Fashion expert Jess Wood briefs us on the cutest lingerie brands to get excited about this year, and just in time for Valentines Day...
Boobs. They’re just not sexy, I always thought. (I mean in a fashion sense, folks…) For a long time, being cool and stylish was all about covering them up. Any outfit involving visible cleavage was the Towie-tastic opposite of chic in my book. Ever seen Emmanuelle Alt in a Wonderbra? Non. And in this regard, Mother Nature had thrown me a challenge – or rather, a pair of them. I was a sizeable 32DD before I had children, and have, umm, blossomed up through the alphabet, peaking at 34FF (and back down again) since.
So underwear was never a joyful experience for me. I couldn’t understand women who waxed lyrical about the delights of wearing something silky and fabulous hidden under their clothes. Why spend the money when you could splurge it on Manolos, for all to admire? Besides, displaying your boobs on a plate, as it were, felt horribly un-woke. My underwear drawer was a drab and sorry sight: boulder-holders even your granny would balk at, plain cotton knickers and the odd nude T-shirt bra. As long as I was supported, minimised and able to wear my favourite clothes without dreaded four-boob disaster, I was happy. But I’ve recently had a Damascene moment. The zeitgeist has shifted and boobs are now being reclaimed by their rightful owners. Namely us, their actual owners. First, the Nineties trend brought crop tops and triangle bras back into the spotlight. Kim K made it (kind of) cool to wear second-skin leggings, bra tops and corsets, curves spilling out everywhere, whether she’s running errands or at Paris Fashion Week. And then Rihanna changed the conversation with her Fenty lingerie show at New York Fashion Week. Models of every shape, heritage and size prowled the garden set in her designs – including a nearly-in-labour Slick Woods, proudly showing off her enormous bump. A total contrast to the passive, objectified role and Barbie-doll grooming of the traditional lingerie model. Where Rihanna goes, the world follows.
There’s been an explosion in fashion-forward new underwear brands that celebrate body and size diversity. There are gender-fluid boxers, there are soft-cup bralettes, there are organic cotton pants…And if you want to be sexy, you can – on your terms, with labels offering slinky lacy pieces designed to empower, rather than dig in and mortify. My own recent love affair with lingerie started with the delivery of a delightful box from lingerie subscription label Empress Mimi. Every month, they send out an exquisite, themed set – complete with beautiful postcard to illustrate the goddess inspiration. They’re pretty racy, but in a tasteful, sumptuously-made way. No flammable nylon here. My first box contained a sheer black marabou trimmed robe, black satin-trimmed triangle bra and briefs, and chic black bunny ears – complete with net fascinator. I was hooked (as was my other half, it must be said). Whether you fancy upping your undies ante ahead of Valentine’s Day, or whether you’re treating yourself to some cool, comfy new lingerie to work with your SS20 wardrobe, here are some of my favourite brands and new discoveries…
A celebrity stylist obsession across the Pond, the brand hit the UK a couple of years back. They’re an A-list go-to for creating the ‘perfect foundation’ – seamless invisible underwear, dig-free hosiery and weighted slips. Bella Hadid loves her Classic Control Shorts so much, she styled them up as part of her outfit at Paris Fashion Week…
Size range: XS – XL (A-E cup for bras, size 6 – 18 for knickers). They also offer soft bras, bralettes and tank tops for a bit more wiggle room.
London-based label creating ‘conscious’ underwear. “We created Fruity Bootyto celebrate normality rather than idealizing perfection,” says founder Hattie Tennant. “We use real girls instead of models and never photoshop our images. We mainly use fabrics that would have otherwise gone to waste and turn them into something beautiful, creating limited-edition collections;” They hope customers will treasure their pieces extra carefully, knowing they’re not replaceable.
Size range: S, M, L (30A-32DD for bras, size 8-14 for knickers). They’re expanding the size range later this year.
Serena Rees, co-founder of Agent Provocateur, has moved into much more androgynous territory with her latest brand. These are minimalist, pared-down pieces, with some pant styles designed to be worn by either gender. The label will be launching a seamfree collection of bras, briefs and bodies later this month – and they also do a seriously cool line in sweat tops.
Size range: Underwired bras, B-D; some styles F-E
Specially designed to respond to the needs of different cup sizes, the label’s USP is an innovative sizing system: styles are split across 3 categories (X, Y and Z) with support tailored to the specific needs of the cup size. Top marks for their use of customers in campaigns and brand imagery too.
Size range: All bras: AA-H, underwear: XS – 2XL
Started in London by an ex financier who’d spent her twenties wearing ‘uncomfortable shoes and even more uncomfortable bras’, the label is all about promoting self-love and empowerment – via the medium of soft, slinky silk sets inspired by a different goddess every month, painful wires very much not included. Every delivery box is a surprise, and you can choose from one-off, to 3, 6 and 12 month options. There are three different levels – House of Frillies buys you new knickers, The Queen is a full set of lingerie, and The Empress includes everything from matching accessories (marabou handcuffs, anyone?) to loungewear, jewellery and kimonos. Time to treat yourself like the total goddess you are…
Size range: XS – XL (UK size 4-18 for bottoms, 30A-42F for tops)
Founded in the US by Amber Tolliver, who became increasingly frustrated at not being able to find gorgeous lingerie in her size. The brand offers chic and – crucially – well-made undies crafted in Italian lace and high-tech, breathable jersey and mesh, in a broad size range. They’re designed to have the same overall look, whatever the size, using staggered component sizes. Currently only stocked in the US, the good news is that they’ve just started shipping to the UK.
Size range: XS – XXL (bra sizes range from 32C to 38H and underwear from XS to 2XL)
Coco de Mer was one of the first luxurious erotic lingerie labels, launched to much fanfare, not to mention arty sculpted sex toys, by Sam Roddick (daughter of Body Shop founder Anita) in 2001. Now owned by CEO Lucy Litwack, the big news is the launch of the first diffusion range, Muse. The collections have the same risqué-but-elegant style as the main line, but at a more affordable price. Designs are divided into four different personas – the Minimalist, the Siren, the Romantic, and the Pin-Up – and prices start at £20 for a thong. Oo-er!
Size range: 30D – 36F
The original shapewear brand has come a long way since the first pairs of effective but (let’s face it) seriously scary-looking control pants. They’ve expanded into jeans, leggings and tops, and the undies on offer are more innovative than ever – as well as looking glamorous, to boot. I’m a huge fan of their nude mesh slips: they have a Fifties film star vibe, and actually give me a Sophia Loren-esque silhouette, if I say so myself. Of the latest inventions, I’ve got my eye on two new bodysuits – the Suit Your Fancy plunge lower back and the Spotlight on Lace plunge neckline, both of which look cool enough to wear peeking out from under a cardi or blazer.
Size range: XS – XL
This label is all about a modern take on slinky, seductive undies – at an accessible price point. Peekaboo mesh, bras with collar straps, suspenders…they’re all here, but designed to look cool and modern, in non-naff colours like powder pink and coral. They also do lovely nightwear, including satin kimonos and teddies.
Size range: 30A-36DD, selected styles up to 40D
A not-very-newie, but such a goodie. Of all the established brands offering bigger bra sizes, I’ve found Freya is the best all-rounder time and again, and it’s the brand I wear most days. They’re a fabulous fit, provide sturdy support (that doesn’t have the look of sturdy support), and come in pretty prints and on-trend colour combinations. I am a particular fan of their deep band styles – super flattering for smoothing over any bulges under your bra and giving you a sleek torso.
Size range: AA – H cup
A site that brings together a hand-picked range of niche lingerie labels from around the globe, some of whom are exclusive to the site. Their bestselling designers include Katherine Hamilton, who specialises in larger cup sizes, Something Wicked and the Australian label Lazy Girl.
Size range: 30AA-38HH