The Lingerie Rebellion

I wasn’t going to cover this article by Ruth La Ferla in The New York Times, only because I thought all of you would know how I feel about it. But based on the number of emails I received asking me about it &/or suggesting it as a post, I can only conclude that you don’t know me that well. *wink*

On the subject of purposely showing off one’s lingerie, I am decidedly against it. Buying couture fashions which are designed to show off one’s lingerie is the opposite of risque. It’s contradictory to tease. If you get that, you may wish to stop reading here; if not, please continue.

Forgetting price tags, which is hard to do with a runway Dior or Louis Vuitton, let’s talk about the pragmatic issues.

Where is one supposed to wear a dress which looks like your worst public bathroom use nightmare? One still needs to wear panties beneath the panties for show, right? So just what is the deal here?

And forgetting such silly extremes (fashions, I gather, which were made just for blogger fodder), dresses which look like slips and tops which look like camisoles are really not ‘new’. Nearly every spring brings the slip dress, every holiday the cami tops. In each case, very few actually wear such looks without donning the appropriate undergarments beneath them. (Well, slips may be skipped — much to my dismay — but I think you get my point.)

Such practical matters aside, what designers, press and the fashionistas themselves who wear such things forget is the real romance of lingerie.

What makes lingerie seductive is the fact that we’re not supposed to see it.

A glimpse of stocking is supposed to be thrilling, if not shocking. The lacy hem of a slip or petticoat, should induce palpitations. As I’ve said before:

Sexy is wanting a person out of their clothing. Sexy is tease, showing a bit here and there which makes you wonder and long to see more.

Naked is done. Like a sprawled, spent bod after the fact.

It’s sexy in its own way, sure. But it’s not the turn on, the anticipation, you get from a dressed person.

…Lingerie is tease. Whether you spot bits of it from a naughty vantage point or you have the privilege of seeing her in nothing else… Lingerie is longing and anticipation. And more than just a wee bit of awe.

So, then, how could lingerie that’s thrown in your face even attempt to match such grace?

As for the matter of lingerie becoming “display pieces,” I can’t argue that. Some do it. And it typically has the opposite reaction than the wearer would like.

I was at a professional conference just a few weeks ago and a woman in her late-30’s, who should have known better, was showing her thong with butterfly applique off to all of us unlucky enough to sit behind her. Did any one there find the whale-tail sexy? I doubt it. We all were uncomfortable, wondering if we should tell the poor dear that while she may know it was showing, it was not a good idea if she wanted a professional image. A glimpse may make a person smitten — to want to see more — but 45 minutes of viewing a person’s thong top only reminds us how uncomfortable we are sitting there. Instead of having men lined up to talk with her between sessions, people avoided her. Her thong’s visibility seemed to warn of some disease — at least a social one.

Because it’s done, doesn’t mean it should be.

Examples such as “Victoria Beckham in a fluorescent pink bra under a zebra-striped top” and “Ashley Olsen in her fashion signature, a black bra under a tissue-thin white T-shirt” only further convince me of the idiot factor at work here. I don’t know a single person who dresses or wishes to dress like these people. Beckham is what we call Low Rent; and I suspect any Olsen who wears such an ensemble is trying to convince us she really needs to wear a bra. In either case it’s “Look at me, I have boobies!”

But honestly, pick any celeb, with or without lingerie, and ask me if I care to dress like them. Go ahead, ask me. The answer is, “No, thank you.”

Contrary to popular belief, there are many of us who do not fall for celebs & their fashions. This is not high school, and even if it was, we don’t care what the cheerleaders wear.

When La Ferla writes that, “Corsets, slips, panties and camisoles are as extravagant in their design, and as coveted, as Louboutin platforms or a YSL tote,” I reply that this is not a counter-revolution of exhibitionist expression. In a culture where Casual Fridays have invaded our whole week and participation in the workforce (either via the impracticality of the work itself or having been outlawed in employee handbooks) prevents us from little more than uniform status. So our underthings are often the first (and last) place we have to experience beauty and luxury. We just aren’t happy being asexual beings all the time; we rebel with lingerie.

Then they try to call on Madonna and the rest of the girls who just wanna have fun:

Such a notion may have been subversive in the heyday of new wave acts like Blondie, Cyndi Lauper or the youthful Madonna, “when bras suddenly became sportswear,” said David Wolfe, the creative director of the Doneger Group, which forecasts fashion and retail trends. Today the concept has gone mainstream, Mr. Wolfe added, confiding that he was nonetheless taken aback during a recent visit to the Mall of America outside of Minneapolis at the sight of dozens of women, young and not-so-young, sunning themselves poolside at his hotel, wearing Victoria’s Secret molded bras.

A bra poolside?! Oh please do alert the media — and good luck convincing them that a bra is any different than a bikini top.

And for pity’s sake, doesn’t anyone see what was happening with that 80’s look? Do I really have to explain the contrast between youth rebelling against broad-shouldered power suits with helmet hair? (Or, quite possibly, momma’s Laura Ashley floral prints which matched the couch and curtains.) But were those looks really sexy? Was seeing Madonna’s bra beneath her wide-weave mesh top as sexy as spotting that bit of lace between the buttons of a woman’s blouse? Were those giant gold bullet bras with spandex pants as thrilling as the lace peeking beneath the hem of a lady’s skirt? I say, “No.”

By reducing bras to the same status as tee-shirts, the bras lose their mystique. So does the woman.

Now there’s only one layer to peel away — should you be so lucky. Now there’s only one thing between you and your objective of nakedness — and while that one thing hides the must-cover-bits, it also removes the realm of wonder. Wonder is a huge part of desire.

To wonder what she wears beneath that sweater is to then wonder what she looks like in just her bra. The it’s a hop-skip-jump to naked. See a bra strap? And you feel a wistful desire to be the one allowed to hook one’s finger around the strap and slid it up her shoulder and back into hiding. Such things require intimacy, the permission to touch. And if you have that, well, you can just as easily imagine sliding if off her shoulder too.

Bras anyone can see loose that magic. Big-whoop, it’s a big red bra strap. Big-whoop, it’s a glittering whale-tale. Anyone, everyone, can see them. What’s so special about that?

Stripped of their erotic charge, these garments are “elevated to acceptability as part of the visible wardrobe,” [Farid Chenoune] wrote.

Which helps to explain why the slip, a modest cover-up that once doubled as a symbol of seduction, is no more steamy or subversive to a modern eye than knee socks.

Heavens! Slips are steamy! (You’ll never convince me otherwise.) And knee socks? Ah, if one sees the entire sock on a leg, it’s quite erotic. Even knowing that it is such a sock is erotic. Much more erotic than a bare leg above the average cuff of a crew sock. Why? Because the over-the-knee sock begs the viewer to peel it away…

The only ‘stripping of erotic charge’ going on here is by designers and faux fashion folk who insist upon (or fall for) the mistaken notion that public display of private items is elevated in any sense.

Lingerie is erotic, not by virtue of what is shown, but rather by what is not shown. And that includes itself as well as the lady beneath it.

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