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How Lingerie Companies Can Serve Queer Customers

Via Chromat

Via Chromat

LGBTQ people often aren’t sure what to do about lingerie. When your gender or your presentation don’t match what’s widely available, it can be easy to get discouraged and not buy much at all, especially if you feel that businesses aren’t interested in selling to you.

I’ve recently spoken to a few businesses who are hoping to expand their target market to include queer and trans customers, which is great! I’ve also heard from some companies who are exceptionally resistant to the idea of expanding their target market.

In this comment thread, Brent Krause of Homme Mystere talks about why he isn’t interested in selling to trans women, saying that he doesn’t know the market and that it would be unfair of him to try and sell to people he doesn’t understand.

Let me say this: part of being a businessperson includes researching target demographics that are not part of your own experience. This doesn’t mean having to be all things to all people, but it does mean considering the possibility that your product might be something a queer or trans person would want.

Being more queer-friendly can be as simple and inexpensive as altering some of the language you use to sell your product, and the benefits can include a larger audience and a contribution to the safety and wellbeing of queer and trans people.

Want to support queer and trans people in your lingerie business? Want to expand your customer base while helping a marginalized group? Here’s how you do it, ranging from smaller, easier solutions to broad-reaching ones.

Great use of gender-neutral language. Via Between the Sheets.

Great use of gender-neutral language. Via Between the Sheets.

1. Limit your use of gendered language in your marketing materials.

If your website says “surprise your man” in big letters on an ad featuring sexy lingerie on a woman, you’re telegraphing that the default partner is a man. Therefore you're implying your preferred customer is a straight woman trying to impress a male partner.

It’d be easy enough to say “surprise your lover” instead -- who doesn’t like surprising their lover? This idea can easily be extended to trans and genderqueer people; why assume you know the gender of the person buying either the lace bra or the boxer briefs?

If you’re not interested in removing gendered language entirely from your site, try to avoid it specifically on products that would be likely to be bought by trans customers. Let me give an example: if you sell a sports bra that’s famous for being the best compression bra on the market, chances are some of your customers for that product are going to be trans men or genderqueer folks who are using it to bind their chests. Saying “for the person who needs extra compression” instead of “for the woman who needs extra compression” doesn’t change the nature of the product description at all, but could make a huge difference for a guy looking at that ad and wondering if your product is for him.

Via the Soma Intimates Facebook page.

Sometimes, inclusivity is this simple! Via the Soma Intimates Facebook page.

2. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, have a clear-cut trans inclusivity policy and stick with it.

If you’re a retailer and people are coming to you for fittings, it’s important that trans customers feel safe and welcomed. Even if you would personally never ask a trans customer to leave your store and are convinced that your employees feel the same, communicate this explicitly and clearly. Be ready to answer their questions, if any, about this policy. And for goodness’ sake, if you also have a website, post your policy there.

When I helped a friend shop for lingerie we checked websites and social media to see if the stores had clear policies, because it’s just easier and more comfortable for everyone if we know what to expect. Hopefully someday being trans-inclusive will be the unspoken default, but until then, declare yourself open for business.

This binder company used to just cater to men with gynecomastia. Now they have a trans cutie modeling their binders. Via GC2B.

This binder company used to just cater to cisgender men with gynecomastia. Now they have a trans cutie modeling their binders. Go see the whole gallery! Via GC2B.

3. Include queer and trans people in your advertisements, and treat them like people, not like props.

I wrote about this earlier this month, and talked about it here as well: representation matters. It’s important to be able to see yourself in media, especially if you’re going to be buying a product. The Lingerie Lesbian has spoken about this too: queer people are often represented as two-dimensional, either as titillating sex objects or freaky villains. Put an ad up where we are just people, hanging out, being awesome (and looking good in your product) and you’ll have a fan base.

Some suggestions for how to portray us: consider hiring actual queer models, and check out the brands I featured earlier that are doing it right. You'll notice that a queer-friendly ad includes people of the same sex enjoying each other's company, not looking embarrassed or hurt, and ideally not staring directly at the viewer as though asking "are you titillated yet?"

Via Chantal Thomass.

Shot by queer photographer Ellen Von Unwerth. Via Chantal Thomass.

4. Make it a practice to hire LGBTQ people.

If you are wondering why you’ve never considered these things before, it might be because you don’t have any openly queer people on your staff at your company (which would be a shame: we are great.) Don’t worry, you can fix this by making it clear that you are interested in hiring, training, and supporting LGBTQ employees.

Hiring LGBTQ people will also be great for helping you with your queer ads. Surprisingly enough, people's creative work tends to reflect their lived experience, and queer photographers and models tend to produce really great queer images. For an amazing example, look at Ellen Von Unwerth's fashion photography.

It might seem strange to consciously seek out diversity, but I'm not suggesting hiring unqualified candidates. Encouraging diversity can be as simple as stating that you're open to LGBTQ employees. I wouldn’t have ended up working for The Lingerie Addict if Ms. Harrington hadn’t put out a call for diverse bloggers, because I felt like my perspective on lingerie was so far out of the mainstream that it wouldn’t be wanted. A lot of people are ruling themselves out of the lingerie world on the employment end and the customer end because they feel like it doesn’t have a place for them.

Chrysalis didn't launch perfectly but they are (by all accounts) working on it. Via Chrysalis Lingerie.

Chrysalis didn't launch perfectly but they are working on it. Via Chrysalis Lingerie.

5. Do it sooner -- don’t wait until the perfect moment.

I’ve heard people say “I’m working on queer representation in my brand! I just want to make sure it’s perfect before I put it out there. I don’t want to contribute to the problem.”

I think this is an admirable instinct, but I am worried about how it plays out in practice. Why? Because nothing is ever perfect, and holding queer media to an incredibly high standard is making it harder for you to just do it.

You don’t need to represent every facet of queerness in one ad. You don’t need to strip out every gendered pronoun in a single swoop. If you’re worried about adding queer representation to your brand, don’t subject it to endless rounds of scrutiny in your own head: have a few other people (including some queer people) look it over, and then put it out there.

Be ready for feedback. You won't be perfect at serving a new audience at first, and listening is paramount. Asking you to change something slightly isn’t the same as throwing you under the bus, it’s part of being a conscious member of a community. Nobody is above constructive criticism, but also no criticism can erase the good work you've done already. If you're putting out thoughtful content and responding to feedback, we're going to be so glad to have you.

Queer readers: what did I leave out? Lingerie companies: what questions do you have about supporting queer customers? Come unpack these issues with me in the comments!



11 Comments on this post

  1. DDtop says:

    Hi might be a bit late for the party! (normally am)
    I read many of these posts on blogs with interest as i’m somewhere in between(don’t have a “tag” as i’m just me)
    When started swimming with a TG group they asked me what/where/who i identified with/as & noun used i just easy just call me by my name as im just me said somewhere in between(Free Agent) and been great no issues/pressures&a great friendly group of people.
    I get to wear my swim wear&enjoy myself which to me is what life is about!.
    It don’t bother/worry me how addressed as long as not “Boss” as i consider that quite a derogative term.
    I’m somewhere like Thomas above had/have lots of growth over my prolactinoma&hormone issues when put on T HRT! along with meds and Weedkiller used to work with!.
    I’m now at top end of 42G/44FF UK and many bras like Primadonna 44I But don’t really need a “Male” bra just more understanding from others as most work well for me.

    Some shops are excellent welcome you in with open arms while others are very dire push you out with a pitch fork and others in between “we’ll sell to you but not fit you”!.
    Yet my cash is as good as anyone elses very polite and discrete plus do buy items unlike many that get fitted then buy on line!.
    Many i know that fit the alternate market say they like as we buy from them and send others&we become loyal customers.
    But many places are changing becomming more evolved/involved than before it’s a slow process but change is happening!.
    I very often wear a blouse/top over my bra as find more comfy most if don’t notice don’t say anything have odd one that remarks in shop i go to but others that know even say looks great.
    For me having Fibro&Raynauds have to find things that are comfortable and keep temps right! as things pressing/rubbing etc quickly become painful or mark skin.
    I was deemed Autistic with Asperger’s so i see things differently to many it even has a bearing on feeling cold! as don’t process cold feelings.
    Did you know many that have Asperger’s are TG or that many TG have Asperger’s!.
    But for us to go further is a change and change is one of the issues with Asperger’s!.

    So weather your TG/Gender queer/Male bra wearer/or even TV/CD/or anything else we should all stick together as one voice in our approach to better understanding and help/support.
    As enlighten brands/Stockists/makers etc that encompass this market and you have a big increase in sales and has they say it’s bums on seats that matter not walkers by!.

  2. Bird Nerd says:

    Once I visited a lingerie shop and asked for a fitting. The shop assistant was really nice and the bra fit well but when I asked her if she had anything to let ones breast size appear smaller, she looked really confused. (I’m quite young and my cup size isn’t that large but I identify as genderqueer and I’m not always comfortable with my chest area). Anyway, after a few seconds she just moved on and showed me a certain style & I was pretty happy that she didn’t acted weird or asked me why I wanted to do that.

  3. Caroline says:

    We are an independent lingerie brand who sell small cup sized bras that go up to a 40 band size and I know that we sell to trans customers and I’m delighted to be able to do this. We are online only – no retail outlet – and I very much want to reach out to these potential customers and let them know that they are welcome and we are a safe place with great customer service for ALL of our customers. The big dilemma I have is that I am frequently ‘advised’ that our (very) mainstream, traditional loyal customers would be terrified if we used anything other than nice white women in our advertising. I don’t for one moment subscribe to this being ok – just in case you were wondering – but in terms of blending the customer base and reaching them all is a real challenge. I’m certainly going to check our language used and do what I can to ensure inclusion on our site, but I am sad to say that I think we are facing an uphill struggle in terms of acceptance from a very very conservative customer base. Sad.

  4. Thomas says:

    Not all men who wear bras do it to fulfill a fetish. I am a man who has a condition called gynecomastia. As a male with breasts size 38B, I wear a bra when performing physical activities such as running, jogging, or riding a bike. If i don’t wear a bra when doing these type of activities, I suffer for several days following. There are thousands of normal married men who, just like me, wear a bra for comfort because they have gynecomastia. My decision to wear a bra only came after much suffering and communicating with my wife about the issue. I myself had to get over the stigma of wearing an article of clothing that society has deemed “feminine” because only woman are supposed to have breasts. With industry dumping huge amounts of chemicals that mimic estrogens into our environment, many men today over the age of 40 are growing breasts. The fastest growing plastic surgery procedure on men is breast reduction. We do not fall into your “queer” group nor do we identify with it.

    • Cora says:

      Then I think it’s safe to say that this article isn’t written for you. The word “queer” does not reference cisgender heterosexual men with gynecomastia. It refers to people to people who are not heterosexual, people who are trans, or people who do not fit the gender binary. If you do not identify as queer, then this article isn’t about you, and that’s okay.

    • Rose says:

      Let me second Cora’s statement that this is off-topic and that no one is forcing you to ID as queer. However, if you’re looking for a non-bra option, companies like Underworks and GC2B Compression make garments specifically designed to deal with gynecomastia in cis men. I highly recommend both companies for your needs, especially since it sounds like your current situation makes you uncomfortable.

  5. Thursday says:

    The non-gendered language tip is a great start, I feel. It may seem tricky at first, but it really isn’t very difficult to get the hang of. And as a straight cis woman, I find all the “for your man” copy incredibly offputting, as I don’t dress for anyone but myself. Sure, it’s fine to mention that your partner might enjoy it too, but this kind of selling point is way outdated to me. It’s easy to imagine the effect this can have on queer people just looking for some nice underthings.

  6. sam says:

    Great article!
    I’m a trans woman and I can attest to the embarrassment and fear based around underwear and lingerie. Both because you worry about HOW IT WILL FIT AND FUNCTION but also because you don’t wanna be seen as some fetishistic Crossdresser.
    I’d love for websites to not only feature trans people as models but also perhaps make shopping guides for them. Highlighting products that have a range of wider bands and smaller cups for bras and also highlight knickers good for tucking. This can be done by hiring a few trans people to just try their products and get feedback on them. Their likes and dislikes, function versus form. That kinda stuff.

    • Rose says:

      I think a shopping guide for trans customers is a great idea! has a guide that’s got a lot of good panties for tucking and a few bras that are large band and small cup. The downside is that it’s heavily geared toward male crossdressers, not trans women. If you feel up to reading around all the assumptions and gendered language it may be worth a look.

  7. Joanne says:

    A wonderful article! One thing that applies to myself, and I believe to the vast majority of us who crossdress: we wear female clothing precisely because that’s what it is. I’ve never bought intimates in person, but I’ve shopped for outerwear on many occasions, and I’ve always been treated as the woman I try to be. I’d like to think I’d be treated the same way if shopping for intimates – I can appreciate that some customers and retailers might be a bit uncomfortable in such circumstances, so I’d contact the retailer first. I don’t get too “militant” about it!

  8. KathTea says:

    People don’t realize that gender neutral language can be simple AND sexy. :)

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