Femme, Feminist, and Lingerie-Addicted: Exploring Lingerie as a Femme
Today's guest post is by Amy Norton. Amy (She/Her) is a sex blogger, journalist, and pleasure product aficionado. She runs Coffee & Kink and is the founder of Smutathon, an annual charity writing challenge. She lives in the UK with her nesting partner, Mr CK, and a frankly ridiculous collection of vibrators.
For the first couple of years that I was writing my sex blog, Coffee & Kink, I firmly considered myself Not A Lingerie Person. I didn’t buy lingerie, I didn’t wear lingerie, and the whole idea was simply not very appealing to me.
There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, the younger me had an uneasy relationship with my body image. (If I’m honest, I sometimes still do.) Secondly, some sensory struggles mean that underwires and scratchy materials are an absolute no-go for me.
But eventually, I caved enough to start trying and reviewing lingerie for some of the brands I was partnering with. Through trial and error, I slowly came to realise that I actually love lingerie. I love wearing it, and I love how powerful and sexy it makes me feel. I just needed to find the right pieces for me!
Best of all, getting into lingerie was instrumental in stepping fully into my identity as a queer femme.
What is “Femme” and How Does it Connect to Wearing Lingerie?
“Femme” is not simply a synonym for “feminine.” Femme is an explicitly queer identity. It used to mean a lesbian (or, more rarely, a bisexual woman) whose appearance and behavior was what society typically codes as feminine. But femme has grown and expanded far beyond that original definition. There is no one standard meaning but to me, femme is about reclaiming the feminine, choosing the bits I like and shrugging off the bits I don’t. It’s about celebrating and queering femininity, all at the same time.
"Femme" is not a specific look or mode of moving through the world. It can be many things: playful, sensual, powerful, intentional. Above all it is personal, and so are the ways that we present it outwardly. I learned that I didn’t have to wear specific clothing, including lingerie, to be a valid femme. Lingerie that makes one person feel amazing will leave another completely cold. I hate push-up bras with a vengeance, but another femme might adore them. I love soft lace and black latex, corsetry and catsuits and more.
Femme is a complex identity and it means different things to different people. It can’t be neatly put into a box, and it certainly isn’t supposed to be a way of policing our own or each other’s expression and presentation. There are endless variations on femme identity and presentation. I semi-jokingly call myself a “Sparklefemme” because I love glitter and all things shiny. My friend Sarah calls themself a Spooky Femme. That’s the beauty of femme - it can be almost anything you want it to be.
Femme isn’t just for cis women, either. Trans folks, non-binary folks, and even queer men can be femmes.
Lingerie, like so much in the world of clothing and items associated with personal presentation, is sold and marketed in a highly gendered way. When I was in a bigger body, I felt alienated by the singular image of “ideal femininity” shown in marketing campaigns. Now, as a queer woman, I feel alienated every time a brand assumes I’m buying lingerie to “please my man.”
But we do not have to accept these limiting, arbitrary delineations. For me, embracing lingerie under the femme umbrella means embracing the idea that all of us should feel free to wear the things we love, even if the label or societal assumptions say they're not "for" us. Why shouldn’t a man wear a lace basque if he wants to? Who says fat women should stick to black and “sculpting” or “minimizing” pieces?
Wearing Lingerie as a Femme Feminist
Lingerie is often viewed as something that caters to the male gaze, but I believe and see that it can be so much more than that. Stepping into my femme identity and reconciling it with my feminist politics was an interesting challenge. Unfortunately, our wider culture still associates feminine-coded things with weakness and frivolity.
Additionally, some schools of feminism have completely eschewed anything feminine-coded, denouncing trappings like lipstick, high heels, and - yes - lingerie as oppressive tools of the patriarchy.
But when I wear lingerie, I don’t do it to appease the male gaze. (I might sometimes wear it partly for the enjoyment of a specific man, like one of my partners. But even then, it’s on my terms.) I don’t do it because this is what society says a woman is supposed to look like. I do it because, when I find the perfect piece of lingerie, I step into it and I feel like I could take on the world. I do it because it’s fun and playful and sexy.
For me, wearing lingerie as a femme and a feminist is also about subverting tropes about who “can” and “should” wear lingerie. The reality is that most of us will never look like the models in lingerie ads. The photographs are so edited that oftentimes, the models themselves don’t even really look like that once professional lighting and Photoshop are taken away.
Embracing our unique bodies and showing them off on our own terms can be deeply feminist and empowering. Some of us embrace body positivity, while others strive for body neutrality. Either way, wearing things you truly love can be a way of getting closer to that goal.
How to Explore Your Femme Identity with Lingerie
If you identify as a femme some or all of the time, or think that you might be a femme and want to explore that identity through lingerie, you get to do that.
If, like me, you’ve spent years thinking lingerie wasn’t for you, I recommend starting slowly and giving yourself lots of permission to try things out, discover what you like, and experiment to find what works for you. Many online retailers will allow you to order things, try them on, and then return them if they don’t work for you as long as they’re in a resaleable condition. You can also sometimes try things on in physical stores. Remember to always try panties on over your own underwear for hygiene reasons.
How do you know what to choose? Think about the colors you love best, the fabrics that feel amazing against your skin, and the shapes and cuts that you’d feel great wearing. When people think “femme,” they sometimes think of stereotypically “girly” colors like pink. Pink is awesome if you love it, but it’s not for everyone. You can also be fabulously femme in purple, black, red, green, blue, orange…or any other color or combination you can think of.
Your version of femme lingerie might be intricate lace, figure-hugging leather, luxurious silk or satin, or something else entirely.
Next, think about the mood you want to create with your look. Are you looking for soft and pretty or edgy and fierce? If you’re a kinkster, do you want your look to channel dominance, submission, or something in between?
Don’t just look at retailers’ websites, either. Instead, check out reviews from bloggers and influencers, particularly those whose bodies look a bit like yours. They’ll give you more honest information about fit, quality, and comfort than marketing copy ever will. I love looking at lingerie blogs and Instagram feeds for inspiration.
The most wonderful and exciting thing about all of this is that there are no rules. You can forget everything you think you know about what colors are for people of your gender or what cuts “flatter” your body type, because femme identity and lingerie are vast playgrounds of possibility. You don’t have to put yourself in a box, stick a specific label on yourself, or limit yourself to just one form of aesthetic self-expression.
It doesn’t matter what gender you are, what body parts you have, or what shape or size your body is. Lingerie is for you if you want it to be.