Reader Request: Employing Underthings

underwear lingerie basics

Kenzie dropped this one into the suggestion box:

can you do a post on underwear? like the right kind of bras and panties to help avoid lumps, bumps, and lines on different outfit types, as well as employing slips and camisoles when necessary.

Whew. This one is a toughie for me. I defer to K-Line on all things bra, and must refer you to her amazing guest post on bra fittings to get started. I won’t claim to be an expert at underthings, and know from experience that folks get VERY TOUCHY when this topic is discussed. So here’s the requisite boatload of caveats: No two bodies are alike, so no two women will require the same undergarments for the same purposes. I’ll tell you what I know has worked for my clients and worked for me. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

All righty then. Let’s dig in.

What I know about bras

I know that what looks adorable on the rack may look atrocious under a tight tee shirt. I know that small breasts sometimes do better in full coverage cups. I know that absolutely NO ONE agrees upon how to measure for a bra, but that I’ve never been able to puzzle out any of the DIY instructions and have far better luck getting help from department store employees. Bras are tough. They just are. I don’t know a single woman who can sail into her local Vicky’s Secret and buy a new brassiere without trying it on. And probably some agonizing.

In terms of universals? There aren’t any. But here are some personal observations that might help:

  • “Back fat” is a term that was created by people who market and sell stuff. Bras dig. I’ve seen professional athletes with less than 5% body fat whose bras dig into their backs. Try not to get too wound up about it.
  • That said, remember that a bra with a wide band is less likely to subdivide you than a bra with a narrow band. (Assuming you are slightly less squishy a bit further down your torso.) This is why longline bras were the norm for ages – less digging.
  • Try a variety of cup styles to see what works. Try them while wearing a fitted tee shirt, the ultimate tester of a bra’s prowess. I wore demi cups for AGES until the good folks at Bali put me into one of their One Smooth U Lift Bras (pictured above), and blew my mind. I need a padded bra for nipple-related reasons, but the demi cups jutted out from my bust. This full coverage bra has a profile that sits closer to my frame. No more visible bra lines! Moral: If you can find more than one style in your size, try as many as you can.
  • If you’re going to invest big bucks, do it on a bra that fits you beautifully – even under a single, tight layer of clothing – in a color that matches your skin tone. If you ever wear white, you’ll need it. Pretty is nice, nude is necessary.
  • Strapless and convertible bras often fit differently than standard bras. Get professional help, if you can. (I own neither. I simply tuck my straps into my cups. The joys of being a small-busted gal who wears padding!)
  • In terms of different bras for different outfits? I don’t know, friends, I feel like the aforementioned fabulously fitting nude bra should cover most of your bases. You can employ various other underthings to deal with potential issues.

What I know about panties

What I know about panties makes me feel old. Since I have a list of reproductive issues that would turn your head around, I am forced to stick to cotton hi-cuts. And every gynecologist I’ve ever seen has reinforced the idea that 100% cotton is best, best, best for your health. So.

  • 100% cotton panties are best for vaginal health. Seductive they ain’t, but if you get yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or any other recurring infection or pain-related issue, they’re the way. The only way. I know that has nothing to do with fitting/flattery, but allow me a brief stint on the soapbox.
  • Thongs work for many people in terms of seamlessness, but there are two caveats. A properly fitting thong doesn’t dig into you. If it digs into your hips, you’ve just negated any assumed pantyline invisibility. Also thongs aren’t good for anyone yeast-prone, so be aware.
  • Unless you are wearing thin or tight pants, a thin or tight dress, or a thin or tight skirt, you can wear just about any style of properly fitting panty and no one will know. Full and a-line skirts are especially forgiving, so bring on the briefs!
  • I got into a minor scuffle with two lingerie experts over panty fitting once. One maintained that I should be wearing size medium panties because, well, I’m relatively medium-sized. The other agreed with ME, and I maintain that I should wear panties that sit flat and quiet against my hips and rear end without pinching or subdividing me. In most cases that’s a size extra-large. I’m not saying that everyone should size up three full sizes, just sharing my own experience and preference. Undies that dig are uncomfortable, and they show through your clothes. That is all.
  • If you’ve got on tights or shape wear, there’s nothing wrong with going commando. (Assuming that doing so won’t make you uncomfortable/squeamish.)
  • If, like most women, you get bloated over the course of the month, keep a few styles and sizes of panties on-hand. What sits flat on the 5th may squeeze your parts by the 28th.
  • As is the case with bras, it will benefit you to own at least one pair of perfectly fitting panties that match your skin tone. Sometimes pants are white, sometimes skirts are sheer. If all your panties are leopard print, that may become a problem.

What I know about slips and pettipants

I know that an unlined skirt and pair of tights will fight each other without a slip to keep the peace. I know that some decoratively edged slips show through thin or tight dresses. I know that slips can cause their own sets of fitting woes. More specifically:

  • Buy a slip that is comfortable around your waist. Many slips have teeny tiny elastic waistbands that love to dig into your midsection. I prefer versions with flat, wide, stretch lace waistbands – like this oneย – which may migrate around me a bit but do NOT dig.
  • If your thighs rub against each other and that irritates you, try pettipants instead of a slip. Actually, even if you’re not fussed about thigh chafing, consider pettipants. They’re pretty amazing. And offer a bit more protection should you saunter across a breezy subway grate, Marilyn Monroe-style.
  • I have never, ever successfully wornย a full slip. I know they must be good for something – probably some sort of complex dress – but eesh, they just never work for me. I tend to wear fitted stuff up top and volume on the bottom with a cinched waist, so full slips just get wadded up and mangled under all that.
  • I don’t believe that slips are necessary any time skirts or dresses are worn. Obviously, a lined skirt or dress doesn’t need an additional layer shoved under there, but even unlined skirts don’t always require a slip. If I’m cold, if I’m wearing tights, or if I just feel I need the extra coverage, that’s one thing. But so long as I’m not wearing a flippy full skirt and going panty-free (which has literally never happened ever), I skip the slip.

What I know about shape wear

Holy moly, you wanna talk “hot topic”? I know that shape wear is controversial, and that many folks feel it’s a tool of oppression. I know that I waffle on it myself. I know that I own a couple of pieces and they’re helpful at times. I know that for me, they are NOT for every day wear. A few more thoughts:

  • I honestly don’t see the point of anything less than a high-waisted, mid-thigh piece like the one shown above. (Which I own and recommend.) I know there must be some body types out there who can benefit from simple shape wear briefs or who only want a cami, but I figure if I’m going to bother pouring myself into this kind of thing, I might as well smooth out everything from bust to legs.
  • Actually, since many women would rather include the portion of the back where their bra band rests, this one-piece is a great idea. HOWEVER, it will only work if you have a statistically proportionate torso. And you may not know that until you try it on. Frustrating.
  • Shape wear should not be so horrifyingly uncomfortable that you are in misery while wearing it. Yes, it will feel snug and yes, it should offer compression. But if you can’t breathe, feel faint, or experience any other severe discomfort, you are wearing the wrong size. Do not buy shape wear a size smaller than you should wear in hopes of making yourself appear smaller. You’ll just be miserable and possibly make yourself ill.
  • Shape wear will not make you look a size smaller. I don’t care what anyone says. It will smooth you out, and firm you up and is wonderful for outfits where you might worry about The Jiggle. It will not help you fit into a dress that is too small, and it will not compress you into looking 10 pounds lighter.

What I know about camisoles

I know that I don’t think all camisoles should be shape wear, although most of them seem to be. I know that the only kind I’ve found useful are slippery nylon blends. Furthermore:

  • A slippery camisole that matches your skin tone is a very useful piece to have. It can make many sheer garments appear more opaque, and can add warmth on cold days.
  • If you are experiencing some minor bra digging and don’t feel like dealing with shape wear, sometimes a fitted cami can even things out a bit. This will only work if your outer layer isn’t skin-tight.
  • Unless they’re going to show, I’ve never seen the point of lacy or embellished camis. That stuff just makes for lumps and bumps under your clothing. But then, I’m an old stick in the mud.

What I know about specialty lingerie

Zilch. Zippo. Nada. I’ve never worn a longline, don’t own a garter belt, and all my panties have crotches. Cant’ be of much help here, I’m afraid.

DAMN that got long. Hopefully I covered most of the bases and dispensed some helpful – or, at least, amusing – information about my own views on and experiences with underthings. Again, I do my utmost to be all-inclusive, all-encompassing, and all-loving because I want everyone who reads this blog to feel welcome and respected and important and gorgeous and worthy. If you felt omitted from this post, it was not an intentional, malicious, or judgmental exclusion. I am human. I try to consider all the angles, but I canโ€™t always see them.

Related post: The Perils of Undergarments

Top image courtesy Dianamite420. And yes, it’s meant to be amusing.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

Originally posted 2012-05-11 06:16:46.

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93 Responses to “Reader Request: Employing Underthings”

  1. Terri

    This is all kinds of awesome. About slips: I’ve never had one that didn’t either ride way up or nearly fall down completely. They’re slinky weirdness for me.

  2. Nethwen

    On Pettipants: I wore a pair when I was a bridesmaid because the dresses were a bit shear. My thighs touch and as I walked, the pettipants rode up until their entire length was bunched up against my crotch. They did nothing for keeping my thighs comfortable and since I was largely in public, I couldn’t pull them down every time they crawled up. Fortunately, the skirts had some volume, so I don’t think it was obvious to anyone else.

    Since then, I’ve discovered that the only shorts that stay in place when my thighs rub are tightly fitting – e.g. bike shorts.

    Also, if you sew, underpants are some the the quickest, easiest garments to sew and customize. You can get the leg opening just right and combine it with a waist height that is perfect for you. Appropriate fabric and elastic might have to be ordered online, but the options are still more that what you will find in stores – especially useful if you are looking for skin toned fabric in your preferred style. Once you get the hang of it, you can make a pair in an hour.

    • Sal

      Yoiks, thanks for letting us know about the pettipants, Nethwen! Bike shorts sound like a good alternative, though I imagine they have the same warmth/clinginess issues as shapewear in the hot summer months.

      • Stephanie

        Ditto, Nethwen- I use bike shorts too to prevent the dreaded thigh rub. I do also have one of those high waist-to-mid thigh shapewear pieces that Sal pictured above, but that’s definitely not something I would want to wear every time I wear a skirt.

      • Anonymous

        That’s odd – I’ve relied on pettipants for decades, literally, and have never had a pair that crept up…. I have in all different lengths – always a nylon silky material. I know there are some cotton knit/blend out there; maybe those creep??

        • Sal

          They work fine for me, too, but I think it just depends on how the figure and the pettipants interact!

  3. Rose

    I’m actually marginally obsessed with undergarments, and appreciated this post. Thanks!

    I’d like to add that if you’re especially tall, it might be a good idea to look into stockings instead of pantyhose/tights. Things that fit that magical ‘average woman’ result in the dreaded crotch migration issue on me, so I long ago converted to stockings and garters (if only the husband actually cared about ’em too… but oh well).

    HOWEVER, most ‘garter belts’ out there are nothing but super-flimsy gift wrapping, and don’t actually cause your stockings to, say, stay up. After mutilating my Freddie’s belts with safety pins and a sewing kit to attempt to get them to stay put, I finally discovered girdles. Yes, they can totally be comfortable, and they STAY PUT. And the clips are made of actual metal instead of cheap plastic.

    Anyway, I’m in love with my girdle. If you’re a fan of retro lingerie at all, I can’t recommend enough. They’re based in London so shipping isn’t cheap, but I adore everything I’ve gotten from them.

    The only problem with stockings is that the clips tend to show through super-clingy skirts, so I pretty much just don’t wear super-clingy skirts. Problem solved!

  4. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    LOL at “old stick in the mud” – hardly! But I so agree (at least for myself) about sizing up on panties. Nothing more uncomfortable than too-tight underthings. I live in camisoles, just the plain cotton ones from GAP with the shelf bra — the advantage of being small busted!

  5. Diana

    I am a big fan of seamed bras. The European brands tend to be best. Yes, there is a place for a seamless contoured bra, but unless you are wearing a fitted tee or something, a seamed bra is generally better at providing a nice, natural shape AND is more supportive. I do not wear padded bras at all (lined, yes. Padded, no) since i don’t think they look natural on me at all; here, again, I have many more options in the seamed bra category as it seems like almost all of the seamless bras are either heavily padded or extremely skimpy. They are generally more expensive though.

    For underwear (sorry, I refuse to call them panties. Hate the word) I am a huge fan of the low rise hipster style from the Gap. 100% cotton (yay!) and provides ample coverage for a big butt while not being too baggy for my flat stomach.

    • GingerR

      Seamed bras have fallen out of favor lately, but they are excellent for shaping.
      I had a run-in with breast cancer a few years back and have some dents to prove it. A seamed bra gives me more shaping so I don’t have to be reminded everytime I look in the mirror.

    • Meg

      Hi Diana and Ginger R, wondering if you have specific suggestions for seamed bras? Very curious about this suggestion… Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Roxy77

    Hi Sal!

    What a great post! And I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the only one that has to “size up” when buying panties. I’m a size 4 and have to buy size large in order to avoid panty lines! I can’t help but wonder what size larger gals have to buy…

    • Sal

      ROCK! Thanks for sharing that link, Athena – I bet others will love the wickers option, too!

        • Nihongo Dame Desu

          Little known secret–this stuff also make a great foundation primer for your face. Yup, really! It;s a tiny fraction of the cost of most foundation primers and in my experience, works just as well!

          • Eternal*Voyageur

            Only if your pores don’t get blocked easily. This stuff is pure silicone, and it would block my pores and make a mess of my face in a few days. But then again so would silicone-based foundation primers (which I avoid).

  7. Carol

    Definitely agree about sizing up on panties to get a comfortable fit. If they’re so tight you can’t forget you’re wearing them, they’re too tight!

    I’d like to wear skirts more often, especially in the summer, but like many of you I suffer from the dreaded thigh-rubbing problem. Pettipants work pretty well for me, but sometimes they do ride up. Has anyone tried the new Jockey Skimmies? They look like bike shorts but sound like they’re lighter weight.

    About a year ago I had a professional bra fitting. It was life changing. It’s possible to need a different size bra depending on the style – I never realized that! At the same time, I was fitted for a partial breast prothesis. Many years ago I had a lumpectomy. I knew that there were prosthetic breasts available for women who had mastectomies, but being clueless I didn’t know there are also partial prosthetics in many shapes and sizes. I couldn’t get bras to fit and took to wearing cheap sports bras, which really don’t give much support. Thanks to my prothesis and the bra fitting, plus an assortment of pretty bras, I’m a new woman! I highly recommend a fitting to anyone who has problems finding the right size bra.

    • GingerR

      I’m going to look for those Jockey items. I swear by Pettipants. With straight jeans skirts I need a slip to keep everything smooth and regular ones bunch up. Pettipants stay down for me.

      I totally agree that a bra fitting is in order when you’ve had a life event that changes your shape like surgery or childbirth. I got my band sized down and up cup sized up and it’s amazing how much better everything works! If you’re at an outlet mall you can go to a Hanes store and they’ll measure you, then you aren’t someplace where the bras are extra expensive.

  8. Elizabeth Ann

    Here’s what I wonder about underwear, is 98% cotton really that different from 100% cotton in terms of health benefits? Most of the underwear I currently own is in the 97-98% cotton range. The few pairs of 100% cotton panties I own I hate. The elastic at the waist and legs fit but they create a kind of bubble effect with extra fabric everywhere else. It seems like a little stretch is all you need to fix the problem, but I do worry about the health of my lady parts (especially after a year where I’ve discovered that some feminine hygiene products and even certain kinds of toilet paper do NOT agree with me). Anyone know a source of good information on this topic?

    • Sal

      For what it’s worth, I’m happy to fudge 2%-3% myself. It might be wrong, but you’ve got a great point about the 100% cotton versions. Sometimes just a wee bit of spandex can help with fit.

      I’ll try to remember to ask my gynecologist next time I visit.

  9. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    What a great round-up. Thanks, Sal!

    And seriously: I have never, ever heard or thought about the health benefits of 100% cotton panties. Ever. Thanks for finally enlightening me.

    • LinB

      When I was a child In hospital (for tonsil removal) if you didn’t wear cotton panties, you were not allowed to wear ANY panties. My grandmother’s generation was all bossy about the absolute necessity of not wearing any panties while you slept, to allow “everything to dry out down there.” Except during your period, of course.

      • Nethwen

        I seem to remember reading somewhere that in Victorian times, ladies underpants did not have a crotch. The reasoning was that they would stay fresh and dry down there as long as the skin was open to the air. Any historians know the truth of this? If it was the case, it would help explain why showing leg would be frowned upon.

        I also seem to remember that underwear didn’t come into common use until the 1500 – 1700s. My history of underwear book is packed away or I would check my proposed facts.

        • LinB

          The main reason Victorian bloomers had no crotch was for convenience: with all those petticoats and long skirts, what you aimed for was a wide-legged squat to eliminate bodily wastes. Crotchless panties allowed you to achieve this without much shifting around of all that excess fabric around your waist and legs, or having to manipulate hooped skirts any more than necessary.

  10. Katharine

    All I know about underthings is that I wish to goodness people would just STOP PUTTING LACE ON THEM. And bows, and ruffles, and ribbons, and anything else that makes bumps. I don’t do “sexy” underwear, and I think the underwear that is sexiest in fact is the stuff that is smooth and suave and well-fitting and invisible under clothing and doesn’t poke or itch.

    I really like cotton thongs. I’ve never found them uncomfortable at all — but of course, I’ve got a micro-rise, and things might be different for women with longer bums.

    The best thing I know about strapless bras (which I learned from a woman who wears them pretty much all summer long under her cute dresses) is to size one notch down, usually. (Like, if you wear a 36D, try either the C or the 34 — this will often be more secure up there.) But strapless bras have gotten way more awesome than they used to be. I really NEED support, under all circumstances, and the old-school strapless bras did nothing for me. But the new ones with structure and especially those silicone no-slip lines on them, work way better.

    • Stephanie

      I’m actually a big fan of lace edging, at least, for reasons of fit… I am a size L, and I’ve never heard of the “size up on underwear” trick. I have a feeling that if I did that, I’d be wearing 2x or 3x and wondering where to put all the extra fabric! But, if I make an effort to seek out underwear with a lace waistband or lace around the leg holes, it doesn’t cut into me nearly as much and at least, for me, lies smooth under my clothes.

  11. Dee

    Gosh, undergarments can be such a nightmare, at least finding comfortable ones that look good under clothes!! I have always been a 100% cotton panty gal, with the rare exception of a shaper panty on occasion. I recently (at the ripe old age of 55) decided to look for some cotton panties that were not quite the ‘granny panties’ I had been wearing for years. I actually got the impetus to shop for these after seeing an aqaintance whose LACY underwear waist peaked out of her pants when she bent down. They clearly were not thongs or bikinis, and I thought wow If that happend to me all one would see is worn out elastic! I wanted some with lace at the waist, with lace all they way around the waist, not just the front. And they had to be briefs, not bikinis or such. Well, have you ever tried to find cotton panties like that?? I went a huge Macy’s and found some, but not cotton. Bought a few but kept looking. Lo and behold SOMA has them! (and many other styles as well). If you dont have a SOMA store nearby you can shop on line. The ones I bought I dont think are cotton, but are modal, (if I recall correctly that is a natural fabric.) and very soft and comfy! They come in lots of colors so I got the white and beige for under white pants and then lots of black ones. I love them, comfy, cool and attractive! Now bras….that is a real chore to find comfy ones that cover the ‘nipple related’ issues as Sal refered to….save that for another day!

    • Trillium

      Victoria’s Secret has some lace waist styles. I have some myself and I like them a lot.

  12. Cat

    Thanks for the great (and real!) info, and the great blog.
    The pics of your beautiful outfits are inspiring.
    Did I mention-just bought the slip linked above!

  13. Lauren

    Regarding your comment on panty fit – I never really thought about it, but sizing up a few sizes DOES make a difference. I am pretty small on the bottom – I wear a 2-4 in pants (depending on brand), even with my protruding butt. When I go to the undie store, the associates insist that I should wear a small or even extra-small. They don’t fit at all, though – too tight, too diggy in my hips, and wedgie city. I’m much more comfortable in a medium & the occasional large. Seemed kind of weird at first (like, why is my butt getting too big for my underwear but still fits in all my pants?), but your explanation makes perfect sense. And it also makes me feel bad for anyone who wears a larger size & *can’t* size up for comfort.

    • R.S.

      Totally agree on sizing up on underwear. Exactly who out there is wearing extra-small panties?? I wear dress size 00 and have 24 inch waist. I wear medium panties. Smalls almost never cover my butt, and cause wedgies. Sizing up is the way to go.

      But this makes so little sense in light of how clothing increasinly sized by manufactuers to have more genrous cut??

      • Katharine

        I’ve never had to size up in panties. I’m an 8 (or a 10 or even a 12) on bottom, and I’m in medium panties all the way, and if anything, they start getting a bit too loose after a few months of wear. Oh, except in my couple of pairs of XL-size American Apparel “hotpants”. Which I don’t recommend, by the way; they’re super cute but creep up the butt.

        I wish I could find more panties in really bright gaudy colours. My everyday ones are black or grey or beige, but sometimes I like bright crayon coloured panties. But mostly all I can find is sweet Easter pastels, yuck. (I got a few at H&M. But they come in sets of 3, and the back one is always some boring colour, which sucks.) I want crazy panties! Maybe neon polka dots or stripes!

  14. tiny junco

    Great Post!

    Nethwen is correct about the joy of making your own undies. “Sewing Lingerie That Fits: Stylish Underwear, Sleepwear and Loungewear for Everyday Living” by Karen Morris is an excellent resource for novice and experienced seamstress alike. She even includes a great method for drafting your own perfectly fitting knickers! I tried it and it worked like a charm – completely worthwhile for anyone who wants to try their hand at this.

    For inspiration, here’s a link to a google search on “making panties out of old tee shirts”.
    Take your recycling to a new level, guard your health and achieve perfect fit!

    Seconding Diana on European seamed bras for lots of support and a great shape. I like three seamed cups with ‘side support’ (a little boning on the side). This is another benefit to longline bras. The bulk of the ‘lift’ is provided by the band, not the straps, so more band = more support.

    Again, Nethwen’s got me pegged on the thigh rub. Bike shorts do tend to be more comfy than shapewear because you can find bike shorts in cotton blends (bamboo, too) – most shapewear is strictly poly/nylon/etc. Jockey’s boyshorts in a bamboo blend are very soft and lightweight. HTH, steph

    • Trudy Blue

      Thank you both (tiny junco and Nethwen) for the sewing suggestions and references. I’m on it. My favorite organic cotton undies have been discontinued, so I’ve been thinking about making my own and just needed this push. Perfect!

    • Meg

      Just wondering if you have any suggestions for the seamed bras? They’re equally hard to find in Aus, and I’d love to give them a go!

  15. Amanda

    Last year I discovered a brand called Shapeez (online ordering is the best bet) and it changed my confidence immensely. There are quite a few styles, but the ‘Shortee’ completely eliminates back fat – a nemesis of mine. There are a bit pricey but so worth it!

  16. Heather

    I’ve never successfuly bought a bra at Victoria’s Secret (partly because they don’t carry my size.) I have found the Bra Matrix to be super helpful for measuring, but there is no one-style fits all for me- different tops fit me differently and I need different silhouettes. (and a sports bra can double as a cami in a pinch!)

    I had the same issue with pettipants- I’ll have to check out the Wickers. Last summer I stole several pairs of my husbands undies (like boxer briefs but seamless and not-cotton) that worked brilliantly under skirts, and covered me well if a gust of wind came up. (wish I could find more of those, they don’t seem to make them anymore!)

    I recently discovered these panties by Maidenform- for my body they are made of puppies and rainbows- no lines at all, and COMFY. I don’t like 100% cotton underwear because of drag, but these have a cotton lining so all is good. (I agree going up a size is super helpful- I measure small but mediums are smoother)

    I’m a ballet dancer, so I was shocked to learn folks wear undies under tights- I never have!

    • dustwindbun

      Those seamless not-cotton boxerbriefs – they had them at Kohls, last time I checked. Might have been a house brand, or maybe Jockey? Apparently my dad likes them, and that’s the only place Mom can consistently find them.

    • dustwindbun

      somehow I guess Heather is my comment-stalkee today. Checked out the VenusianGlow website, and it has a lot of good stuff – but I came back because I had to tell someone how I feel like they lost credibility with me when they advised that everyone wear underwire bras to sleep in every night! I think I would go mad if I couldn’t take the 34G armor off for a few hours at least, but apparently I’ve doomed myself to old-lady boobs that no man would ever want to see before age 30. (Well, I’m 30, but they’ve been that way for years. And my boyfriend doesn’t seem to have any complaints.)

      Guess I’m just cranky today. But I am looking forward to taking my bra off when I get home!

  17. Susan

    Thank you Sal for making me feel better about my “granny panties” I’ve always worn cotton briefs for the same reasons. For years I was self conscious about my big ol’ panties.

    I disagree about the full slip. I love them because I feel like Liz Taylor, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hot wearing one! Even with big ol’ panties underneath.

  18. Stacy

    Great post! I am a long-time thong wearer, and the best ones I’ve found are the stretchy-lace band ones from Victoria’s Secret (both the Pink line and the regular VS line). No digging into the hips, lots of fun colors and patterns (in addition to white, black and nude) and the lace is smooth under clothes (and pretty, too!).

    And while I love VS for their panties, I wish someone in their product development department would realize that not all A cup women want their boobs pushed up to their chins. I am small breasted and proud of my little girls and do not want 18 pounds of padding in my bra. I haven’t been able to buy a bra at VS for ages because they just don’t get it. (mini rant over ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    As far as great bras for little boobs… Maidenform gets it. I LOVE their bras, especially the full coverage ones.

  19. Sherry @ A Happy Valentine

    Thanks for this great post! I have a problem with back fat even though I’m not overweight. I found the Shapeez Unbelieveabra to be THE best bra ever for that! It’s quite costly ~ $75!!! ~ but I’ve saved money in the long run because I was always buying bras hoping for the perfect one.

    And as for the slips, I sew my own skirts and have started lining them so I no longer have to wear slips. I find bedsheets at yard sales and thrift stores for 50 cents to a dollar and one sheet will line 5-6 skirts!

    Again, thank you for the wonderful, informative post!

  20. l

    Thanks so much for the tip about getting underwear in a larger size. This may Change. My. Life. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Gisele

      Me too! All these years of wedgies, and it never ever occurred to me that I might need a bigger size. Duh!!

  21. spacegeek

    What a great post! I resonate with most everything you’ve said. I was a V-string wearer for many years (Victoria S), until I found Vanishing Edge from Soma. I only buy ’em on sale bc I don’t like the price. But they are so comfortable and still don’t show thru dress pants!
    Thanks for the tips, and the comments folks post are great too.
    Sal, you rock.

  22. Velma

    I am a major slip wearer–mostly half slips, but also full. Clearly unworn ones are very easy to find at thrift stores, probably mostly because the sizing for slips is just weird. I just got a great half slip for 99c–it was marked 1X, I am a size 6-8, and it fits perfectly! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also size up for underwear: I always buy a large. They look huge out of the package, but they fit great–they stay up and never dig or leave bulges.

    Gah! Don’t even get me started on bras . . .

  23. Sonja

    First of all: Sorry for the gross factor of what I’m going to talk about, but I would really like if there are other women with the same problem. I live in a place where it is warm and sweaty during many months of the year. I sweat a lot between the thighs and I also have some vaginal discharge. I wear panties that are usually 97 % cotton + something a bit more elastic. Also I use breathable perfume-free pantyliners made of a cottonlike material every day. In winter, when I wear jeans and/or tights that’s quite okay, but during the warmer months I notice that I start to smell about midday. If I’m at home, I often wash and change my panties at that point of time, but that’s not always possible – apart from the fact that too much washing is not good for the vaginal flora. Do others have this problem and some advice? Sorry again, not a nice issue, but somehow related…

    • Sal

      Don’t worry, Sonja! This is a topic near and dear to me, so I know just where you’re at.

      I’ve been told many times by doctors and gynecologists that pantiliners are bad for discharge-related issues. You want to keep your vaginal area as dry as possible. (LinB mentioned this here: Even breathable liners are going to collect the discharge and hold it up against you, which makes for some jungle-like conditions. I know it sucks, but your best bet is probably to go 100% cotton panties and (don’t laugh) keep a spare pair in your bag for when things get too smelly. (And maybe a plastic bag for the used pair.) Not the world’s most elegant solution, but that’s what I’d do. I’m generally fine for full days, but will sometimes change my knickers up to 3 times per day during the summer if I can/need to.

      Some folks have also recommended bike shorts-like products throughout the comments here, and some of those are breathable and/or wicking. They might be too hot for summer wear, but they might also help with the sweat. Anyone care to chime in? Would any of those help Sonja?

      • Sal

        Oh! Also. Don’t wear panties when you sleep. Ever. My new gynecologist gave me SUCH a talking-to about this, and it has really helped with … well, everything in terms of vaginal issues that I deal with. Keep your parts dry! Sleep sans panties!

        • Sonja

          Oh my. Thanks a lot, but this is tough advice. I’m kind of a controllfreak and somehow feel comforted by the way my clothes embrace me, the idea of going without pantyliners or even without panties is hard for me. But I will definitely try, thanks again for these ideas!

          • Sonja

            A little Update ๐Ÿ™‚
            My first pantyless night has been a bit weird but tolerable, I suppose I could get used to that. Today I went to the mall to look for 100% cotton panties. Well. None of the nice underwear shops had any. I ended up buying a packet of 12 100% cotton granny panties at the supermarket, totally unfancy, but for what they cost, I thought I’ll give it a shot. Let’s get some air down there!

        • anony

          but then…wouldn’t one have to, erm, wash one’s pyjamas after every wear? or do you wear nightgowns exclusively?

          • Sal

            I wash my PJs after 2 wears. The pants are big and keep well away from my ladyparts. And, in my experience, discharge isn’t nearly as much of an issue at night. But it would depend on your personal preferences and comfort level. My doc recommended nightgowns as the absolute best bet, but I just can’t do ’em.

            • anony

              ok, that makes sense, and, well, thank you for answering a kinda personal question! i felt kinda embarrassed for asking even…sorry!!

              • Sal

                Not at all! Ask away. I think we should talk about this stuff when we can. How else will we learn from each other! Feel free to e-mail me if you’ve got more questions.

            • Mar

              Thanks for the great discussion!!! I’ve been looking for some advice for myself around the issues discussed here. I can totally agree with Sal in that things got better for me in terms of my, um, vaginal health, after skipping panties and tight fitting pajamas at night. I still use pantyliners although I’ve read they’re not great for me – I liked Sal’s tip of having an extra pair of panties at hand to change into mid day if need be, so I will try that instead of the liners. Also, I totally swear by 100% cotton panties – I used to buy synthetic panties since I thought I had more options in terms of cute design, but my body decidedly dislikes them. In terms of bike short-like products for Sonja – I use them in the summer under skirts when I bike to work. The ones I have are synthetic, and my lower body strongly dislikes them, making any smelling issues much worse, so they need to come off as soon as my bike ride is over. The other thing is that although synthetic “technical” materials do wick, they also retain smell like crazy – so while they would help moving the sweat away from the skin, they would definitely not help too much with the smell (at least that’s my experience). What about cotton leggings, cut into shorts?

              • Sonja

                If I find some cotton leggins, I think I will try converting them to shorts to have some extra coverage when I feel like it, thanks for the tip!

  24. Frenchie

    My experience on…

    bras–hate the sponge cup type of bra–they don’t fit unless breasts are round and perfect (mine aren’t); Warners makes great bras and are often on sale; department store clerks always insist on measuring me, and I get a great fit as a result

    undies–cotton is the way to go; I love Jockey bikinis–as close to wearing nothing as it gets; my clothes size is 10, yet my undies are size 5 or small (and my backside is not!); I don’t understand the upsizing noted above–perhaps based on manufacturer?

    slips–I don’t like half-slips as they show if I lift my arms above my shoulders (as I do when I’m teaching and writing on the board); I wear full slips, but they are hard to find in my size; the ones I wear now have stretch so they are a bit clingy around the torso and fall away at the hips in a bit of an a-line–they work under skirts and dresses alike; I appreciate the extra layer of warmth in the winter months

    Great topic! It’s so important to wear what’s comfortable and what fits.

    • Katharine

      Jones New York seems to have some really nice full slips lately. I got two at deep discount at Winners (they’re slightly too long for… well, anything I might wear them with, and I need to hem them and haven’t yet) and there are a number in department stores for full price that I’ve admired, too. Nice and sleek and plain, smooth jersey with spandex, mostly an A-line shape that’s snugger on top and yet doesn’t cling on the bottom. The ones I got even have broader straps that hide a bra (one of the many things I usually hate about full slips is the bumpy strap proliferation with teeny buckles around the shoulder area, worn with a bra).

  25. Megan Mae

    Bras – impossible. I USED to be able to walk into VS and grab my bra size (32C or D) and pay and walk out. However hormones happen and change my size and shape on a regular basis and the style I usually buy doesn’t work any more. I now have like 4 bras total that actually sort of fit. I’m going to have to go on a hunt sometime in the next year because all 4 are getting worn out. I wish I could walk into target and buy those cute cheap bras, but that so doesn’t happen. I do have a couple of wire-free lace bralettes that I wear under structured lined pieces, on days when I need to breathe!, or pieces that don’t fit the molded cup bras right (they really do add too much on me).

    Undies – I keep a variety of pairs on hand, but my favorite brand is Hanes. My newest obsession is the cotton low-rise briefs with the comfort-soft waist band. They actually fit closer to retro style panties and the seaming is more towards the front than the sides of the hips! This is great for getting things to lay flat and cover the bum without ride up. And like you, I totally size up in my underwear because if I wear “my size” then the elastic will literally cut into my skin by the end of the day.

    Anything past the basics – fo’gettaboutit.

  26. Ann V

    Sal, I’m surprised full slips don’t work for you. I wear one nearly every time I wear a dress, which is typically once or twice a week. I like the slim ones from Jockey: They’re not shapewear, but they’re stretchy and close fitted. They smooth out any bumps and stay put. I love them!

    Also, I’m so excited to try out the Jockey Skimmies someone mentioned above. I like to wear bike shorts under my skirts in the summer for some extra coverage, but I can’t stand anything with any compression at all. Everything always seems to be shapewear – I’ll have to try these!

  27. Marsha Calhoun

    As I sit here, I have pulled up my bra strap twice – while reading the comments. If it adjust it, it will pull the back up my bra up uncomfortably. I have sloping shoulders, and for a while thought that a sports bra would be the answer – but those pull uncomfortably on the muscles at the tops of my shoulders near the neck, they flatten my breasts and pull them close together, and they crawl inwards instead of outwards, messing up the neckline of many of my tops. I believe I will take one of my old bras that used to fit fairly well before it got stretched out, and move the straps from their current back attachments inward a bit, and cross my fingers. Do you have any other suggestions? (And by the way, wonderful, intelligent writing on a topic that seldom inspires common sense.)

    • Marsha Calhoun

      And please forgive that second sentence; it should read “If I adjust it, it will pull the back of my bra up . . . ” Apologies.

    • Nethwen

      I, too, have this problem.

      The easy fix is to safety pin the strap to your shirt’s shoulder seam allowance (the part of the fabric that has all the threads stitched around it inside the shirt). I poke the safety pin through the seam allowance, slide the bra strap onto the pin bar, then poke the pin through the seam allowance again before closing it. This lets the bra strap slide (at least until it hits the adjusters) and the shirt lie naturally.

      You can also easily hand sew a bra holder with snap fasteners and ribbon. Sew one end of a 3-4-inch long piece of ribbon to the seam allowance, sew one half of a snap to the other end of the ribbon, and the last snap half onto the corresponding point of the seam allowance. This is more work up front, but allows the clothes to interact better than if you pin them together.

      I believe you can also buy a bra strap keeper similar to what I described above, but it’s so easy to sew my own, that I don’t remember the brand.

      Also, have you tried regular bras with racer-backs or convertible bras and wearing them with crossed straps?

  28. Samantha (GlassCannon)

    Great post! One rule of thumb for all bra shopping, regardless of size or shape, is that the band should be parallel to the floor when you stand straight. If it’s riding up in the back, the band is *too big*, period, and you should go down a size (or more) to get proper support. If you pinch out the extra fabric so that the band is tight enough to stay parallel to the floor, but then you’re spilling out the front of the cups, you need to go down a band size and up a cup size. Rinse and repeat until the band stays level on its own and you don’t have any cup spillage. I didn’t have a proper fitting bra until I was 24 years old, but once I finally found my true size — 28J, not a size carried by many brands — it completely changed the way I looked and the way I felt about my body. Trying to shove my wonderfully naturally curvy body into a 36D bra size just so I could shop at Victoria’s Secret was never, ever going to be worth it. Size 28J takes the weight off my shoulders, lifts my bust to a nice elevation, gives me a waist, and never makes me long for the days of 36D.

    On the slip issue, I wear skirts and dresses almost every day of the year now (chronic joint pain won’t allow me to wear pants of any kind). I have a store-bought, silky, probably polyester half slip that sits in my drawer most days though. Instead, I wear a little cotton skirt I sewed a couple of years back, out of just basic white cotton muslin. It’s too thin to wear on its own, but layered under other just-a-bit-sheer dresses and skirts it’s perfect. And in the southern California summer, it’s *much* more comfortable than having polyester next to my skin. The silky half slip makes an appearance in the winter, if tights and the cotton slip are fighting, but for the most part I wear the cotton slip pretty exclusively. If you have any sewing skill, it’d be pretty simple to whip one out in an afternoon, and for probably about $10 or less in supplies. I made mine in a peasant skirt, gathered tiers sort of pattern since I tend to wear fuller skirts, but a straight slip with a slit (like my polyester one, and most commercial slips out there) would be dead simple too. Just a yard or two of muslin and elastic for the waist, and no more polyester slips, bleh.

    • Shaye

      I also wear cotton skirts in place of half slips! Half slips are really uncomfortable to me.

  29. leah

    I’ve read through the comments and there are so many people whose underwear views are polar opposite to mine!

    I love lingerie, I think that underwear can be beautiful & functional. I buy and wear matching sets of gorgeous and sumptuously patterned bras & knickers in all shapes and cuts. I don’t mind if my bra shows through my top a little, in fact I buy tops to go with my bras! I love that lingerie is just for me (and my husband though he doesn’t care that much!). Nobody judges me on how fashionable my lingerie is or how professional or appropriate or any of the other issues that normal clothing presents. It’s a complete indulgence of my tastes, my whims and my desire for beauty. I don’t have to consider my audience with my lingerie choices. It makes me happy in a way that’s deeply personal.

    • Thursday

      leah, I have been converted to the love of beautiful lingerie myself. I love that I can be wearing something wonderfully sumptuous under my ordinary workaday clothes and no one is the wiser:)

      As for garter/suspender belts, I have been wearing stockings for a few years now and the key points for me are:
      – six straps, minimum. I prefer eight, but any fewer than six don’t keep the stockings in place, which is important when you want your seams straight!
      – metal clips on the straps. This is where you need to go quality, because plastic WILL break.
      – A belt that sits at the waist. There are lots of pretty pictures of women wearing them at the hip, but I have no idea how that works for them. A snug, comfortable fit at the waist will keep the belt from sliding around.

      Also, every picture you ever see of garterbelts has the underwear under the straps. This is really impractical – try wearing the straps under your knickers (i.e., your knickers over the top of the belt) and feel comfortable to know plenty of other women are doing the same! What Katie Did was a great suggestion, but my personal favourites come from UK label Kiss Me Deadly. I love all their pieces, and their suspender belts are dynamite.

      I’m also quite surprised that you don’t do slips, Sal – I find so many dresses these days are made without a necessary lining that they are essential. Vintage is certainly better than anything new I’ve come across. For under a-line pieces, a full slip with a gathered skirt is great – kind of like a mini-petticoat. However, they tend to have an elastic waistband which may be problematic. Asos have done a few recently that I’ve found very useful, such as this one:

    • Sonja

      Although I’m not really into lingerie, I love to wear matching bras and tops as well! I have quite a collection in different colours.

  30. Eleanorjane

    I love this blog! It’s like getting together for a girly chat over a glass of wine on a friday night. ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. K

    I prefer plain cotton singlets to camis. They are cheaper, more versatile, and seem to do the same job for me.

    I also wear two pairs of underpants when I wear tights. One pair under the tights and one pair over. This helps stop crotch migration especially in wispy sheer pairs that have little structure to hold them in place and just keeps everything more secure and comfy. I imagine if you go commando when wearing tights you could get the same effect with one pair on the outer. This is also probably not suitable for gals with recurring yeast issues or other such problems. But I SWEAR by it. And especially useful for those messy, drink too much nights. ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. Lora

    Has anyone ever come across satin undies with a cotton-only crotch? There are plenty of satin undies with a cotton crotch with a layer of satin over. I often just cut that satin out but its not the best solution. I prefer satin so my denim / twill moves smoother over top, without bunching up. Does that makes sense? Don’t know how else to explain

  33. Shaye

    Oh, Sal, try vintage full slips! The fit is amazing. I wear them under several of my vintage dresses, which are just a shade too sheer for wear without one. They seem to be cheaper and easier to find than vintage dresses, too.

  34. hellotampon

    I’m a 32DD, which is impossible to find. I wish I could just waltz into Target and pick something up in my size for 20 bucks like everybody else instead of searching in a specialty store where everything is $80. And none of the specialty bras fit either. They seem to be made for boobs shaped like implants, which I don’t have.

    And DUH. I cannot believe I’ve suffered through so many days of my skirts sticking to my tights and crawling up as I walk, when I could have just been wearing a slip this whole time. Never even thought of that!

    • LinB

      You can also smooth a little hand lotion onto your palms and then rub your hose-covered legs. The lotion cuts the static electricity that can build up between tights and skirt/pants, and stops the worst of the creeping-up-ness.

  35. Anne

    I was a lingerie manager for Macy’s about a lifetime ago so all this undie talk brings back memories. The sizing up trick is a good one but the best advice is go try them on if you can before buy. Yes, you will have to wear them over your own undies but then you will have a better idea of how they fit. I found that women would agonize over the right bra but just pick up some panties without giving them much thought. And… while were on the subject of panties, I’m gonna rock the cotton boat here and say that I really like the synthetic undies from both Patagonia and Athleta. They really do dry quickly and keep you from feeling soggy down south. I bought a few pair after I started up running again last year. I absolutely could not stand the clammy panties feeling I got as I cooled down post run.

    I have tried a number of different slips at all price points and the ones I wear to tatters are the super cheap ones that have the measuring tape on the tag. They never ride up. (Warner’s?)

    One final point: Don’t form too close an attachment to that perfect bra you have now. Depending on how often you wear them and how you launder them, you are still going to have to replace them every few years.

  36. T

    I wear men’s cotton boxers under skirts (during the day) and pajamas (at night). It has helped tremendously in managing yeast infections and such. It took a while to get used to; but if I position it right, I can avoid the dread “riding up”.

  37. Lydia

    I may have mentioned this before but… I used to wear a crappy bra in 36 DD. I was fitted for the first time when I was 34, and not only did the saleslady in the UK (I was visiting from Canada, my home), scoff at my ‘inferior’ bra, but I learned I was a 36 H or a 34 HH! I have bought bras at Bravissimo ever since (when I visit in the UK and online), and have never looked back. They are seamed and work great for me.

    I also used to waste time buying bras that either did not have enough support, or that squished and flattened the girls in (and these were reccemended by good bra fitters!) My advice is: do not settle for this!

    Some bra fitting tips I learned along the way are (may be ovbious but helped me out). 1. Make sure the back band goes around fairly evenly and at first will feel a teensy bit tight(as another commenter mentioned, it should be parallel to the floor). 2. Buy bras in various sizes — I max out during my time of the month, and have one or two bras that fit bigger, and some that fit smaller. 3. The bra should sit comfortably against the breast bone — some bras are ‘pushed’ forward by the girls — instead, keep sizing up until the bra’s wires/ or centre fits flat against your breastbone. 4. Do not be afraid to size up or down between brands — fit is the most important. 5. Lace bras stretch more and curve more, while satiny styles usually have less give. 6. If you have HEAVIER breasts (like me — not always related to size, but mass as well), you need to replace bras MORE OFTEN! The elastic no longer holds you up. I have 14 bras by the same brand (Feya) and they all are gorgeous, in good shape, and I cannot part with them; but though they look great, many not longer ‘perform.’ When I order a new one (2 times a year) I notice the difference right away, and so do friends and family who (obviously do not see the bra, but comment on what have you done to yourself lately?). Lastly, do NOT let a salesperson talk you into a bra that is too tight or tortuous. I was brought a Panche bra in the fitting room (great bra, but not for me) I have a much smaller frame and back, but big chest, and this brand was made for someone with a larger frame — the wire just did me in, and I gave it away after a week! Sorry this is long, but good bras are close to my heart, and they changed my life, so I hope others find joy in them as well – DO not give up searching!

  38. Plop

    “100% cotton panties are best for vaginal health. Seductive they ainโ€™t,”
    Maybe they are not the most seductive but H&M offers from time to other 100% bio cotton panties that have pretty designs and cute colors (stripped white& gray, little dots, etc.)
    They are just nice to see =)

    • Sonja

      Oh, I want these. I’ll totally be looking out for them!

  39. Emily

    Oh, the stories I could tell about my quest for *size small* cotton briefs . . . apparently slender women are automatically too young or too trendy to wear “granny panties.”

    You could get all the sizes bigger than small, but not small. You could get *every other style and color* in small, but not the plain white briefs.

  40. willow

    In terms of specialty underwear, I am all about see-through bras right now…

  41. April

    Oh my gosh! Thanks for the very comprehensive review Sally! It’s terrific!

    I must weigh in on the opposite side of the 100% cotton issue, however. I used to be dedicated to my 100% cotton Jockey String Bikinis, but the yeasties continued to plague me, despite all my other efforts to the contrary. As several folks have mentioned, staying dry is really the key. I switched to undies that are designed to dry FAST if you get sweaty! All I wear these days are Ex Officio, available through TravelSmith and REI here:

    Making the switch has drastically improved the health and happiness of my ladyparts. As you say, Sally, find what works for you! But if staying dry is what you’ve been after, you might try this route for a bit and see if it helps. Oh, and I buy a size up, too. Works Great!

  42. anon

    Totally agree on wider backs on bras being a necessity for larger-busted girls. I’d also add that your straps should not dig in, or it’s likely you’re not getting enough support in the right places. Also I had always heard that underwires were heinous and dug in, but that was badly-fitting underwires, on me they allow good fit without so much digging in of the band. The trick is that I have the kind of breasts that go way under the arms, so I need my underwires to be wide enough, ie to be wearing the right cup size.
    Also check out this article which has led me to much better fit :-).

  43. Janessa

    Thank you for this post awesome information ๐Ÿ™‚