

I’ve noticed a pretty disturbing trend in the lingerie world right now: that of entitlement. There’s an awful lot of people out there who really seem to believe they unquestionably deserve luxury lingerie. Paying for it seems to be another matter entirely, whether that means paying what the individual believes to be a ‘fair’ price or getting the piece for free.

Clickbait headline aside, I genuinely believe that the sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in online lingerie communities can be harmful. From skewing customer perceptions of value to creating a hostile environment for independent designers, it’s a wide-reaching problem (not necessarily limited to the world of lingerie, though this is where I wish to focus today for obvious reasons).



The Sparklewren 'Strawberry Leopard' corset. Photography by InaGlo Photography. This is one of the many pieces I scrimped and saved for as a student, forgoing other 'luxuries' such as alcohol and going out. As a personal tip for very expensive pieces from independent designers - it's always worth asking if they can take installments to space out the damage to your bank balance!

The Sparklewren ‘Strawberry Leopard’ corset. Photography by InaGlo Photography. A one-off piece of couture with many hours of hand stitching and skilled labour behind it.  This is one of the many pieces I scrimped and saved for as a student, forgoing other ‘luxuries’ such as alcohol and going out. As a personal tip for very expensive pieces from independent designers — it’s always worth asking if they can take installments to space out the damage to your bank balance!

Luxury lingerie is expensive. This is a pretty unavoidable fact. Unfortunately, this means it is outside the means of many people. I know all too well how frustrating this can be; there have been all too many times I pinched pennies and (inadvisably) skipped meals as a student so I could afford new silk underthings. At no point, however, did I ever feel I was owed these things. If I came across a piece of lingerie I desperately wanted, I’d save up for it and give up other ‘extras’ in my life. When I later started my own lingerie brand, I was shocked at the sheer number of individuals who would simply ask me to give them lingerie for either hugely discounted prices — or for free.

This Matalan full bust bra retails at only £8. I don't think I'd be able to even buy the parts to make my own bra for that little in the UK. When products are this cheap, do you ever stop to think why or to consider the manufacturing process?

This Matalan full bust bra retails at only £8. I don’t think I’d be able to even buy the parts to make my own bra for that little in the UK. When products are this cheap, do you ever stop to think why or to consider the manufacturing process?

Fast fashion has had a lot of terrible effects on the industry. The human cost is perhaps the most shocking; who can forget how awful the factory collapse at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was? Perhaps it is most telling that it took the loss of so much human life for the Western world to open its eyes to the awful working conditions that make their cheap clothing so possible. It’s only recently that large areas of the industry have started taking an active effort in ensuring products are ethically produced, and even that throws up a lot of difficulties. Thankfully the independent side of the industry has made it much easier to trace the supply chain and ensure that your purchases are ethical. 

An embellished leavers lace by Sophie Hallette that I use in my designs. The wholesale cost of this is roughly in excess of £35 per metre. It's simply impossible for a piece of lingerie that uses this kind of fabric to carry the same price tag as a piece from Walmart.

An embellished Leavers lace by Sophie Hallette that I use in my designs. The wholesale cost of this is roughly in excess of £35 per metre. It’s simply impossible for a piece of lingerie that uses this kind of fabric to carry the same price tag as a piece from Walmart.

The desire for ever cheaper clothing has been so heavily driven from all ends of the industry that it has now become the norm. Many consumers have become so used to these low prices that they simply expect bras to cost $5, regardless of the fabrics, embellishment and techniques that have gone into it. This becomes their associated value for all bras, perhaps because of the relative lack of knowledge of the work that actually goes into the garment. Human labour and craftsmanship simply don’t enter into the value equation.

The lack of understanding into the fashion industry has led to a total lack of reasonable expectations. Many consumers simply have no idea how much fabrics like silk and Leavers lace cost, let alone the arduous process that goes into developing a well-fitting bra. Expecting every lingerie brand to offer their products at a price that suits your personal budget just isn’t fair. Lingerie brands are businesses; businesses are rarely started with the intention of breaking even or losing money. They’re started as profitable ventures.

Angela Friedman's creations are all handmade in New York and are priced accordingly

Angela Friedman’s creations are all handmade in New York with exquisite fabrics (silk and French lace). They have to be priced accordingly.

A lingerie brand’s pricing is never calculated to cause you personal offence. The price of each piece of lingerie has to be carefully considered. This was something that was covered in greater deal by Angela Friedman’s series about what goes into handmade lingerie, but it seems to be an issue that isn’t even considered by many lingerie lovers. The price you pay for your lingerie isn’t just for the cost of the materials or the cost of stitching. It has to cover the businesses’ overheads, which can vary greatly according to the size of the business. As a designer myself, I do my utmost best to take a totally detached approach to pricing my designs; using a strict mathematical formula that involves the exact costs of fabrics and manufacturing, with standard wholesale and retail markups. It’s this way at every level across the industry. Even the larger brands that maintain higher profit margins do this from a pure business decision; a brand like Agent Provocateur may certainly be able to produce their products at a cheaper price and larger quantity than an independent luxury brand, but they also have scores of boutiques and hundreds of staff to pay.

The Agent Provocateur 'Shirley' slip, retailing at £395. This price not only has to cover the expensive materials (silk and lace) and time consuming construction (fiddly lace appliqué), but also the brands huge overheads.

The Agent Provocateur ‘Shirley’ slip, retailing at £395. This price not only has to cover the expensive materials (silk and lace) and time consuming construction (fiddly lace appliqué), but also the brand’s huge overheads.

Over the years, the growth of social media has totally changed the landscape of the lingerie industry. It’s opened doors for hundreds of new independent brands that would otherwise stand no chance of breaking into the industry without contacts or financial backing. It gives brands a chance to directly connect with a fan base as well as selling directly to them (without the previous need for finding wholesale stockists). Customers can connect directly with designers, with brands no longer appearing as anonymous enterprises. Unfortunately, this also means the removal of certain social barriers. The facelessness of online communication means individuals just don’t consider the implications of their words had they the social cues of actual face-to-face interaction. It’s become incredibly common for individuals to contact brands and simply ask for free products or to complain that their lingerie is ‘too expensive’ (rather than too expensive for the individual to afford). The latter statement can actually end up incredibly hurtful for independent designers who are producing the lingerie themselves at incredibly tight margins. It implies to them that their labour and craftsmanship is not worth fair payment. This may not have been the original intention behind the phrase ‘too expensive,’ but it’s an unfortunate consequence.

Karolina Laskowska Lingerie - photography by Tigz Rice Studios, modelled by Yazzmin. I've been told numerous times that my designs are 'too expensive'. If I was to bring my prices down, then I wouldn't be able to use couture French lace or English manufactured tulles and elastics. I also wouldn't be able to manufacture in the UK. Supporting local industry is an important element to my business, and not one that I'm willing to sacrifice just to make cheaper sales.

Karolina Laskowska Lingerie. Photography by Tigz Rice Studios, modelled by Yazzmin. I’ve been told numerous times that my designs are ‘too expensive.’ If I were to bring my prices down, I wouldn’t be able to use couture French lace or English manufactured tulles and elastics. I also wouldn’t be able to manufacture in the UK. Supporting local industry is an important element of my business, and not one I’m willing to sacrifice just to make cheaper sales.

Despite all this negativity, I still think it’s a wonderful thing that so many independent lingerie brands are able to start businesses without all the hurdles that the pre-internet business world provided. The changing face of the industry has made many things easier, but provides new challenges. Changing attitudes of customers and the change of expectations is just another factor that has to be considered. As a lingerie consumer, you can play your part by educating yourself about what goes into your underthings — whether it be mass production, expensive luxe fabrics or hand craftsmanship. Have reasonable expectations of what to expect for your money and learn about where exactly your lingerie comes from.

Readers: What value do you place on your lingerie?

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Karolina
Karolina

Lingerie designer. Spends most of her time sewing bras and getting excited by chantilly lace.

23 Comments on this post

  1. Hazel says:

    Late to the game here I know, but as someone whose job is altering clothes the line “Human labour and craftsmanship simply don’t enter into the value equation” certainly struck a chord.
    So often people think the job is overpriced and try to haggle, apparently completely unaware that they’re not paying for the dress to simply magic itself smaller, but for my actual self to pin it on you, take it apart, take it in exactly how you needed it in the best way for that particular garment, and then put the whole thing back together. It takes skill, knowledge, and time! So when you say it’s an unreasonable cost, it’s hard not to take that personally, as it seems they are basically saying ‘your time isn’t really worth anything to me’.
    I’m shocked people actually had the audacity asked you for free stuff!

  2. Miranda says:

    In general, I think this is true. However I’m not sure I can see how an bra from
    The AP Soirée collection is worth close to a grand.

  3. So, i didnt see any larger sized lingerie in your collection. Did i miss something? I am a 34G (naturally, go figure), and I am assuming that this blog is for lingerie for people of ALL sizes it says….Tell me I missed something, please. It was beatiful, but very very tiny.

  4. Michele says:

    I absolutely loved reading this article!

  5. Larissa says:

    While I certainly agree with this article and it is a great piece, I feel that I need to point out that some luxury lingerie brands are no doubt, overpriced. Most of those brands being the largest ones. I absolutely adore luxury lingerie and if I cannot afford a piece, I simply save up for it, or I just don’t get it. However, I cannot justify almost $500 for high waisted silk briefs, La Perla or not. I cannot justify $150 for lace briefs made out of crappy Polyester. I cannot justify over $1000 for a dress made of Nylon Powermesh, which I could make in an hour of the exact same quality materials, sell for $400 and still be making a very nice profit.
    There is expensive, and there is…too expensive. Larger lingerie brands price their items ridiculously high at times, not always because of production costs, but simply, because they can. And because, obviously, people will buy it. For those larger companies, even when their items are priced at sales at 65% off, they are still making a decent profit. Lingerie prices, luxury in particular, have increased exponentially in my observance over the past 7 years or so. While fabric costs and such have risen, on the broader scale I believe the price increase is due to the fact that there is so much mass produced, cheap items that luxury begins to look even more luxurious than it did before- hence, people are prepared to pay more for not only the quality, but idea of luxury.
    I honestly loathe cheap lingerie, it doesn’t last, falls apart, is made of cheap fabric (mainly polyester) and overall, there is little to no heart in the design or craftsmanship of the product. I also hate diffusion lines- such as L’Agent. What is the point exactly? I don’t think I have seen one product by that brand which is made from silk, not even silk blend! Most pieces I see look like bad copies of AP’s mainline, and made with, you guessed it- much cheaper quality fabrics. And L’Agent isn’t exactly what I would call reasonably priced, either. And to top it off, isn’t it all made in China? IMO most of the time diffusion lines lead to the prices of the head companies increasing their prices even more, not because of production costs, but because that diffusion line makes their mainline look even more high end, which companies take advantage of, whilst not improving or changing any of their products. I have no doubt that at times, this is some companies’ whole purpose for introducing diffusion lines (I am not saying that this is what AP has done or is doing, it is just an observation).
    What I loathe even more though is some luxury lingerie brands which I have seen in recent times slowly starting to use cheaper fabrics while slowly creeping up their prices. To me, that is unacceptable and I simply boycott those brands.
    Smaller, independent designers, on the other hand, are a different story. I can’t actually believe people have messaged you in regards to your pricing, or to ask you to lower the price. That is extremely rude. I try to support smaller independent lingerie labels as much as I can, because I know their production costs are higher than the very large ones and in my experience, the pieces from smaller designers are usually better quality with better designs and craftsmanship. I don’t ever complain about paying $150 for a bra from a smaller independent designer. It is pricey, but its going to last me and most of all, I am supporting someone who I know is probably struggling a little, and who cares about quality and craftsmanship. For that, I am willing to pay a lot more.
    P.S I never knew that you had your own lingerie label(due to my job I only peek at this site every now and then, too busy unfortunately haha)- I just took a look at your website, your pieces are gorgeous!

  6. Doll Fisher says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late to respond to this post. I have always loved lingerie but being a slightly awkward cup size (32E) it used to be nigh on impossible to find pretty bras for my size and I was subjected to “boulder holders” for many years! I finally found my size and fit in La Senza bras but then they went into Administration and the new owners stopped stocking my size. My then husband bought me lingerie from Rigby & Peller which was luxury but still not a good fit for my chest.
    Fortunately I was then introduced to Agent Provocateur at a lingerie event at which I met their Head of Design Sarah Shotton and I looked at her boobs and thought, ‘She has quite big boobs; they must do my size!’ I like the way the girls are generally able to tell your size without touching you and it makes it feel like such a special experience. I tend to only buy in the sale as AP is a little out of budget for me BUT I now find I can’t buy cheap underwear now from anywhere else – I’m even not so keen on their diffusion range L’Agent! AP’s products are made with material that holds my chest even if not underwired and I feel amazing in all my pieces! I also handwash all my lingerie now which I never used to do and I look after them all much more. I love my lingerie, the way it fits on my body and the way it feels against my skin. #Love LifeLoveLingerie

  7. Abby Rhodes says:

    Excellent article. The entitlement thing has been brought on by, among other things, the ability to get things free or cheaply. As a writer, I find myself competing on the net with hundreds of new stories every day available for less than three dollars or free. The system debases good writing and allows mediocre writing to flourish, and that’s sad. I pay more for lingerie these days and have no regrets. The fabric used in chain store lingerie often feels like something for scrubbing dirty plates with.

  8. Cara Roxanne says:

    A friend of mine pointed me to this article. I was a manager of a lingerie shop for 6 years, and am in the process of opening my own store and this article really resonated with the struggle I’ve noticed in the industry of luxury. One of the reasons I left my shop because of the owner’s insistence upon sending independent designed and produced goods to a producer overseas, for cheaper production, to give in to the demand for “luxury” at a lower price point. From an ethical standpoint, it was obviously bullshit but just continued to perpetuate the unrealistic demands for high-quality, fashion forward labels at questionable prices.

  9. Cat says:

    Karolina, thank you so much for taking the time to write this entry.

    This is a critical perspective that needs to be shared more often with consumers in addition to the the other entry featured on TLA about the definition of luxury lingerie.

    Luxury is exclusive and therefore, does not have to be accessible and inclusive of everyone. However, a lot of marketing these days is about bringing up self-esteem in too many different ways such as body image, intelligence, social identity and economic status. A lot of companies that are not luxury brands like to manipulate the now ambiguous term “luxury” and call themselves just that so they can make their consumers feel better. The ubiquity of this practice has consumers accustomed to think that they deserve luxury when they actually can’t afford it and don’t understand it.

    As someone who worked at a boutique that started out as a higher end store and gradually changed into a middle market young chain, I saw the evolution of self-entitlement. The boutique was situated in a neighborhood full of fast fashion chains and we were the only kids on the block selling independent luxury designers. Customer service was one of our strengths. We welcomed all walks of life and did whatever we could to make the customer happy and return.

    However, the neighborhood demographic was reflected in the retail environment. We would get customers trying to take advantage of any type of discount, swindle us (lie about seeing a discount advertised somewhere and push it), penny pinch and even complain of the higher prices. Customers also came into our store with the expectation of prices 40-60% lower than our average price point. They would question this, complain and barter. We would get a lot of complaints because women would purchase our more “modestly” priced luxury items and ruin them in the washer/dryer or use bleach and alcohol based soaps. They would come back and complain about the quality because the item is not indestructible so the price is too high and demand free things in return.

    The boutique finally started a new business model of carrying non-luxury items to make a profit, which is doing really well. However, as a result of carrying non-luxury items in a boutique that was once known and marketed as a luxury boutique, many customers think they are buying true luxury. Since the non-luxury items are not of the same standard of the older merchandise, there are a lot of true manufacturing defects like unfinished hems, glued details, loose threads and sizing inconsistencies. Women are still coming in complaining about the quality but this time around it is with defects that are not their fault. The catch to this is that the women believe that they purchased a true luxury item with expensive textiles, manufacturing and labor. So they are disappointed and want something that costs even less.

    Does anyone have any ideas on how we can re-educate consumers? The social media landscape seems to plant the idea that anyone deserves luxury and needs to be a fashionista or socialite.

  10. Mikey says:

    While I appreciate this article on the whole, it is worth noting that lingerie pricing is at times offensive and discriminatory- for example, lines charging more for specific sizes. It’s not an uncommon occurance, and is often associated with business practices that are about actively trying to dissociate a brands image from fatness.
    While on the whole, I agree that there is a sense of entitlement towards luxury items and services, working in an industry that is a luxury service myself, discussions around discriminatory pricing practices (which extends from even the most basic underwear lines right through to high fashion designer pieces) are incredibly important and not to be devalued.

    • Cora says:

      Hi Mikey,

      Have you read Holly’s two recent articles on plus size lingerie? She specifically discusses both pricing and sizing issues and particularly how there’s quite a lot of misinformation regarding what goes into designing plus sized lingerie. Those two articles are here and here.

      –Cora

  11. Cathy Hay says:

    This is an issue that comes up over, and over, and over, and over. Buyers don’t get it, makers get frustrated, somebody writes an article to educate the masses. You’ve detailed the issue clearly and succinctly – for that I commend you – and I think there’s another angle that can be considered too: clothing has to be valued in order to be valuable to the consumer. What if we educated consumers about the care and feeding, the mending and storage, the lifetime expectancy of a well made item of clothing? I’ve been literally laughed at for bothering to darn my socks instead of tossing them and buying more, and that’s a relevant part of the problem too. After all, Savile Row suits get handed down from father to son (but maybe that’s taking it a bit far when it comes to knickers… :D)

  12. Tamara says:

    I am like you in that I have saved for some items outside of my normal budget. There are still some items that I covet but I can’t justify to myself and lifestyle. If a robe cost more than rent I am probably going to be scared of wearing it frequently. One of the items that I did save for was your Izabella playsuit. I do appreciate the higher quality elastic.

  13. Elsie says:

    This is a great article. I think it’s important to remember that clothing, at least in the US (and I assume other industrialized economies like the UK?), is the cheapest its ever been in proportion to average income.

    I think it’s also important to note, though, that luxury lingerie is an industry in which quality/materials/craftsmanship is pretty well reflected in price. That isn’t the always case in other luxury products, especially those associated with an “it” brand (example: Lululemon and their sheer yoga pants–high price, low quality). It can be really hard to navigate what is expensive because it is high quality or unique vs. what is expensive just because it can get away with being expensive. So I don’t necessarily blame women for incorrectly assuming some lingerie could be available for cheaper! But it just shows, to me, the importance of researching what you’re purchasing and being an informed consumer (hence why I’m saving my pennies to make a Bosom Galore purchase someday…sigh!).

  14. Antonia says:

    Adore this post. Thank you for putting such thought into an important area in our industry.

  15. People do that for books, too. I’ve published historical pattern and sewing books for over 20 years. I long ago gave up counting the number of consumer requests for free books, free custom-written articles, free consulting, free custom-designed patterns, and on and on. People were like that before social media, but yes, social media has made them feel significantly more entitled. At least if it’s anything related to fashion, their attitude is that a small-business owner is a service person, like a waitress or a store clerk, who has to always be deferential and give them everything they want in the hope of making a sale, however dim the hope and however small the sale. I’m not putting down waitresses and store clerks, but they get paid by the hour, even if not enough. I wouldn’t get paid anything for all the free time people expect me to spend and the free stuff they try to get from me. They even bully me by threatening to tell their friends how nasty I am if I don’t give them everything they want. Meanwhile, I have plenty of work to do that actually pays me. I got over being indignant–I can’t spend every day in a state of indignation–and now I just ignore them all. A word of advice to business owners, though: The more freebies you give people, the more they will want. There is a huge number of people who just want to be endlessly pampered and have no intention of ever buying anything.

  16. Allison says:

    Amen!! This needs to be blasted from the rooftops! Thank you for making this type of thinking a part of your blog. I am currently a fashion design student that is looking to start her own clothing line, and everything you said rings true. We need to educate the masses on what goes into this industry.

  17. Jodie says:

    I think there’s a balance in price and quality. I do believe that saving for a decent lingerie is worth it. Items are expensive, it sucks however in UK lingerie market finding something that fits sucks more as it means generally you have to increase your price range.

  18. Lowana says:

    This is so true of any luxury item and from first hand experience I can say it’s definetly the same for corsetry. It seems that every day people are getting more and more entitled. Not a day goes by where I don’t see comments in online groups, or receive messages about “expensive” corsets. I’m like you Karolina- when I want something that’s a luxury, I save and save and give up other luxuries in order to be able to afford the thing that I want. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to afford luxury items, but attacking people for their pricing is not on and too much of it goes on these days. Thank you for writing this. ♡

  19. I absolutely loved this article. While I think the materials, time, and expertise that go into a garment are often drastically undervalued by many, there’s also the design itself. And I’m not only referring to the functionality and the fit of the garment, but I think style should also hold value too! I have a background in painting so I guess I can relate in some small way. Creating a beautiful, well-crafted thing takes work. It may be rewarding work, but it’s work all the same.

    • Karolina Karolina says:

      That’s an excellent point – design is an element that is incredibly undervalued! Even as a designer myself, I’m terrible and don’t consider the design process as part of the cost of my garments – terrible habit, and possibly because that’s the part of the process that I actively enjoy. Yet strangely I am more than happy to pay for exceptional design from other people…

  20. Athnamas says:

    The accompanying stockings are beautiful. Are they a Karolina Laskowska design as well?

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