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What Does "Luxury Lingerie" Really Mean?

Chantal Thomass

Chantal Thomass

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?

Gilda and Pearl

Gilda and Pearl

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!"

Carine Gilson

With the most carefully-sewn lace appliques and four-digit prices, Carine Gilson is 100% luxury, no matter how you look at it.

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."

Agent Provocateur

Agent Provocateur

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.

I.D. Sarrieri

I.D. Sarrieri

"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?

Quinne Myers

Quinne Myers is a lingerie expert living in Brooklyn, NY, where she creates quippy written content, crafts dreamy illustrations, and runs the ethically-made loungewear line, she and reverie.

10 Comments on this post

  1. Jennifer Dobson says:

    Partial to Fleur of England Quality over quantity

  2. Addy says:

    From a marketing perspective, ‘luxury’ has everything to do with ego. Luxury brands from Chanel to Van Cleef & Arpels manage their brand image very, very carefully. They manufacture a sense of exclusivity, kind of like a VIP club whose membership you may attain if you spend $1 000 on a bra or $80 000 on a dress or $3 million on a custom-fitted car. The price tag is usually supported by elitism in the construction of the product (e.g. lace weaved on gold wheels spun by the hands of skilled Italian seamstresses).

    Of course, there are people who purchase high-priced luxury products purely for their quality and couldn’t really care less about the brand’s marketing budget, but I think for us mere mortals, an undeniable part of the appeal of luxury lingeries is the sense of exclusivity we feel, and that special feeling of treating ourselves when we strap on a $900 bra.

  3. Thursday says:

    What strikes me as being at the core of this conversation is the use of the word luxury as a descriptor of quality vs market level. As discussed, high quality lingerie will come at a higher price point because excellent design, fine materials and expert construction all contribute to higher retail values. On the other hand, targeted marketing can associate a label with some of the more amorphous values associated with “luxury” and allow the label to demand a higher price. The problem I see is when you have more of the latter and less of the former, which I think has become more common (and for which AP seems to be getting slammed for in this discussion!). Personally, for anything claiming what I consider a luxury price tag, high quality is of uppermost concern for me. Originality of design is a dimension of that for me, but must be backed up by quality materials and construction.
    I think that what used to be signals of luxury, such as the use of lace, mesh, metal findings, etc, can be found much more readily at very accessible price points now, that it confuses things even more. These materials will mostly be of much lower quality than their luxury inspirations, and coupled with a lower quality of construction and design. For a large segment of the consumer market who do not know how to spot high quality, however, I think this can effectively lower the expectations of consumers and so the term luxury has become less a signal of quality and more a marketing strategy.

  4. Sheryl says:

    This is a thought-provoking post on a nuanced subject. I suspect that, since the early days of the most-well known existing luxury fashion houses, the gap between their work and mainstream fashion has grown, from proudly home-made wardrobes to stimulation-seeking fast fashion fixes. And that nowadays, the spectrum is far broader between low-end clothing and true luxury – both in womenswear at large and lingerie.

    For instance: I love Araks’ use of cotton knits and silk satin wovens, and NYC production. Compared with your common inexpensive, synthetically fabricated bra made overseas without transparency, and then a Carine Gilson bra made by skilled artisans out of the most sumptuous materials, how does one describe an Araks bra? It is certainly more luxurious than the commonplace bra; but no, it isn’t royalty. I think there are degrees of luxury, with of course, a crowning jewel at the height of them… I think I like the term ‘luxurious’, because it can be applied to specific elements of a thing, without making outrageous, overarching, invasive claims.

    I was giddy to read Cora a little while ago quoted in an interview describing cotton and other natural fibres as luxurious, because I agree – natural fibres generally offer a more pleasant skin experience, thus elevating the act of wearing a bra to something more special than a basic foundation, and their perishability also can correlate to exclusivity – obviously, all bras wear out, but natural fibres tend to especially have a lifespan; that’s one of their biggest downsides. Along with the need to grow them, but that has as much potential to have a positive impact on the earth & its creatures as a negative one. They also could have another life after being lingerie, being composted & recycled for metals…

    I also think of non-essential pieces, and love the choice of the I.D. Sarrieri bodysuit to illustrate :) Splurging on their magnificent work in the form of a bra or panty is something I could maybe save for and swing or hit the sale rack, but their bodysuits or bustiers or robes? That’s just a totally different person with a different lifestyle and budget from me and mine. Interesting to consider all the different facets and perspectives.

  5. Jeanna says:

    This was such an interesting read – so cool getting the perspectives of various TLA columnists in one piece! So much has been said that I just want to use emojis to agree with (damn the comment box), but I will just echo the sentiment that for me, as both a consumer and as a boutique owner, “luxury” is synonymous with an extremely (and exclusively) high price point. There are good reasons for that, as everyone has pointed out, but for me, it’s very much a market level association.

  6. Cristina says:

    Well, I totally agree with you! I’m a lingerie designer and my goal is just to sew luxury lingerie, so I really appreciate this post. Thank you so much.
    For me term “luxury” should describe products of finest quality, maybe with some embroidery, not ready to wear but made to measure. Of course clients don’t buy luxury lingerie for everyday use, but just for the pleasure of have it. I don’t think most of actual brands can offer a product like that. You can find product like that in small ateliers, because luxury can’t deal with “fast fashion”. I read Karolina Laskowska’s AP review and I totally agree with comment of the materials they use, but people call it a “luxury product”, for what?! Yes it’s beautiful, but for me luxury isn’t just about beauty, it’s totally about how products are made. For me luxury products have so much in common with an old granny’s way of stitching, than with big brands. :) (as always, sorry for my bad english!)

  7. cat says:

    The fact that so many people have a hard time pinpointing a conceptual understanding of “luxury lingerie” definitely means that “luxury” has lost its meaning.

    From an economic viewpoint, a “luxury” is something that is produced with high cost labor, high cost materials on top of a high margin. It is something that is exclusive and not necessary for every consumer compared to the market competition.

    The idea of “luxury” has become so commonplace because everyone wants “luxury” and it has become the catchphrase for marketing tools. However, that makes the entire concept of subjective luxury as an oxymoron. The premise behind luxury is that not everyone can have it. The fast paced retail economy along with vicarious living through celebrities and socialites has made just about everyone wanting and believing they can have the same. This demand provides opportunities for brands to take advantage of this catchphrase despite the actual products’ market ubiquity.

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