How to Shop for Luxury Lingerie
Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Jane's Vanity.
Few things are as mysterious as luxury lingerie. In a retail landscape obsessed with 5 for $20 panties and 2 for $30 bras, it can seem strange when a company goes in the completely opposite direction, prioritizing high quality materials, fair labor, and impeccable fit over low prices.
Speaking as someone who doesn't have a background in fashion, it took me years to understand why luxury costs what it does. Like many people, I thought lingerie prices were arbitrary, more or less made up to take advantage of consumers. It wasn't until I spent more time in lingerie - talking to brands and buyers but, most importantly, looking at product for myself - that I understood.
Around this time of year, lots of people are shopping for luxury lingerie. They want to treat themselves, a loved one, or a significant other to something extraordinary, but that's hard to do when you're not sure what you're looking at or even what a luxury lingerie boutique offers.
In partnership with Jane's Vanity, TLA is clearing up some of the myths about luxury lingerie, and sharing some pearls of wisdom from our respective backgrounds to help you make better and more informed buying decisions.
What Distinguishes Luxury Lingerie from Regular Lingerie?
Most of us wear lingerie on a daily basis. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, lingerie means more than just bedroom attire. Lingerie is bras, panties, robes, pajamas, corsets, shapewear, hosiery, slips, chemises, nightgowns - basically anything that falls under the categories of underwear, foundation garments, or nightclothes for women.
Luxury lingerie differs from the everyday stuff in three ways: materials, construction, and design. While all these things together lead to an increased final cost for the garment (the luxury pricing part of luxury lingerie), the benefit comes when quality of the construction and materials far outlasts their less expensive counterparnts. What that means is you can buy a silk robe today from a luxury label like Christine Lingerie or Morpho + Luna and it could conceivably last for decades, the actual cost per wear reduced to pennies on the dollar.
Luxury lingerie also offers more variation in design. Large companies are often beholden to shareholders; the goal is creating a product that's as accessible and market-friendly as possible, which means many brands tend to follow the same trends and everything looks more or less identical after awhile. Yet because luxury lingerie labels are small companies, often run by only a few individuals (and sometimes just 1 person), luxury designers create pieces that are true works of art. More than that, there's no need to sacrifice form for function. Higher quality materials mean your lingerie can look beautiful, feel beautiful, and fit beautifully.
Finally, luxury lingerie offers a living wage to those involved with its production. A large part of the cost of lingerie is manufacturing, and one of ways large brands keep their prices low is by outsourcing the labor to countries where the costs of production (such as wages) are exceptionally low.
What Do You Get from a Luxury Lingerie Boutique That You Won't Get Elsewhere?
We're talking in threes again, and luxury lingerie boutiques, especially locally-owned and operated shops, offer a trio of things: cultivation, customer service, and community support.
Department stores operate by bringing in a wide selection of merchandise. The goal is to have a little something for everyone, but not too much in any one particular direction. Shopping at a boutique, however, is a completely different experience. Boutiques have personality. They're meant to target a specific customer, one who's aesthetic and preferences likely overlap with the store owner.
In the case of a boutique like Jane's Vanity, part of what what means is nothing is ordered from a photograph. The buyers at Jane's Vanity, Jane and Emily, regularly travel to Paris Market so they see and touch the garments but also talk directly with the people who run the brands. Everything brought in has to fit a certain, very high, standard of quality. Sometimes, that means they carry a label one season but drop it the next. If construction falters so that the price/quality equation is below luxury standards, Jane's Vanity won't pick it up.
Emily says, "We do our best to ensure that the price for the goods is justified by their materials and construction. If a new line pops up that is charging Carine Gilson prices but outsourcing construction to Thailand in order to cut costs, we don't feel that we're passing along a fair price to our clients. If a favorite established company gets bought out and the quality of design/construction changes, we no longer bring in the line." There's a certain level of trust there. Because the boutique knows you're spending your hard-earned money with them and because you're trusting their judgments, there's motivation to bring you the very best...not to cut corners with potentially shoddy design, manufacturing and construction.
When it comes to customer service, a good luxury lingerie boutique stands out in this area as well. Emily says, "There is no question too small." That's encouraging because if you're spending $500 on bra and panty set, you almost certainly have some questions. A luxury boutique will not only be able to answer simple questions about sizing and fit, they'll also be able to extrapolate from your tastes and previous purchases to recommend new items for you. It's like having a personal lingerie shopper all the time. A chain or department store simply can't compete with that kind of individualized attention.
Lastly, by shopping from a boutique rather than a department store, you support the people that run the boutique, people who live and work in your own neighborhoods, communities, and cites. Your money doesn't go to a huge corporation; it gets funneled back into the local economy, by people with the passion to offer things you can't find from the mainstream.
How Can You Tell If What You're Buying is Truly Luxury?
Now we get to the soul of this article. You're ready to buy something. You want to shop local. But how do you know what you're buying is truly luxury, as opposed to just "luxury."
If you're shopping at a new boutique, there are a few quick checks you can make. For example, are you familiar with any of the brands the boutique stocks? If so, what do you think of them? If not, can you research the brands to get a sense of how high the quality is?
Perhaps surprisingly, a smaller selection of garments can be indicative of higher quality overall. It might mean the shop only brings the very best items of a particular category on-board (as opposed to everything). If the brands you know and are familiar with are high quality, then the others are likely to be as well.
A second way is to tell if you're buying real luxury is to check the fiber content of what you see. While luxury lingerie can absolutely be made from synthetic materials, the bulk of luxury lingerie brands rely on natural fibers such as silk, cashmere, cotton, or linen.
Third, see if there's a mention of the design or production location. While luxury lingerie can certainly be produced within Chinese factories, many luxury brands prefer to use smaller, more localized factories in countries like France or the UK.
A Short List of Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Luxury Lingerie
- Fall in love: A luxury lingerie purchase should be something that takes your breath away, makes your eyes light up, and sends your heart aflutter. Every time you slip into it, you should be reminded of those feelings. Luxury lingerie is first and foremost about joy and connecting with yourself.
- Ask for help: When shopping at a luxury lingerie boutique, the sales staff should be your allies. They want you to be happy, and would much rather hear your reservations and help you find the perfect piece than have you leave with something you don't love.
- Clarify fit: As with all lingerie, luxury sizing varies between brands and styles. If you're not sure about how something will fit you, voice your concerns. Especially when ordering online, sharing which brands do fit you helps the boutique assess whether or not what you're interested in will work.
- Check return policies: Luxury boutiques want you to be happy, but they're also running a business. Remember to check return and exchange policies, including deadlines and limitations, before making a purchase. If you have any questions at all, get the boutique to clarify.
- Don't let it languish: Wear what you bought. Don't just save it for special occasions. That gorgeous robe, pajama set, or chemise is perfect for slipping on even around the house. Make a point of wearing your luxury purchases often "just because."
If you're an aficionado of luxury lingerie, what are your favorite tips and brands? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. Want more Jane's Vanity? Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter!