Whenever I start talking to any woman in her twenties about lingerie, she immediately looks at me like I’m a bourgeois European princess who sits around eating pâté and bathing in champagne all day. I don’t take it personally, and I understand that this reaction is just the result of a larger culture that these women and I are living in. Many women my age feel that the only high-quality things they are allowed to buy openly and enjoy are cosmetics, food, and cocktails (well done, YouTube and Instagram!).
I’m a huge cheapskate, but I’m obsessed with lingerie. Personally, I think it is essential to make room for it in your budget. I’m not talking about splurging on the Victoria’s Secret fall line or wearing a stripper thong for your boyfriend. I mean beautifully-structured underwear made from soft, good-quality fabric, the kind that is long-lasting and needs to be hand-washed and properly-cared for. To me, cheap clothes and cheap knickers just feel uncomfortable; when I wear them, they make me feel cheap and uncomfortable as a person.
I’m in my late twenties now, and I know what kind of lifestyle I like; which, as it turns out, is a simple, slow, almost monk-like way of living that is lightly-peppered with a few small, luxurious things. I suppose that this is a very European idea, and it was Coco Chanel who once said: “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” Perhaps the way I dress does make me look like I eat caviar and pâté at restaurants for every meal, but as I am writing this, I am eating a bowl of homemade borscht. Why? I’d rather save the money (that I would spend on eating out) to buy a perfume I’ve had my eye on for a few months or to pay for my boots to be resoled before the winter hits.
My life involves lots of staying in, reading, and making home-made food. My splurges are calculated and geared towards making my life really lovely in small ways. I budget for lingerie because it makes me happier than a cocktail or a hamburger, which are delicious, but are gone in half an hour. Lingerie is different: you live your life in it. I can’t really describe what it feels like to step into good lingerie, but imagine that feeling you get when you apply a beautiful, smooth lipstick to your lips or spray on your favorite perfume. Now, imagine that feeling against your skin, underneath your clothes all day. Right?!?
So, why should money-conscious women invest in lingerie? The short answer is that we know it is better to buy high-quality “investment pieces” with our cash, and “investment pieces” include our underwear. A pair of bra and panties that fits your body properly makes your silhouette look amazing, and it helps your clothes fit better. Underwear is the foundation of an outfit; it immediately makes what you are wearing look more structured, as though it has been tailored to your body.
Proper lingerie also resolves a number of wardrobe malfunctions that various body types are prone to. To give you a personal example: puberty, ever the comedian, gave me a bottom that is about two sizes larger than the rest of my relatively-slim body. From my bottom experience, I understand the plight of big-breasted girls. It’s sometimes inconvenient to have a part of your body that not only sticks out in plain view at all times, but also jiggles when you move. In the wrong situation, it can be embarrassing. Before I started wearing proper lingerie, I thought the only thing that could be done to strap down and structure a big butt was to wear one of those scary, Victorian-looking girdles.
That all changed the day I was in the fitting room of a very chic lingerie shop and the shop assistant passed me something through the curtain. It was a small, see-through slip skirt; it was as sheer and delicate as a stocking, but also magically-elasticated. When I pulled it on, it was like I had finally found the perfect bra. I bought two pairs, wore them every day, and never jiggled in public again. So many women I know would really benefit from a visit to a proper lingerie shop, especially because so many have never been properly measured and yet brush properly-fitted bras aside as being “too fancy.”
Now, I am aware that many women shy away from lingerie because it is expensive as hell. I am not suggesting that you should go out and spend 70 squillion dollars on a bra from agent provocateur. Instead, I want to share what I have been doing to score beautiful, high-quality underwear for the whole of my adult life without paying retail price for it.
1. January Sales
My first suggestion is to only buy underwear in the January sales (after the New Year) from stores that sell high-quality, long-lasting underwear.
Before anything goes on sale, I find about ten different bras that I really like from my favorite shops. I try them on in the shop, make sure they fit, leave empty-handed, and then cross my fingers until the end of Christmas rolls around. I normally find at least two or three of the different bras I like in my size, which I then buy along with two or three pairs of matching knickers. I’ve been doing this for most of my twenties, and there have been years when I have managed to buy all of my lingerie for the year for under $100. Amazing.
2. Factory Shops
My second suggestion is to scope out the closest underwear factories in your area and see if they have a factory shop. I’m from the Midlands in England, and my mother lives close to a very famous lingerie factory called Freya, which makes gorgeous, luxury lingerie for women with very large breasts. Whenever I go home to visit my family, we always make a pilgrimage to the dinky little factory shop next to the factory itself. The shop has bra sizes all the way up to AA. and is consequently always comfortingly-packed with women of all different ages and sizes.
The women who work there are absolute superstars and fit you properly, so it even feels like a high-end lingerie shop complete with excellent, attentive staff. When I don’t feel like waiting for the sales in regular shops (like a hungry komodo dragon), I instead make a trip to this factory shop, take an armful of lingerie to the changing room, and get myself kitted-out with all the bras and underwear I need for the year (for about 30% off the retail price!). I’ve been doing this since University, and even when I had a teeny student budget, I could afford two or three bras with multiples of the matching underwear and have enough spare change left over to buy myself a bikini for my next holiday.
3. Customer Loyalty
My third suggestion is the one I have used most recently and absolutely love and recommend: become a regular patron and loyal customer at one small, independent lingerie shop. I’m serious: that teeny-weeny store tucked away somewhere near you that looks terrifyingly-expensive? Yes, that one. Walk inside and look at the underwear to see if anything takes your fancy. It was through doing this that I met the incredible sales assistant who first passed me the butt-bra-slip-skirt that changed my life. I truly love the woman who works at that store; she is a tiny lady from Vietnam with a husky, cigar-smoker’s voice that echoes through the changing rooms who loves her job. She makes you feel like you are getting tailored for a suit when you buy lingerie; getting swiveled and adjusted is all part of the fun, and the end result is extraordinary.
Not only do I love everything she has recommended to me, but she is also very accommodating of the fact that I’m not a multi-billionaire. She never pushes me to buy things that aren’t in my budget. That’s the thing about developing a relationship with a small business: it’s personal and intimate (how fitting for a place selling intimates). They know you, what you like, and how much you’re able to spend. If you show that you’ll give them regular business, they’ll very likely reward your loyalty with discounts.
I quite often disappear for a few months, but when I come back to this store, I am greeted like an old friend. The shopping assistant (and my savior!) gives me a 20% discount on everything I buy, including sale items. She also puts things I want in the back room until I can wrangle the money together to buy the items; in return, I pay lip service to her lovely shop. I talk about her to friends all the time, because I’d much rather she got her sales boosted than some thrush-inducing, multi-billion-dollar lingerie conglomerate.
It’s so funny to think that a shop I was afraid of going into (because I thought I would be looked down on as poor) has actually saved me money. There is nothing quite like owning a bra that is worth $200 that you managed to score for $50. The quality is just out of this world. I feel like a bourgeois European princess every day, even when I’m doing laundry or tucking into a packed lunch.
4. Online Sales
I have to begrudgingly note that you can buy lingerie online at an excellent price, especially during sale season. But personally, I prefer not to do this. It’s too much of a financial gamble to buy a bra online that you haven’t tried on; you often won’t be unable to return it because it was a discounted item. I have only done this once, and it was an expensive disaster. Plus, it takes away one of the great joys of lingerie shopping, which is choosing your intimates in person. I just don’t get the same feeling from looking at bras on a computer screen.
So, in case you were wondering, yes: You are old enough to start buying proper underwear. And yes, you can afford it. And yes, you should start soon. No one should be walking around all day with the loose wire from their bra poking them in the boob!
Phoebe Prentice-Terry is a writer, teacher and survivor of David Cameron’s various experiments in human misery. She likes Gin and Tonics, French skincare products, and is most proud of her collection of Wolford body suits.
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