It’s What’s Inside That Counts: Undergarments
In This Chapter
▶ Everything you ever wanted and needed to know about hosiery
▶ Finding the right bra
▶ Figuring out which panty is right for you
▶ Using body shapers
How many times have you seen a woman in a great outfit and said to yourself, “I love that dress, but how could she let those bra straps hang out like that?!” Here’s the deal: You never want to be the girl in the great outfit with the wrong under- garments. This chapter explains how to make your outfit look even better with only a few purchases and a few key tricks.
Women have a wide variety of choices when it comes to hosiery: stockings, pantyhose, tights, knee highs, or nothing at all. I don’t know how we got into such a complicated state of affairs, but I personally tend to opt for nothing at all (crazy, I know). I remember my grandmother would never leave the house,let alone go to a formal affair, without the right hosiery. But what is considered appropriate and accepted has definitely changed throughout the years. Warmth, office decorum, and what flatters your body best are just a few of the issues to consider as I take you on a journey into the world of hosiery.
Different types of hosiery styles
Hosiery styles vary in color and transparency and come in various patterns. With all these varieties, be sure to select a style that fits your body type:
✓ If you want to appear taller or leaner, wear a darker color or one with a simple seam up the back of the leg.
✓ Lighter colors, especially ones with patterns, draw more attention to your legs and can make them look wider.
The right hose or some great tights can really make an outfit. But hosiery isn’t just a fashion statement; some women wear it to cover up parts of their legs they aren’t fans of, like veins, blemishes — you name it. (I have a friend, in fact, who doesn’t like her knees.) In addition, covering your legs is appropriate or required in certain situations, like at many offices or events. The following sections take a look at pantyhose and stockings (shown in Figure 14-1).
Stockings cover the foot and lower part of the leg and end mid-thigh. Formerly made of woven cloth, they can now be found in knitted wool, cotton, nylon, or silk.
Many women prefer stockings to pantyhose (covered in the next section) for these reasons:
✓ They’re not as restrictive. Stockings can be more comfortable than pantyhose or tights, especially in warm weather.
✓ They’re sexier. Stockings allow for some bare skin on the upper thigh that could inadvertently (or not) be exposed.
Use one of these methods to keep your stockings up:
✓ A garter belt: A garter belt is a piece of lingerie that goes around the waist that has “suspenders” that clip to the top of the stockings (see Figure 14-2).
✓ An elastic garter: Have you ever been to a wedding and watched as the groom pulls a garter off his new wife’s leg and everyone laughs? Of course you have! Well, garters aren’t just wedding souvenirs. You can use them to actually hold stockings up.
✓ “Stay Ups”: Here, the inside of the top of the stocking has an elastic band added to it that allows it to, well, stay up. (Duh, hence the name!)
When women began to wear miniskirts in the 1960s, stockings, which up until then had been kept up with garters, proved to be too short. So one-piece pantyhose came to the fore (interestingly, dancers were the first to come up with the idea of sewing stockings to the leg bands of their briefs). Shortly thereafter, the majority of hosiery sales were in the form of pantyhose (see Figure 14-3). What do so many women like about pantyhose?
✓ They don’t have to worry whether their stockings are sagging or attached.
✓ Pantyhose provide welcome extra warmth when it’s cold outside.
✓ Because pantyhose use a stretch material, they provide extra support, which has a slimming effect on the legs (and, if the pantyhose are control top, to the tummy as well).Hosiery rules
Manufacturers have come up with a wide variety of hosiery textures and designs, including fishnet, fencenet (which has a wider webbing), stripes, checks, and other woven designs. You can also find them with bows, lace panels, and in a rainbow of colors. They can be opaque, medium sheer, or completely sheer. Other advances include a seamless toe or sandal-foot that you can wear with sandals and other open-toe shoes.
The following list offers a bit of guidance to help you decide what style looks best on you and some pointers on how to wear them:
✓ Creating a slimming effect: To get a slimming effect, wear dark hose. An alternative is to wear medium sheer, which is more slimming than very sheer or opaque because it allows for some shading on the leg. Also, wear hose that echo the color of your outfit — a navy skirt or dress with navy hose and navy shoes, for example — to elongate the appearance of your body.
✓ Using hosiery as an accessory: Wearing a simple black dress with a patterned pair of tights or stockings make your legs the centerpiece of your outfit.
✓ Getting a dressier look: Hosiery with a sheen is considered dressier and makes your outfit fancier.
Stocking thickness is measured in denier. The lower the denier number, the sheerer the garment. (Stockings knitted with a higher denier are less sheer but more durable.)
For comfort and style, be sure to keep these tips in mind:
✓ If you wear flesh-colored hosiery, make sure it matches the color of your flesh. Having legs a different color than your arms (either because they’re too dark or too light) looks funny.
✓ Knee highs, a variety of hosiery to be worn under pants, leave marks on your legs that show for some time. If you wear them during the day and intend to go barelegged at night, take them off well ahead of time.
✓ If you wear a garter belt to hold up your stockings, make sure the belt matches the color of the stockings. Also, adjust the straps so that the front straps are two inches shorter than the back ones. That way, they don’t show if your skirt gets hiked up, such as when you sit.
✓ You put the garter belt and stockings on first and your panties on last. Otherwise, you have to remove everything when you go to the bath-room.
✓ Never wear hosiery with open-toe shoes or sandals (see Figure 14-4). Never. No exceptions. In fact, I’m getting anxious just thinking of that outfit!
Figure 14-4: Don’t wear hose with open-toe shoes!
How much should you spend on hosiery? You can get a good pair of brand- name hose or stockings for $12 to $25, and they’ll last a while if cared for properly. Get the right size (hosiery that’s too tight wears out more quickly), and wash them before you put them on to help the material stretch a little (this also helps them fit better). Hand-washing is preferable, but if you must wash hosiery in a washing machine with other clothes, put them in a lingerie bag to protect them.
The bra has a history that stretches back several thousands of years. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century, when Warner, a huge bra manufacturing company, began selling bras in various cup sizes that the “modern” bra was born. Since then, bra manufacturers have been using their creativity to design bras for almost every purpose and occasion.
Types of bras
Women wear bras to prevent sagging, to provide shape for a particular look, and to add a layer of opacity to a sheer top. Today, more than 20 different types of bras are available not to mention all the varieties of designs avail- able for each type. Here is a brief description of the most common categories:
✓ Full-support bras: This type of bra fully envelops the breast (see Figure 14-5). The objective is to give the breast as much support and concealment as possible. Full support bras include minimizers (for large- breasted women who want to appear smaller) and underwire bras (which have wire built into the cup to help support, lift, and shape the breasts).
✓ Seamless bras: Designed more for sheer or fitted clothing (see Figure 14-6), seamless bras are perfect under a T-shirt because no lines show. These come with underwire and padding if you’re looking for a little boost, too!
✓ Strapless bras: Strapless bras, or bandeau bras, are designed to be worn with strapless tops or dresses, and tops that don’t fully cover the shoulders.
✓ Convertible bras: These bras have removable straps that you can wear in a variety of ways (see Figure 14-7): over the shoulder, crisscrossed in the back, as a halter, as a T-back, or without the straps. The crisscross style is great for underneath a racerback tank or a sleeveless top.
If you don’t have a convertible bra, try the Hollywood Hook-Up (www. Hollywoodfashiontape.com), shown in Figure 14-8. This device converts your bra into a racerback, saving you from having to buy a new bra.
✓ Plunge bras: These are ideal when you wear low-cut garments but still have enough coverage to feel comfortable.
©Jeremy Winter, Hollywood Fashion Tape, Inc.
Figure 14-8: A hook-up turns a regular bra into a racerback.
✓ Shelf bras: These bras support the breast but don’t cover it, giving the appearance that you’re not wearing a bra.
✓ Demi bras: These bras leave the top half of the breast exposed and are good when you wear a top with a deep neckline.
✓ Padded bras: Padded bras are designed to increase the appearance of the volume of the breast.
✓ Push-up bras: These bras create more cleavage by using padding or gel to push up the breast. One of the most well-known push-up bras is the Wonderbra.
✓ Adhesive bras: These are latex-free adhesives that you place on your nipples to hide them. They give no support at all. Wear them with backless dresses or when you want the braless look but want to maintain a hint of modesty.
Many brands sell nipple concealers. Most are discarded after use (don’t worry; it doesn’t kill when you take them off!). I love Low Beams; they’re $10 at www.barenecessities.com.
✓ Specialty bras: This category includes a variety of bras such as
• Nursing bras: These open up to allow a nursing mother to feed her child without removing the bra.
• Longline bras: The base of these stretch down to your waist to hold in your tummy.
Each style of bra comes in an assortment of fabrics, colors, and designs. As long as the bra fits you properly (see the next section) and is flattering on you, feel free to play with different options.
Have a variety of designs so that you have something appropriate to wear underneath any top you put on. If you wear a light-colored or sheer top, for example, wear a nude or flesh-toned bra that won’t show through the fabric. If you wear a lot of black or heavier materials on top, you can play with darker- colored bras or bras with designs or lace, because you won’t see those things through the shirt.
How many different types of bras you need depends on your lifestyle. If you have one type of bra that you like and wear every day, having a supply of those suffices. But if you attend events where you’re likely to wear a strap- less gown or one with a plunging neckline, even if these events occur only once or twice a year, then you want to have some of those types of bras in your drawer. If you’re active and engage in various sports, you need some sports bras. Whether you ever stock up on sexy bras is a personal decision, but it’s a good idea, because even if you don’t dress overtly sexy, just knowing you’re wearing a sexy bra underneath can do wonders to your mood and your psyche, and give you that extra boost of confidence!
Getting fitted by a pro
Experts say that something like 8 out of 10 women aren’t wearing the right bra size. Let this section help you avoid being one of those unfortunate women.
Why is it so important for a bra to fit perfectly, you ask? Walk down the street and see all the women whose flesh bulges out of their bras in one place or another, and that’s one answer. Then ask your women friends how many find their bras comfortable, and that gives you another. A bra that fits properly leaves you looking and feeling your best. A bra that’s too tight is uncomfortable, and one that’s too loose doesn’t give you the necessary support. Finally, a well-fitting bra makes you look slimmer. Here’s why: Your rib cage is your thinnest point. If you’re like most women, the lower you go below your rib cage, toward your belly, the wider you are. So you want to show off that rib cage, but you can’t do that if your breasts are sagging and covering most of it up. If your bra fits you correctly, however, your breasts look perky and stand out from your rib cage, making it visible.
Your correct bra size is very difficult to figure out on your own. To get fitted properly for a bra, go to the lingerie department of a department store or to a lingerie shop. The staff at either of these places can provide the expertise you need. Fittings are free at most department stores, and you don’t generally need an appointment. Ask for the lead specialist (she’s had the most experience). And keep in mind that you can’t get a proper measurement with your bra on. So you’re going to have to take it off and allow the expert to measure you. Don’t allow modesty to prevent you from getting fitted for the perfect bra; these experts have seen everything and are very professional.
Get yourself professionally fitted at least once a year, and more often if you’ve undergone any dramatic weight loss or gain.
Shopping for bras
Almost all department stores have a lingerie department stocked with a wide variety of merchandise and the salespeople necessary to help with size and style. You can also go to any of the many lingerie shops and boutiques. Victoria’s Secret is always a good choice, too, because it has many locations and a large variety of styles at reasonable prices. You can also find specialty bra stores, where the personnel not only fit you for a bra but also alter the bra for you right at the store. These are often more expensive, but you’re sure to get the perfect fit and finest quality.
Wherever you shop, follow these steps to find a bra that fits properly (Figure 14-9 shows the different parts of a bra):
1. Put it on the loosest fitting.
A bra stretches over time, and you’ll have to tighten it eventually, so you want to start out with room to tighten it.
Over time, the elastic in a bra stretches, and you’ll notice that the bra rides up your back and doesn’t support your breasts. When that hap- pens, go to the next set of hooks. When you’ve exhausted the hooks, it’s time to get a new bra.
2. See whether you can run one finger comfortably around the inside edge of the band.
If you can’t, it’s too tight. If you can fit two fingers, then it’s too loose.
3. Take a look at yourself in the mirror.
Do your breasts bulge out the sides or the top? Unless it’s a push-up bra that you want to boost your figure, bulging breasts means it’s too tight.
4. Check out the gore, or middle of the bra in the front.
It should be flat against your chest. If it’s being pushed away from you, either the cups are too big or the band is too big.
5. Move around and see how it feels:
• Bend over to make sure that your breasts don’t flop out. If they do, that’s a sure sign that the bra is too big.
• Put your arms over your head. If the band slips, it’s too big, but if it cuts, it’s too small.
• Twist your torso left and right. The bra should move with you, staying firmly in place.
6. Pay attention to how the straps feel and how the cups look.
Are the straps weighing down your shoulders? If they need to be that tight for the bra to feel supportive, then the band size is not right. If the bra has wrinkles in the cup, the cup is too big.
When buying a bra, consider two key aspects: look and comfort. If you find a bra that you like that has both qualities, then where you buy it doesn’t matter. But if you’re dissatisfied with most of the bras you wear, I suggest you go to either a quality department store or a lingerie shop and spend whatever it takes to get a perfect bra.
Each manufacturer turns out slightly different bras in the same size, and that’s true season to season. So if you find a bra that fits perfectly, you may want to buy several.
Bras have elastic in them and can be delicate, especially those with under- wire and padding. By taking proper care of your bras, you can extend their life. Some tips:
✓ Wash them correctly. Hand-washing your bras is best. If you must put them in a machine, place them in a lingerie pop-up bag. And use a detergent that doesn’t contain lanolin, which breaks down elastic. Brands made for lingerie or that are ecologically friendly don’t contain lanolin. (Unfortunately, the laundry detergents you commonly find at the grocery store do contain lanolin.)
Shopping for panties is a lot less complicated than shopping for bras. Most of your decisions have to do with personal preference. What style is most comfortable for you (full brief, bikini, or thong)? Which cut is going to give you the coverage you need for the outfit you plan to wear? Do you prefer, silk, nylon, or cotton? Do you have a preference about color and design? And, most importantly, which cut is the most flattering on your body? Following are the different types of panties (many of which you can see in Figure 14-10):
✓ Briefs: The traditional standby, briefs today come in low cut (perfect if you’re wearing low-cut jeans) and high cut (which give you the illusion of a longer leg).
✓ Bikini: These offer less coverage than briefs but still cover your behind.
Low-rise bikinis are good when you wear low-rise pants. Some are called string bikinis because the sides are thin, like strings.
✓ Thongs: In the early 1990s, women began wearing thong underwear so they would no longer have visible panty lines (VPL). Thong underwear has only a thin strip of fabric connecting the front of the panty to the back. This style doesn’t cover your butt, and it definitely feels different from traditional briefs and bikinis. Women who wear thongs swear by their comfort, so before you definitely decide they don’t belong in your underwear drawer, you may want to at least try one. You may be pleasantly surprised by their comfort and by the way your clothes look and feel over them. (There’s something to be said about the way you feel psychologically when you’re wearing one, too!)
Don’t be afraid to wear a thong, even if you don’t think it’ll be flattering on you. Because a thong provides so little coverage, your body actually looks better and you have no panty lines to worry about. Without elastic to dig into your skin, it gives you an overall smooth look.
✓ G-strings: G-strings are similar to thongs, except that the connector is only a string rather than a strip of fabric.
✓ Boy shorts: This style of panty, which offers complete rear coverage (more like an actual short, hence the name), also eliminates VPL by extending further down the leg. The only drawback is that it’s another layer under your clothing. If you’re trying to appear thinner, go with a thong or G-string to avoid that extra layer between you and your pants, skirt, or dress.
✓ Seamless panties: These use spandex in the material to hold the panty in place and eliminate the seam around the thigh.
As for materials, cotton panties are the easiest to care for, but silk is the most luxurious. And undies made from microfiber wick away moisture, making them good for those who exercise. Why limit yourself to one style? It makes sense to have a variety for different occasions. What you pick to wear each day will be a function of your outfit, your activities, and — mostly — your mood.
Body shapers are amazing inventions that help improve your appearance by holding you in and smoothing you out. They use compression to make you appear smaller. Shapers come in a variety of styles from full-body shapers to ones that cover your stomach and upper legs. Which type you choose depends on where you think you need the most help. The original shapers were called girdles and were designed to keep a woman’s belly in. Panty
girdles added hips and thighs. Today you can find control briefs, control capris, control camisoles, and control slips. You can wear a shaper under everything from jeans to an evening gown.
When I do “Ambush Makeover” on NBC’s Today show, I put everyone — whether a size 2 or a size 20 — in Spanx (see Figure 14-11). An alternative to Spanx is Assets, a less expensive line sold at Target.
Some tips on wearing and caring for shapers:
✓ You can wear a shaper with or without panties. Your choice.
✓ If you wear a shaper on your lower half, don’t forget to wear a bra that fits properly and enhances your upper half. You want the whole look to be flattering and seamless — the perfect foundation underneath your outfit.
✓ Make sure you follow the washing instructions for the particular garment.
Because you’re investing in a piece like this, take care of it properly.
You want to be comfortable in your clothing in order to be productive and enjoy your day. So dress to flatter your body type, and if you get a little help from a shaper where you need it, you’ll be ready for anything.