Oh, I can see some of you rascals grinning already after reading the title above.
Defined originally in French as washables and used to describe all types of undergarment of both genders, lingerie took a slightly different meaning in English as the visually-pleasing female underwear and sleepwear.
A trip down fashion lane would show female undergarments nothing short of full-body contraptions, designed as such to contour the wearer’s body into the much-praised hourglass figure. From Norsemen to Victorian the European sleeves and décolletage went up and down, but curves were always in. Javanese women tightly wrapped 3m-long sash (setagen) over long cloth to hold their tummy and shape their waist. Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman ladies always had a belt or sash to show off their midsection, although I couldn’t find information on what undergarments exactly they were wearing underneath all those linens and silks.
And things haven’t exactly changed much over the centuries. Granted, women have long been freed of restrictive corset types, and ideal body type has gone much slimmer in recent decades, but lingerie hasn’t stopped dressing up women’s curves. As income rises and lifestyle choices proliferate, women pay more attention to the underthings beyond their function. For fashion, for the better half and, for some of us, for our own pleasure.
I thank Mom for my inclusion to the last group. “They are the first things that touch your skin, so must be good and nice” was her mantra as we went on that awkward mother-daughter’s rite of passage of buying my first bra. What Mom meant as good was a bra’s well-support function to budding bosom and nice as the cotton material suitable to an active young teen. Mom never said anything about Chantilly lace and satin bodice—I learned them all by myself many years later in a land far, far away.
That time during college break I enrolled to a certain school on the East Coast, I was supposed to learn about international business. But summertime called for exploration beyond campus. Among many delightful things I discovered, like secondhand bookstores and thrift shops, were Maidenform and Victoria’s Secret. I learned about the differences between demi and full cups, between bikini and Brazilian cuts, between textured lace and smooth satin finish, between nightgown and peignoir. More than forming, gorgeous modern lingerie are framing your assets. Compared to the limited choices in Indonesia by mid 1990s then, I was in heaven. I strategized my pocket money down to the last penny so I could bring home some gorgeous unmentionables, besides many books that were also hard to find. Books, bras and beyond, Jakarta-bound.
The education didn’t stop there. As I started working, at some point returning to the US, I earned my own money to enable splurging on things I cherish. I tried and tested different labels (did you know there’s an American lingerie brand called Bali?). I scoured vintage shops to admire the lacework and embroideries no longer found in machine-cut modern lingerie. I pored over handbooks to learn proper measurements so not only I wore correct sizes I was comfortable to order lingerie online without trying, which saved me much as I could hunt sales items. Years after repatriating I still kept an online account, sending purchases to pals with US address and patiently waited for their next visit to Jakarta. Everyday I’d relish the fact that underneath the simple skirt or cheap cotton tee I had on, or if it was a bad hair day, there was some lovely fabric in fabulous colors or prints intimately wrapping my skin. Doesn’t matter if nobody would see it. I’d know it. Most importantly, I’d always feel it.
In recent years choices were getting bountiful here, offered by standalone labels, department stores and even, as I found recently in Tangerang market, at modest stalls (lacy red bras peddled next to a butcher, I kid you not). For every shape, style, support and size—including wallet size, we almost have it all.
My only pet peeve is that department stores salesgirls are trained poorly; they often mistakenly insist 34B can be substituted by 36A, refer to thong as G-strings, and think lingerie is only sexy sleepwear. Really—Metro, Sogo, Debenhams—you guys can’t hire proper trainer to educate your girls the correct term of merchandises? Tsk.
Valentine’s Day is lingerie business’ best sales period. Some of you gents may have gone on that awkward annual rite of buying sexy underwear for your lover, with success or fail. But to you ladies, whether or not you receive any from your man, or even think Valentine’s as anything special, I plead you to befriend the very first garments that touch your skin every day, throughout the day. Even if you’ve been hitched for years, even if the hubby has seen all your stretch marks and C-section scars, even if the social circle cares more about your latest handbag. Most of the world may never see them and, precisely, in the very public world these days, it makes them exclusive to you. Like the scented lotion you lather on your skin every morning to feel heavenly, so is lingerie.
“For me lingerie isn’t about seduction, it’s about being a woman.” – Dita von Teese