What Does "Luxury Lingerie" Really Mean?
We use the term "luxury" all the time in the lingerie world. It's applied to lingerie labels across the board, from low-end to high-end, to give items more value, and it seems to have lost so much of its meaning. "Luxury" can apply to the stretch lace of a $46 Calvin Klein bra, or a $182 Fleur of England bra made of French Leavers lace.
When I was writing about Trousseaux Lingerie for the Etsy Lingerie Spotlight last month, I kept referring to the pieces as "luxury lingerie," but ironically, I felt like I was cheapening the level of detail and work that went into them. I couldn't help but wonder: has the term "luxury" lost its meaning in the lingerie world?
I turned to some of my fellow TLA columnists for their opinions, thinking that perhaps I was simply misunderstanding what "luxury" means in the lingerie industry. My background is in women's apparel, and in the ready-to-wear fashion world, "luxury" is almost a proper noun; it defines a certain price point classification that includes brands like Chanel or Prada. I've learned that things are different in the lingerie world. Even my loungewear label is sometimes defined as "luxury," and I never thought a cotton-and-silk slip dress for under $200 could be considered "luxury!"
As it turns out, none of us could define true "luxury" in one simple phrase. So many aspects are taken into consideration when deciding if a piece of lingerie is "luxury" or not. Attributes could include the finest fabrics and trims, pieces sewn in small lots, hand-dyed fabrics, high-profile photoshoots, or simply a remarkable aesthetic.
Sometimes, it is just a price point category. Karolina, who runs a handmade and bespoke lingerie label, writes almost exclusively about luxury lingerie for TLA, but still finds it's difficult to define the category. "I actually use the word 'luxury' to define a lot of lingerie brands that I actually don't personally view as truly luxurious," Karolina says. "It's just the most useful word to get other people to understand what sort of market level they are."
Exceptional quality in every aspect is the one thing everyone mentioned, from materials to construction to fit. However, in a world where sewing is no longer a common skill, most consumers don't know the difference between a decently-sewn bra that sort-of fits and a beautifully-sewn bra that fits perfectly.
That means it's easy for companies to mislead their customers by marking up their products and claiming "luxury." For instance, Agent Provocateur is self-described as a luxury lingerie brand, but as we've seen in past reviews, the quality isn't always up-to-par with the price. Laurie, a former luxury lingerie designer, was disheartened by this discovery. "As a designer, I was shocked to go into Agent Provocateur and find silks that felt like polyester and shoddy stitching," says Laurie. "I agree that the 'luxury' label is used profusely, and is used to justify a higher price point."
Kristina, who worked in the mass-market lingerie world for 10 years before starting WonderLust Lingerie, notes that regardless of price point, foundation garments require sturdier materials than other apparel, so they are already seen as high-quality. "I think lingerie is an easy sector of the fashion world to market as luxury," says Kristina.
Another piece of the "luxury" puzzle could be visibility. Because most of the world hasn't adopted the lingerie as outerwear trend for everyday life, anything other than basic lingerie could be seen as luxury, as many people don't want to spend more than the bare minimum on apparel that they can't publicly show off.
"Luxury" is a highly personal idea in the end. Kathryn, a lingerie garment technician based in Sydney, says that the idea of "luxury" lingerie seems to change based on country. For instance, luxury lingerie from the UK is often finished with zig zag stitching, while in Australia, consumers see visible stitching as a sign of lower quality. "A person's view of what is luxurious is based on life experience and knowledge, availability where they live, and their income," says Kathryn.
So has the word "luxury" lost its meaning in the lingerie industry? I think so. The word is used to describe anything from a certain price point or a certain level of overall physical quality, to a brand's aspirational image or any piece of lingerie that's not considered a necessity. Overall, there really isn't one definition for "luxury" in the lingerie industry, and its broad definition probably will not get more specific.
Since it is so subjective, should our side of the lingerie industry stop using the word "luxury" as a descriptive term? I think the word is still useful in context, but should be taken with a grain of salt when making purchasing decisions. If you're looking specifically to purchase luxury lingerie, decide which aspects of a luxurious purchase are most important to you --- quality of construction, beautiful fabrics, unique styles, a well-respected name, or an extravagant shopping experience --- and indulge yourself accordingly.
What do you define as "luxury"? What makes a piece of lingerie "luxury" to you?