I fear this might fall into the category of too much information. Nonetheless, I'm going to persist, because without it, my story lacks credibility. One should not write about something as intimate and tricky as lingerie purchases unless one is prepared to get personal. Lingerie buying falls into the "love it or hate it" category; I believe in modern-day parlance this translates as a "Marmite moment." Like gardening, buying bras and knickers is an acquired taste that alters with age. During my twenties and even my thirties, I hardly gave a thought to what I was wearing underneath my outer garments (much to the horror of my La Perla- and Damaris-wearing friends). Nowadays, I'm far more particular; and it's not just a matter of comfort. After all, there are standards and, frankly, other things to uphold. And lingerie, like a good dress, should accentuate the good and ameliorate the bad.
For reasons upon which I will not dwell, I have recently had to replace my bras—all of them. Up until a few years ago, this would have involved fruitless hours either trudging around department stores searching in vain for something (anything) that fit, or dashing into Marks & Spencer, buying anything and everything in my size only to return the whole lot within the week. My world changed, though, when I discovered GapBody, Rigby & Peller and Bodas. All three offer underwear as it is meant to be—practical, pretty, just the right side of alluring and, above all, comfortable.
Rigby & Peller has a royal warrant—"By appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Corsetieres"; they did the same for the Queen Mother too. Perhaps as a result of this sort of patronage, the service in this family-owned business is peerless (failing retailers of Britain, take note). Recently when I visited after a significant hiatus ("Tsk, tsk, you should come every six months," they said), the store was staffed by a delightful bevy of youngish women, all black-clad, without a "whatever" between them. In the back of the store, where the fittings take place, one "fitter" was engaging a group of older women in banter about the experience of bra-fitting. "When I first came here, I felt really uncomfortable about stripping off and letting someone just look at me," said one lady. "And then having to stand in your knickers and wait for the bras to arrive, that was even worse," another added. But now, they agreed, they would "never go back. It's worth the money." "The most shocked person in the store on my first visit was my husband," said a well-maintained, honeyed blonde, "and that was when he stood at the cash register to pay."
Then it was my turn. R&P staff pride themselves on being able to eyeball your breasts and know exactly your size and the sort of bra that would suit you. There is something more than a little uncomfortable about standing naked from the waist up in a changing room and letting a complete stranger give you the once over. I'm not going to share the bad news with you, but let's just say my new bras are smaller than my former and, in the words of my fitter, they "give me a little more help with the bits that have gone flatter." Apparently, very few women wear the right-sized bra. Among the hints that R&P offer: there's no such thing as a definitive bra size, the back of your bra should hug the narrowest part of your back and be at the same level as the front, underwires should curve snugly around your breasts and never cut into them.
My favorite R&P bra is something they have carried for years —the "Avero" padded plunge by Marie Jo, £57.95. The genius is in its shape and the floral detailing on its straps, which renders the possibility of your bra strap showing a positive. Another in-store favorite is the Simone Perele "Nina" padded push-up, £64.95. If you cannot get to one of R&P's six stores, try their website. Good though it is, as they say themselves, there's no substitute for a personal fitting. Frankly, wherever you live, R&P is worth the trip.
I've said before that I love Gap's Body line and that's because it really "does exactly what it says on the tin"—offering comfortable, beautifully shaped and colored, affordable underwear, with minimum fuss and noise, but with maximum attention to the detail and shape of a woman's body. OK, so there's none of the service of an R&P, but the price reflects that. Mireille Gindrey, vice president of body design at Gap, does a great job of overseeing fabrics and cut, but she's also a pragmatist. "It's important our customer looks beautiful and feels confident, but the lingerie must also have wash-and-wear abilities. When you buy underwear, you need to know it will look good in a few months' time, too," she says.
The other seductive thing about Gap's undies is the myriad of colors on offer (a rarity for underwear within this price point), everything from basic black and white through lilac, mint and gold. "Great colors don't cost any more than the basics. A woman should feel like she's in a candy store when she's buying lingerie," Ms. Gindrey says. The range is wide, from the "Favorite T-shirt" bra in black, nude and white, £18.85, and "Favorite Uplift" bra, £18.95, to the "Chantilly lace bralette" in black, bronze, mandarin or pastel green, £18. According to Gindrey, a woman should own up to 10 bras, including a T-shirt bra, a sexy lace number and a strapless. I don't know about you, but I've got some way to go on this. In my book, finding comfortable knickers rather than amassing bras is actually the Holy Grail of underwear buying. While it is, of course, an entirely personal endeavour, I doubt anyone could find fault with Gap's lace briefs, £8, or their boy shorts, £6.
Before I met Helena Boas, co-founder of Bodas, I didn't know that the reason thongs are uncomfortable is that people buy them too small (buy one size larger than you are), or that nude or dusky-pink bras look better under white shirts than the obvious white, or that one's bra straps must fit snugly without pinching (and no slinging it on the last hook for comfort's sake).
Bodas embodies the Coco Chanel quote "elegance is refusal," with understated color and restrained cut and shape. Fans are die-hards. I once met a woman at a party (an otherwise serious, high-flying lawyer) who confided she had every piece of Bodas lingerie. Why? "Because standing in their Notting Hill store on a Saturday and choosing my underwear is the most fun I have all week." Which probably says more about her than about Bodas, but you get the drift. Try their smooth tactel padded "Balcony" bra, £56, their "Bralet," £40, and their "French" knickers, £25. - WSJ
WRITTEN BY: TINA GAUDOIN