How We Can Make Lingerie Less Intimidating
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How We Can Make Lingerie Less Intimidating

Today's article is a guest post from Claire Dumican of Butterfly Collection. She's written for The Lingerie Addict before in an article titled "Why Do Lingerie Retailers Carry Some Brands... But Not Others?"

Lingerie Marketing Stereotypes

It’s hard to imagine that garments made of delicate materials and whimsical designs could ever be intimidating, but for some women the whole concept of lingerie leaves them cold. This is because they don’t associate with either of the two central themes around which lingerie has been marketed for decades.

Sex Appeal
A huge proportion of lingerie marketing focuses on sex appeal (and almost exclusively, sex appeal from a heterosexual male perspective). This male-centric approach can be very alienating and intimidating. For the thousands of women who don’t feel a sexual correlation between their underwear and their life, this advertising serves to distance them even further from lingerie.

The second big lingerie advertising theme is happy-centric. There are thousands of lingerie ads that show an impossibly elated woman who is bursting with happiness over her latest bra or corset or stockings. This elation is a far cry from the frustration, emotional turmoil and pain that millions of women associate with lingerie, again disillusioning them further about the merits of lingerie.

New lingerie marketing messages are beginning to emerge; however, ‘sex sells’ still dominates the lingerie marketing world (take a look at Limited Brands collaborations with Michael Bay for Victoria’s Secret and you get the idea). It’s no wonder so many women still feel excluded from the world of lingerie because they can’t associate with these very narrow lingerie stereotype messages. It’s important to note this kind of marginalization is not exclusive to women. The marketing of men’s intimate apparel is almost exclusively the domain of razor sharply toned men, suggesting that it’s a world for only the very fit and very obviously muscular.

How we can change things
Lingerie means different things to different people. We need to validate different preferences and priorities around lingerie like comfort, security, practicality, sexual and gender diversity, as well as the huge spectrum of what beauty is (a crisp white cotton bra and undies is the pinnacle of feeling great for someone, and that’s just as valid as a piece of couture corsetry). We can make lingerie less intimidating not just by marketing it in more diverse ways, but also by talking about and acknowledging these less-often-discussed wants, needs, and loves. I know this would open up the world of lingerie to more women by giving them the confidence to feel their relationship with lingerie is valid.

My biggest passion is helping women explore their lives through lingerie. While I still encourage every woman to keep an open mind about her lingerie possibilities (I’ve enticed more than one beige molded devotee into a sheer leopard print ensemble), I never ignore the needs and wants of a client. A well-fitting piece of lingerie that fulfills a woman’s needs, whatever they may be, will make her feel good --- and that’s the beginning of a healthy and enthusiastic relationship with lingerie. There’s no one way to love lingerie, and that’s a conversation we can have more often with more people.

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.

5 Comments on this post

  1. Lisa R says:

    I am reminded of an employee of ours that had a love/hate relationship with lingerie, bras specifically, as she was petite with large breasts. She confided in me that while she loved lingerie, she hated bras and their makers as they did not make affordable, sexy, comfortable bras as well as they also were not made in sexy and youthful colors and styles as opposed to making them for “old” women, or at least older women. Oh yes, they also were rarely made in larger sizes with matching panties, and not just thongs but full back styles as well. Suffice it to say she was not at all intimidated, she was angry. Not at Victoria’s Secret, as she simply wished they carried larger sizes with the specifics I already mentioned, but at the lingerie industry as a whole. She was, and is, a lovely girl, a very bright girl, albeit a tad on the nerdy side as she admittedly enjoyed computers, creating websites and that was at least in part why she worked for us. Since she was in her very early twenties as well as most of our other employees, I got a sense of their view of lingerie. I always wondered why our clientele was a bit older rather than the younger girls who our lingerie catered to, costumes, inexpensive bra sets and such. The reason was most associated lingerie with having a boyfriend. the view that their mothers wore lingerie, they wore a t shirt and panties to sleep and many other obvious reasons. These reasons are obvious now, they weren’t then. My point, I do have one, is that lingerie is more complex than what will make it less intimidating to women as many women just don’t care for a variety of reasons. I agree with most all of what Claire Dumican suggests as well as what the responses add as well. That said I can only add that it is not that simple as how to make lingerie less intimidating, as women are so diverse, so unique, exposed to so much information from family, mothers mostly, boyfriends, girlfriends and that is not to even mention the media, magazines, movies and class mates. In talking to young customers on what they were looking for in corsets, stockings, shapewear and bras, the responses were largely sex appeal first, comfort second, if at all. I am not suggesting that all women view lingerie in this way, as I certainly don’t, but I am almost as old as dirt. Remember I said almost. To say there is a generation gap is an understatement. The constant focus of advertising on how it will make women-girls look for men has had its effect. The perceptions of lingerie and how it impacts a young woman’s life, socially, sexually, emotionally is an enormous subject and girls/women get their information from so many sources. While some might seem obvious like magazines, television and movies others like music videos, weekend parties, raves, Youtube and the like are far less obvious. While I appreciate all of the comments presented here as constructive and thoughtful, exposing more women, particularly young women to the message is the trick. They are being bombarded to so much conflicting information and how they are making decisions on what to wear, lingerie in particular, is mystifying at its best. To be sure having more women making decisions as to how to advertise lingerie to women, making lingerie on a non threatening basis to all women are great ideas, but I am not sure that herculean task would have much short term effect. Girls have to be reached where they live and making the subject accessible does not lend itself to mass media. Getting articles like this and the responses to it seem to be an awesome starting point but how to get it to young girls who are grappling with it seems to be the king. Remember young people don’t always listen to those of us who are, after all, as old as dirt.

  2. Estelle says:

    Great article :) I DO feel ‘bursting with happiness’ most of the time I buy or try on new lingerie, so it’s easy to forget it’s not the same for everyone. I’ve recently been educating my sister on good bra fit and she’s gone from not really caring about lingerie (not hating it, but not loving it either) to being a bit of an addict. Bra shopping is so much more fun and fulfilling when you know how to pick out styles that will suit/fit you, and avoid those that make you look terrible (even when they look fantastic on the model) :)

  3. The thought of a push up sports bra is absolutely absurd. Honestly, VS as a brand is utterly absurd. I cannot fathom how women are constantly bamboozled into spending money in those stores. I agree, I see it…so many women are apprehensive, upset and downright angry come bra shopping time. Often times diffusing this anger is the challenging part of my job, the fitting is…easy. Comfort and utility SHOULD be better emphasized in ad campaigns. That being said, I truly believe that beige T-Shirt bras are boring as hell and will suck the joy out of anyone (lol), and that EVERY woman deserves (yes, DESERVES) pretty, beautiful pieces. And they’re not just for the boudoir, but can be worn every day. I tell my clients that the best bras meld fashion with function. A large part of why I love lingerie is…the beauty of the merchandise. I love that it’s “sexy”. I’m happy to love my rather imperfect body. (I’ve worked hard to come this far) No, I don’t look like the models in the spreads..but I’ve managed to work it out in my mind to feel confident no matter what. Lingerie helps me feel sexier, not the other way ’round. It’s empowering. I try to impart that to my clients. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, fashion…I love the fashion aspect of it, but I DO hate the lack of diversity in terms of age, sexual preference, skin tone, and body type. If I were a lingerie model, I guess I’d be an Elomi woman. But even those girls (note, I say “girls”) seem…quite young and smoothed out. Yes, I get that the male powers that be seem to think that glossy and pore free and bump free sell product…but the fact of the matter is, women are so…incredibly, ridiculously…hard on themselves. EVERY little thing perceived as abnormal is to be criticized. Honestly, more and more of my fitting time is spent talking self hating women off the ledge and answering (often silly) questions about their bodies and what is “normal”. I see intelligent women with hard, awesome bodies obsessively fretting over a little bit of skin in the armpit area. I see mothers coming in for shapewear for their 12 year old daughters. It’s obscene. The words “back fat” are NOT WELCOME in my fitting room. Who do I blame for this need for body perfection..well, in many ways…it’s the shapewear industry. I hate spanx. I hate the fact that this growing lingerie sector is making women feel inadequate, that there is something wrong with them. I hate that it lies to women, telling them that this elastic garment is going to fix everything. Because it’s not. It’s just compressing tissue and moving it around elsewhere, a short term “solution”. And there was likely, precious little that needed fixin’ in the first place. I blame the media, and I blame Hollywood, I blame photoshop and I blame the mainstream fashion media for presenting ideals that barely exist, and expect the rest of us to conform to. Until the fashion industry as a whole, and that includes the lingerie sector, owns up and starts presenting the human body as it IS…not a photoshopped fantasy of plastic bodied mannequins, the attitude of the everywoman is not going to change. We need to reclaim and redefine “sexy”. Because EVERY woman deserves to know how it feels to be beautiful.

  4. firelizard19 says:

    I agree with June- I love lingerie, but the hyper-sexualized stuff like VS ads always turned me off. It made fancy lingerie look uncomfortable and like you’d only wear it to look cliche slutty (a term and mindset I hate, btw, no-one should be judged on how much or little sex they have), and not because you actually like it. I never got why all the poses were so obviously for men when the people buying the stuff were mostly women. Perfect example of the whole alienation thing: I absolutely hated the whole concept of VS’s push-up sports bra. It’s a sports bra! It’s for working out, which is a time for me not to worry about how I look- I’m sweaty and gross, and spending this time focusing on my own health and body- why on earth do I need to look extra-sexy at a time like that? I should wear push-up bras 24/7 now? Really? AAAAARRRGH!

  5. June says:

    Even though I love lingerie, I have to admit I’m always more turned off by the super-sexual advertisements. I, suppose, that’s because for me lingerie just isn’t sexual at all. It’s practical, it’s comfortable, and it’s fun. I feel more confident and comfortable in well-fitting lingerie, but I’m not sure if that’s something that translates as well to advertising?

    I know for some reason the super sexual advertisements might be more appealing but I’m bothered by them also because women of almost all ages wear lingerie (I believe I started at about the age of 10?) and during my youth that was the last thing I wanted to think about when buying new underwear.

    However, I’d same the thing that would have made lingerie a lot less intimidating as a youth would be more diversity in the models in terms of age, race, body size, etc. That and friendlier, more knowledgeable fitters.

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