I consider my wardrobe to be an integral part of my personal presentation. As such, I spend time, energy, and money refining it. For many years, I’ve been culling, upgrading, and revising what I own to suit my figure, my style, and my personality. I love doing this.

But rather bizarrely, I paid very little attention to my underpinnings. My underwear and bras, workout clothes, and pajamas – segments of my wardrobe that get hard and constant wear but are almost never in the public eye – were worn-out, ill-fitting, and uncomfortable.

Several months ago, I upgraded my undies. I wrote about the experience over at The Huffington Post as a transformative one that improved my self-image and helped me feel stronger, sexier, and more in touch with my physical self.

Next, I turned my attention to my workout garb. I had a few pieces that I liked, but many more that didn’t fit, didn’t work, and didn’t make me feel good. Since most of the trendy gear companies cut their stuff absolutely skin-tight, it took some exploration and experimentation to find stuff that works. Turns out, I really love Fila, a company that cuts their athletic gear closer to mall sizing charts and doesn’t make everything slinky and clingy. After months of trying, returning, purging, and replacing, I finally have a small but pragmatic and (relatively) flattering set of workout clothes. I wear these clothes more often than any others I own.

Last on the list is my PJs. I bought a whole slew of fancy-dancy Garnet Hill pajama sets a few years ago. (Many via eBay.) This was an upgrade from the mismatched tees and sweats I’d been using, and felt good at the time. But what I’ve learned is that the shirts ride up while I sleep, making me cold and uncomfortable. Sure, they’re cute, but they just don’t work. I’ll spend the coming months slowly replacing them.

Because I’ve finally realized that I feel better about myself when I pay real attention to my underpinnings, the items in my wardrobe that support my private life. Cute dresses and lust-worthy boots are loads of fun to wear, but practical workout gear and comfy jammies feel like elements of self-care to me. Pretty, properly fitting, supportive underwear helps me look good on the outside and feel good on the inside. Saying all of this feels a little obvious, and I’m surprised that this realization didn’t occur sooner. But hey, better late than never.

Are you more apt to invest in public or private clothes? Do you think that upgrading your underpinnings would be worthwhile? Why or why not?

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  • So true! I actually realized some time ago as well that I spend more time in my running clothes than anything else I own. And I’ve had such hard time finding stuff I would really like! Features do come first so the clothes have to fit and work well. Especially now during winter time everything must be super-functional and warm in the middle of the snow.

    So how about the visual part? Well, all the ladies’ gear seem to be pink. It’s been super hard to find running gear I would totally like, I actually blogged about this myself as well after buying a set of bright pink long underwear which I absolutely hated but had to buy because there were no options. Sigh.

    • Kirsten

      Have you looked at Title Nine.com? I got a catalog from them awhile back, and they’ve got a bunch of non-pink activewear, even some made of merino wool for winter.

  • Public clothes are always on sale more often than private clothes, and I always give into the sales even though I know I should invest in the “underpinnings” of my wardrobe! It’s a battle lol

  • You’ve inspired me to upgrade the private side of my wardrobe. My workout clothes are pretty nice but the rest is, uh, a bit thrown together. Thanks for the gentle prod : >

  • Very, very true. Good bras are an absolute necessity not only because I get immense back pain in the incorrect size but also because clothes just don’t fit well when I’m in the wrong size!

    Work out clothes, those can also be tricky too. Freya Active came out with a good line where they have performance wear that comes in bra and cup sizes, which is great for extra support and it avoids a ton of layers. I’m actually a fan of tighter workout clothes because I find them comfortable but I do make a point to get matching outfits. πŸ™‚

  • Molly

    Alas, my underpinnings could use some work! I work out at home on my exercise bike or with a video, so I typically wear men’s boxers, simply because I have them on hand and I don’t care about getting sweaty in them. My pajamas are oversized t-shirts and PJ bottoms, many of which don’t look too hot, but I’m definitely too poor for a pajama overhaul, especially when I’m usually the only one who sees them. I’d love to wear real silk pajamas every night, but for now, I’ll make do with what I’ve got.

    My underwear is the only thing I’ve made an effort to change. I need bras and panties that look flattering underneath my clothing, and I need to feel confident in what I’m wearing on the occasions when someone else sees me in my underwear! After putting on a few pounds, I made sure to go buy the things I needed to feel better about my new body, in styles I felt good about. It felt like a bit of a splurge, but I’m definitely wearing the things I bought, so it feels like the right choice.

  • Jennifer

    I never had a problem finding workout clothes that I both liked and fit well, not to mention my ludicrous running shoe collection. I wish it was as easy finding every day clothes in the right fit, color, fabric, etc. As for underwear, I tend to stock up on basics when on sale at Kohl’s, but your recent HuffPo post made me rethink my ways. I found a local shop I’ve been meaning to visit, and now I’m looking forward to upgrading my unmentionables. The current state of my undergarments has left me dreading getting into a car accident because I’d be embarrassed if anyone were to accidentally see them, and that’s just not a good place to be in πŸ™‚

  • Ashley P

    I have been thinking about this very topic for months now! I dislike my pjs immensely, but have no idea where to start to look for nicer ones. I like stretchy things, but don’t like skimpy camisoles and nighties. All the ones I find seem to be either “sexy” or flannel! Not much middle ground.

    Also, where is a good place for affordable but good quality workout wear? All of my friend talk up Lululemon, but I can’t stomach paying $75 for a pair of workout capris!

    • Dee

      Try Soma.com (or one of their stores if you are lucky to live near one), I find their undies and PJs comfortable and pretty without being too sexy or matronly. They also have some work out wear but I can’t vouch for it as I have not bought it.

      • Ashley P

        Thanks Dee! Even just at first glance it looks promising! πŸ™‚

  • Looking for ideas on 100% cotton attractive workout wear (need size XL..for now, hahaha) and also any recommendations for same in sleepwear.

  • bubu

    So true! I realized something along these lines earlier this week: I have recently splurged on a glorious purse and blazer, but realized I had not upgraded my underwear in a few years. Where I work out most mornings, I go through at least two pairs a day and am forever running out… plus the constant laundering means they wear out faster. That is now top of my list. Any recommendations for wearable 100% cotton undies that hold up well but don’t look like something granny wears? I have a couple “date night” pairs but what I really need is the day to day stuff.

    • Anne

      Believe it or not, Gap makes pretty good cotton underwear. It holds up, is comfortable, and doesn’t leave embarrassing lines on your rear end.

      • bubu


  • Frida

    There’s a lot of help in finding your own size here:

    And more at the links on the right side here:


  • GingerR

    I’ve tried all kinds of workout gear. For me Nike bottoms are worth the extra money. I don’t have bra fit issues so bras from Champion/Target are fine, as are T-shirts. If I had bra issues I’d probably be more willing to pay more.

    I haven’t found any PJ tops that I thought were as good as cotton t-shirts. I buy the jamie sets, wear the top over a t-shirt before bed and sleep in just the t-shirt and pants. I like PJ tops when traveling, they’ll substitute for a full robe without the packing bulk.

    As far as I’m concerned it’s not that there is any one solution for things to wear underneath or at home, it’s finding your personal style/comfort and sticking with it.

  • Anne

    Good post Sally. I was a lingerie manager at Macy’s for a few years where I learned the lesson that you need to dress from the inside out. proper fitting undergarments can do wonders for your self esteem and the way your clothes fit.

    As for work out clothes. I am on team fitted. Having things shift and creep while I’m running drives me nuts. Also if I’m in the gym, more fitted clothes help me keep tabs on my form. My husband and I noticed not too long ago that when you’re really active, you develop all these really specific wardrobes that don’t have much overlap: Biking gear, skiing gear, running, all require slightly different things.

    • shebolt

      Isn’t that true? I have cycling clothing, tennis clothing, gym clothing, snowboarding clothing, and some limited running and swimming gear. It’s insane!

  • Interesting question! I don’t like to give more love to one over the other πŸ™‚ I def fall into the gorgeous lingerie must fit perfectly, be attractive to the wearer, supportive and matching (tops to bottoms). But I think the same of “regular” clothes too – with the exception of the matching part. I don’t think you can spend too much on lingerie though. It’s integral. If it doesn’t work, nothing you put on top of it will look as good as it could.

  • I’ve learned in the last few years the value of good underthings, especially bras. I pay big money to hide backfat and for the uplift I need. It makes my outerwear look so much better, whether it comes from Dillards or a thrift store. πŸ™‚

  • Cherilyn

    Sal- I recommend nightgowns! They are so much more comfortable to sleep in and you feel cute in them. You can get them for summer and winter too. I can never wear sets because the bottoms always ride and so do the tops- can’t stand them!

  • Stacy

    I have found that really cute, well-fitting workout clothes can be just the push you need when you’re avoiding a run or a workout. I, too, love the Fila brand and eagerly await my 30% off coupons from Kohl’s so I can stock up! As for pajamas, I get so hot when I sleep that I usually wear a pair of boxers (from Target–Gilligan and O’Malley brand) and a sleep camisole to bed. The camisole is fitted enough that it won’t ride up while I sleep. And you can buy pretty patterns and colors!

  • linnet

    Sal — re the pjs — have you tried tucking the shirt into the pants while you’re sleeping? sure it looks like a “grandpa” style but it prevents it from riding up and then you also get to enjoy the cute pjs before bed/after waking up

  • Annie

    A good bra is indispensable, particularly if — like me — you need extra support. I’m a 32G, which means buying department store or Victoria’s Secret is impossible; I have to go to specialty shops, and that means I’m prepared to shell out. But a good-fitting bra that provides the right kind of lift makes EVERY outfit look better.

    Panties I worry less about. As long as they’re neat and trim and in good condition, and the kind of thing that leaves minimal panty lines, whatever.

    Workout clothes are worth spending a little money on simply because they take so much wear and must be laundered after pretty much every use. That said, I have good luck finding things at Marshall’s and TJ Maxx that are attractive, sturdy and reasonably priced. I also have a Nike Factory Outlet near me, where I’ve found some good deals.

    Pajamas are just more laundry! I sleep in the buff. Whether or not that counts as cute — I guess that depends on what I do in the workout clothes. πŸ˜‰

  • Susan

    When I rotated my closets at the beginning of fall I did a major purge of all the drawers that hold my underpinings. Out went everything that was worn out, stained, didn’t fit properly etc. I have embarrassingly empty drawers now. This has to be my priority for the next few weeks. Stacy, I appreciate your comment regarding the motivation factor in cute workout clothes. My baggy tired sweats are making me less than inclined to be physically active and more inclined to just recline!

  • D

    I am definitely more apt to invest in my public clothes, but I’m working on putting more focus into the private ones (though it will certainly help when I’m not on a shopping ban!).

    I’m actually basically set when it comes to workout clothes, and I find that the ones I have from Target and Ross work just fine for me. As playing roller derby means I usually work out with a large group of people, I’ve put a lot of thought into what both works well for me and looks good. I will admit to ignoring the panty and sleep clothes situation. I have a whole bunch of cheapy stuff. I like just sleeping in a cotton t-shirt or cami and my underwear, so that is fine, but I really need to get all of the ill-fitting panties out of my life! My behind doesn’t deserve that treatment!

  • Good bras are a necessity, not an indulgence. Count me in the curvy pile. I spend a lot on my bras, I have to, they last a long time, and they make a big difference in my profile.

    Good panties… well, I’ve been trying to upgrade those. I made my first pair of tap pants the other day. Not terribly practical, but very cute. πŸ™‚

    Nothing makes me happier than a petticoat full of lace and ribbons. I have three … and plans for a cotton flannel version to wear in the patio this winter.

    Lacy camisoles, likewise. Girly city! Give me edwardian details, please. And a bit of perfume…

    I sleep in a silk nightie that I made for myself. I hand wash it every week, and it was one of my more sensible indulgences. So soft, it heats right up and feels like my own skin. -love- I need to make more. (ITA on the nightgown suggestion. A full-length gown is a lovely thing).

    My workout clothes tend to be the sort of thing I paint the house or garden in, and that’s fine with me.

  • meg

    But why did you buy a slew of things if you haven’t yet discovered if they work for you?

    That’s generally my problem with things like pjs/underwear – you need a bunch, but it takes a while to find really good ones. I always want to buy things in large amounts so I can just not think about it for a year, but then you end up with lots of things that don’t work. I’m still trying to figure out the balance – I think it involves time, which is why I haven’t been so good at it thus far.

    • Sal

      Hmm. Do you mean the underwear? I tried on all of the panties I purchased, and bought upgraded versions of a bra style I already owned and knew worked for me. So there was some previewing involved.

      With the PJs, I had a pair to begin with and loved them, then bought more. For some reason, the riding up didn’t bug me initially, but did over time. (I’ve no real explanation for this. We got a new heating/cooling system, so maybe it’s breezier in our bedroom now?)

      I know what you mean, for sure. I buy a lot of my panties at Target, and it seems like if I purchase a single pair, try them, and find that they work, when I go back to stock up, they’re gone. Forever. It’s massively frustrating. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution, but instead of buying all one style in any one category, you could buy two or three, try to get some testing in, and keep the receipts.

  • I wear oversized tees to bed. I’ve tried cute pajamas, but nothing is as a comfy as flannel/cotton mens sleep pants and a “free” tee. We have tons of them leftover from the DH’s last job.

    I do invest in under things because I’m an odd size and rarely find things that fit. When I do, I buy as much as I can afford.

    • NY Visitor

      I think that oversized Ts, as long as they’re comfortable and attractive to the wearer, are fine. If you want to have separate clothes for every phase of the day and can afford it, fine. But I think the trend towards more minimal dressing is a good one. Self-presentation is important, but it’s not, nor should it be important to every person every moment of the day.

      I remember reading a book about the ancient Greeks in which the author noted that men had it really easy: They wore one garment all day, and when it came time to sleep, wrapped it around themselves for warmth. It would be nice to live like that some days.

  • I have two styles of Wacoal bras and one style of Gap underwear that are perfect for me and I should probably resist the temptation to ever buy any other brand or style unless or until they stop making these ones that are perfect. Which of course they will. Without warning. Like every other product I love. Sigh. Oh, and I also have two very expensive pairs of Hanky Panky retro thongs that I love, but those are saved for special. If you know what I mean.

    Workout clothes, those I cannot resist buying. I love my lulus, but I can only afford one pair every year as a special treat. I have found however, that the Gap Fit bottoms are suspiciously close to the lulus in fabric and construction and are about half the price. (Someone online said a Gap store manager confided in her that they were made in the same factory, but I cannot confirm or deny this.) In any case, I am Team GapFit. I’m only picky about workout bottoms, though. For tops I like and wear regular cotton tank tops from Target.

    For pjs, I wear whatever tank top or cami I had on that day (because I’m klassy like that) with one of a very select few pj bottoms I love, some of which came from Old Navy circa 2001, believe it or not.

  • Dee

    Not too long ago I finally went through my underwear drawer to get rid of the old panties I dont wear anymore. I had recently found some panties I like at Soma – cotton with lace, bought about 15, in mostly black, but I had not gotten rid of the old ones I swear I threw out over 40 pairs!! (how they all fit in the drawer with all my newer panties I will never know!). Many were still really wearable but I just could not “go back” to that granny style so out they went! I thnk underpinnings are important, pretty is nice but being comfortable is more important. I have lots of “pretty” bras but they just are not comfy for all day wear so they sit in my (other) drawer…. I tend to rotate between about 4 – 5 bras in beige, black or white.

  • I’ve also been on a mission to upgrade my underpinnings. I’ve always tried to wear good quality bras & panties bec. the fit does show thru your outerwear. I don’t necessarily wear fancy ones (I still long for a really pretty matched set, but I haven’t found one that fits both ends of me!), but good ones in colors I love.

    I hate working out, so that’s not an issue, but PJs are definitely a sore spot. I’ve been a ‘grab random big T-shirt & wear that to bed’ gal for most of my adult life, & it’s just lazy. As a little girl, I adored fancy, frilly nightgowns & matching robes. I want that again! But, y’know, in an adult fashion. So I’m starting to look for things. Yet I’m also practical, & the first items I’ve found that I love are simple night shirts made of a deliciously soft modal fabric that feels like an old tee but looks silky & comes in rich jewel tones. And they’re from Target! Baby steps…

  • NY Visitor

    I have truly mixed feelings about this. Beautiful undergarments are wonderful to wear, but they usually are very expensive. Just this summer, I broke down and bought three bras from a NYC store known for good fitting. It was over $300. Bras also are supposed to be tossed in a year. I can’t afford to do that.

    Although if I had the money I would get custom-made bras from places like Rigby & Peller, I don’t like to think that I have to spend thousands of dollars on undergarments each year to create a better frame of mind. That kind of thinking puts me in thrall to the fashion-beauty industrial complex.

    II once spent almost $1,000 on two pieces at La Perla. I’ve bought $50 tights from Wolford and $10 tights from Duane Reade. Sometimes the $10 tights are all I need.

    I’ve never been happy with Garnet Hill. I loved their catalogue, but their clothes never lived up to the photos.

    • Good-quality underwear can indeed tend to be pricier, but honestly I rarely spend more than $50 for a bra, even though I have a hard-to-find size that’s sold in very few U.S. stores. Online shopping is definitely the way to go for me – there are lots of great bra/lingerie stores out there, and generally the bras are in the $40-60 range (although you can certainly find cheaper if you look). Also, ebay can actually be a good source.

      Some online bra stores that come to mind are http://www.breakoutbras.com, http://www.figleaves.com, http://www.bravissimo.com, http://www.butterflycollection.ca... I could go on!

      • Eliza

        I tend to fluctuate a bit, so usually by the time I need new bras, I have to be refitted. I’ve found a local boutique that is fantastic at fitting my difficult shape, but they mark up quite a bit. I usually buy one or two bras from them, then track down duplicates online.
        For sleepwear, I always check thrift stores for Dior nightgowns (made in the eighties.) Despite the fact that they are 20-30 years old, they hold up well, and are practical but pretty. My favorite are full length, sleaveless, and made of jersey. I love the fact that the lace on the Dior nightgowns is strategically placed so that it never itches!

    • Moira

      I have to agree about Garnet Hill’s clothes. The catalog is always so tempting, but the few things I ordered from them didn’t deliver in either fit or quality. On the other hand, their housewares are nice; I have a Garnet Hill bedspread I’m quite happy with.

  • Heather

    I’m a dancer so I have a ton of workout clothes, and I’ve recently gotten into running. I avoid cotton (holds moisture and causes friction) and prefer a compressive fit for support, but to each their own. Underarmour is worth every penny, as are good sports bras.

    I’m a difficult bra size, so I most of my bras are very expensive. I’m in love with Maidenform’s dream panties- really comfy and no lines- I never match bra to panty, I match (or deliberately contrast) bra to shirt color and the same with panties.

    I’m a nightgown girl- can’t stand pjs or anything on my lower half. Stuffs gotta breathe.

  • MM

    I love Fila for workout pants and you can frequently find their gear at TJMAXX and Burlington. I’ve done an undies/pajamas upgrade and everything I own is now by Soma. Honest, the most comfortable stuff. I just bought a gf a set of lounge pajamas for after a c-section and she’s a convert. If they seem spendy, they run amazing sales.

  • BamaCarol

    I have a favorite bra that NEVER goes on sale so it is $60 no matter when I buy it. Having recently lost 40 pounds, I need to purchase some new ones but as I have more weight I want to lose, I’m loathe to part with that much money for a temporary fix. And I have found that as ugly as they are, the white cotton briefs (aka granny panties) keep me from having the constant yeast infections that I used to have. So in view of that, I forego the pretty undies for the ones that keep me itch free.

  • shebolt

    I’ve buying bras (sport and regular) from Target ever since I discovered that they work for me and are fairly nice, plus inexpensive. I’m a 34B (yes, I’m measured properly), so I don’t really need special fit or support.

    I just found the perfect pair of undies for me. It’s a Jockey Modal Hipster. They don’t budge, and don’t feel like I’m wearing undies at all. I’m slowly stocking up and wish they had more colors.

    As for sleepwear – I prefer nightshirts or gowns. I don’t like having a waistband when I sleep, and I find that pants or shorts bunch up and annoy me. I know it’s not cool, but it works for me. I’ve been liking the Simply Vera line at Kohls. The fabric is soft and comfy, and the colors are hip and modern.

  • SKP

    I wonder if folks who care a lot about style are more inclined to neglect the underpinnings and the private-time gear? My partner cares only about comfort and function…I think the wardrobe area where he’s spent the most money lately is socks. Really nice wool socks. Myself, I’m somewhere in between. Good bras, terrible workout gear, etc.

  • I am terrible about undergarments. They just aren’t fun to spend money on. : / I get new bras about once a year, as they wear out and must be replaced. Panties I will wear until they have holes in them. Ditto socks, tights, and nylons.

  • I’m really not picky about workout wear. I don’t care what I look like, I even go in the morning, still rocking my bedhead. I don’t care if I run into my students there, either.

    When I started going to professional conferences (and sharing hotel rooms with other grad students), I invested in a couple of nice, modest nightgowns. But at home, I rarely use them; my body heat kicks WAY UP as I fall asleep; I don’t need or want any extra insulation.

    Bras, however, I care about.Once I was willing to shell out for Wacoal and Natori, my bras finally fit me properly. I shop Nordstrom’s half-yearly sales and try to make the most of the clearance racks, but when it comes down to it, I want a good fit, and I will invest. I agree, all of your clothes look better when your foundations are good. Foundations, shoes, and coats – these are the investment pieces for me.

  • Jenny

    I must be weird but I think nite gowns are awful. I always have them ride up and get twisted around my waist. I wear sweatpants and tshirts to bed. Not glamourous, but its what’s comfortable to me.

  • shanna

    I love the part about underpinnings!! When I started wearing bras, my mom took me a fancy place to get fitted and they showed me how to “put myself” into the bra. I operate a career closet that outfits women for jobs and almost every woman I see needs a new bra. And no one has EVER told them how to shake themselves into it!! When they do they put on a new bra and get in it correctly, they all come out smiling and can’t believe how much better they feel in it. Its very important for your underpinnings to fit well so that your clothes fit well. Thanks for all your great outfits and advice. I love to read this blog!

  • Heh, I just bought a ton of undies at Kohl’s. I really like one specific style–french cut briefs–but I don’t have a preference for fabric or a need for specificly 100% cotton or anything.

    Bras are something I have to shell out for, and I really like being able to try them on–there are slight differences between brands that mean I go in with six bras to try on and only two of them fit. $100 a bra is my average, not my high end. Le sigh, I attempt to rotate them to increase wear. But I also have discovered that I have neck muscles that drop my bra straps off my shoulders unless I’m careful, which is a pain and another engineering challenge I need to look out for.

    I got my last set of workout clothes at the Nike outlet store here in Portland. That’s one advantage to living close to Beaverton…

    And on a completely different subject–have folks seen the Saint Harridan tailored suit Kickstarter? Talk about menswear inspired! If I had a few hundred spare dollars I know what I’d be ordering…

  • I buy all my bras on eBay and have for the last couple of years. Good bras are an essential, and they don’t last much longer than cheap ones, so DON’T pay retail.

    I also recommend Title Nine and Athleta, they have good sales, and sensible color choices. My workout clothes from them have lasted much longer than the Sportmart or Target equiv alent.

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  • Anonymous

    Any advice on where to find good-quality bras that are 100% cotton? I struggle with eczema-related sweat/chafing/rashes from synthetic bra straps and edging. I’ve found that even when bras are advertised as 100% cotton, this claim does not apply the straps and sometimes the very bottom edging of the bra. Does anyone else have this problem?

    To further complicate things, I am nursing right now, so would prefer to find a nursing bra that meets the 100% cotton strap criteria. But I am so desperate I would be willing to wear a non-nursing bra if I could find a quality non-irritating one. I am a 36DD. (Feels weird to say that; I was a B pre-baby!)

    Also, since we are on the chafing/irritating topic, does anyone know where to find cute cotton underwear that meets this criteria? So many of the cotton underwear brands I’ve found have a thin synthetic band around the waist and/or leg bands that gives me a terrible rash, especially in sweaty summer months. I hate resorting to granny panties, but those seem to be the only cuts that don’t have irritating edging.

    Thanks so much!

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