Not Dressing in Sexy Underwear

You have to feel confident about yourself and your body to pull off racy underwear so don’t feel the need to force it

Q: I keep hearing talk of sexy lingerie from places such as Agent Provocateur. It’s not something that my husband has ever mentioned, and I favour functional M&S cotton knickers. Am I neglecting him by not dressing in sexy underwear?

A: No, you are not. I don’t want to get all political about panties because sexy smalls can be great fun, particularly when you are not planning to keep them on for too long. However, the sexy underwear market is built on the premise that lacy bras and frilly knickers make women feel sexy and make men feel like having sex. I suspect that the current Agent Provocateur video gets closer to the truth. It features a faceless woman in an anonymous hotel room dressed not to please herself but to please the man who bought her the £350 “Birthday Suit” in which she is writhing around.

Also, while I am up here on my soapbox, the proliferation of images of underwear models has done little to enhance the confidence of the average woman. To become an underwear model a woman must be about 5ft 10in, with a 34in-36in bust and a 23in-25in waist. Compare that with NHS statistics, which indicate that the average British woman stands 5ft 3in in her socks and weighs 11st. Is she going to feel like a siren in a “sleek and sexy vibrant red silk satin chiffon brief, with teasing ouvert opening and oversized bows decorating each hip”? Nope, she’s going to feel like a small, fat person with a red ribbon tied around her arse.

You have to feel confident about yourself, and your body, to pull off sexy lingerie. Sadly, sexy smalls simply make most women feel the gap between the shape they have and the shape they wish they had even more keenly. Recently the online fashion retailer released the results of its Invisible Women Study. More than 90 per cent of women in their forties and fifties questioned for the report said that they were so fed up with the combination of a youth-obsessed fashion industry and their own unhappiness with what they saw when they looked in the mirror that they, as a group, have now been labelled as suffering from “mid-life mirror angst syndrome”. In a timely riposte, the UK lingerie brand Ultimo has announced that it has signed seven “real” women to be the faces, and bodies, of its new campaign. They were chosen from 10,000 applicants, from size 8 to 18, but the oldest is only 31 and none of them looks porky.

You don’t say what age you are, or what size, but I suspect that if you were the kind of woman who enjoyed trussing herself up in G-strings and underwire you would already be doing so. Having said that, sometimes you have to try things, if only to discover that you hate them. Many years ago I, too, made an attempt to overhaul my desultory collection of underwear. I took a trip to the lingerie specialists Rigby & Peller in West London, where a stout woman of a certain age took me into a changing room and measured me. She smiled sympathetically and suggested that I took myself to Harrods, where I could find a nice line of Calvin Klein vests.

Malcolm McLaren said, rather dismissively, that his son, Joe, wanted to open a “posh knicker shop”. Twelve months later Joe’s “posh knicker shop” exploded its shiny satin and lace contents all over Broadwick Street, Soho, and the entire underwear industry seemed to change overnight. The combination of Agent Provocateur and Eva Herzigova’s “Hello Boys” led to a lingerie revolution.

Despite the recession the lingerie market is still growing. UK sales are worth £3.3 billion a year and 56 per cent of that is bras. Yet, as Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, pointed out, sales of men’s underwear never fluctuate, except when there is a recession, when they dip slightly. In view of your own preference for comfort over titillation and, indeed, the economic climate, I think it is time that we all stopped worshipping at the altar of the frilly-knicker merchants and turned our thoughts to those of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, who said: “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.”

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