Repost: Employing Underthings

I’ll be taking the week off regular programming to spend time with my family and relax a bit. Hope many of you can do the same, and enjoy these tidbits from the archive!

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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 one – 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-style.
  • I have never, ever successfully deployed 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 can’t always see them.

Related post: The Perils of Undergarments

So, what are your key undergarments? Views on how they should fit? Which pieces do you use for which occasions? Or do you do the same set regardless of your outfit? Any resources or wisdom to share?

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.

  • Becky

    I may be able to shed light on the full slip issue. I wear them all the time. I have a rectangular (no waist) figure and mostly wear empire-waist or straight-cut dresses. Full slips work great under such dresses. If I want a layer between my dress and my skin (for example, slightly itchy or thin sweater dresses, or cold weather) a camisole and half-slip will create horizontal lines at my midsection (which I’m trying *not* to call attention to). A full slip skims right over everything for a nice smooth line. Is comfy, too.

  • Sarah

    I just have to share my shapewear story…I never wear it but about 7 years ago, when my high school reunion was looming, I bought a pair of high-waisted panty shapers. I had gained about 15 pounds and was feeling a little uncomfortable in my skin. The ones I bought (from Lane Bryant) were super tight, super shiny, and black matte. I am short waisted and they came up so high I could tuck them under my bra. But they smoothed my tummy out and I felt AMAZING.

    Fast forward to my reunion – I totally forgot to factor in going to the bathroom. So I’m at this bar (my high school was Klassy like that) and I have to pee something fierce but I also know there is no way in hell I am getting these panties off and back on without a lot of drama and sweat. Then I discovered that there were snaps in the crotch of the panties, so you could just unsnap, pee, and snap back up. I unsnapped. I peed. I tried to snap back up for 15 minutes. It was impossible. I could not wrestle the snaps back together, no matter how hard I tried. So after about 20 minutes total in the restroom, I went back to the party with my shapewear panties unsnapped and the fabric crotch flaps hanging loose….and I was wearing pants. We stayed for about 15 more minutes before I told my date we HAD to leave NOW.

    I hope someone reading this can learn from my mistakes. Make sure the crotch snaps back up, or just buy a pair that you can take on and off easily. It’s not worth looking smooth if you can’t pee and/or have to leave a party early!!

  • Cheryl

    I hope you’re having a lovely break from blogging, Sal. Thank you for the extremely helpful post. I thought I was the only person who loved my pettipants.

  • Anita

    I just ordered two of the Vanity Fair half slips yesterday! I’ve been wearing more skirts and tights lately and never thought about wearing a slip to keep them from fighting until I read it on your blog! Anxciously awaiting my package…

  • Sara

    I like to wear a long, black knit camisole and tuck it into my pants or skirt. That way, if I lean over no one sees bare skin, the tops of my panties, or a nude camisole that could look like bare skin. So many girls wear low cut pants and a short top, which looks just fine until they bend over and expose skin and the top of their lacy thong. Sometimes you don’t need to even bend over, your shirt just rides up and your pants ride down while you’re sitting at your desk working, unaware that everyone walking behind you has a view of your bare lower back.

  • Anonymous

    I wear camisoles all the time for several reasons. Some of them are form fitting and act as additional support to my bra, for see through tops and, in the heart of winter, a slim foisting undershirt.

    My favorites are from jc Penney but shipping to canada is hardly cost worthy.

  • Laura

    If I’m wearing a high-waist skirt, or a dress, I’m wearing high-waist knickers. I feel a lot more secure under a float dress with fabric covering my torso, & I’ve never had a visible knicker line.

    I do wish there was a way of trying undies on before you buy them. I can judge whether most clothing items will fit, but my bum & thighs confound me. I have so many pairs of undies that sit in my wardrobe unworn, & I hate spending more than a few bucks on a pair that I don’t know will work.

    • Sara

      I try on underwear all the time. I just try it on over my own. I take panties into the changeroom and an attendant has never said anything to me. My husband bought me underwear for Christmas and it came with a gift receipt so I could return it if I needed to.

      • Laura

        I’ve brought undies with me into changerooms when I’m trying something else on, & the attendant has always taken the undies off me ‘to hold’ when I go in.

  • Laura

    I do also wonder, on those days when I’ve got my clothes & undies just right, whether people will think I’m not wearing any undies at all.

  • KL

    I’ve owned black, white, and nude camis in both cotton and nylon. Hands-down, the cotton camis are worn much more often, and I find myself pulling out nude much less than I expected to (although this may be impacted by the fact that my nude cami is only nylon). I find that nylon gets very staticky, especially after washing, and I don’t need the extra slipperiness. Plus, cotton is just more comfortable.

  • Amber

    “Let’s dig in.”
    [cue section on bras]

    Pretty appropriate intro to bras–the master diggers of all underthings.

  • Paula

    I think for most people, your advice on the high waisted shaper would work. But I’m one of the caveats. I have a severe separation of my stomach muscles due to five pregnancies and have found that almost all of the high waisted shapers actually make my stomach stick out MORE! The only one that doesn’t is the real Spanx brand, but I have to wrestle myself into that thing so that only happens maybe once a year or less… I wear the bike short type shapers a lot in the summer when I’m wearing A-line skirts, they serve a dual function for me, holding the tummy in a bit while also providing modesty if a breeze or small child happens to make my skirt fly up. : ) As long as the shaper hits me just at or slightly above the belly button, they hold me in much better than the high waisted variety. Just thought you’d like to know in case you come across a client that has a really poochy tummy like I do. And I do mean REALLY poochy. On a bad day I look 3 months pregnant. Those are the days that the shapewear comes out if I have to leave the house.

  • Angel

    I have found use for the shapewear brief or boy short with a normal waist ( not high waisted) under jeans , gives the tush a little lift and still feels like you are just wearing underwear , I can’t stand the all over shapewear feeling …so confined

  • Eliza

    I swear by nude colored silk camisoles. They’re comfortable, machine washable, and they feel like my own little secret under a blouse. The only problem is that they can slip around a little throughout the day.
    One thing I’ve noticed is that jersey skirts (unless they are quite full) are not at all forgiving of panty lines. I’ve donated a number of straight cut skirts because they highlighted every tiny seam of my undergarments!

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  • Hanna

    I have high (and fleshy) hips but instead of sizing up I just look for underwear that works with my shape. Truly high-waisted would probably be best but I haven’t found anything high-waisted enough in cotton. I will keep looking.

    What does work for me is underwear with a wide (5cm+) elasticized lace instead of regular elastic in the waist band (which always cuts in), lays flat, stays up, doesn’t cut in or show under clothing.

  • v65

    I just ordered some pettipants! I love summer dresses, but if it’s a hot day, my sweaty legs chafe. Also, I’m hoping they don’t twist and bunch up as much as slips. Besides, I love the idea of wearing bloomers under my modern clothes :)

  • Val Sparkle

    I’ve learned so much here! I was kind of in my rut, but a comfortable rut. I hadn’t heard about pettipants since I was a little girl – where can I find some? I also get annoyed with chafing thighs in the summer, and I think I would prefer pettipants to a half-slip, which always seems to ride up.

    • Cheryl

      Sal has a link in the above article. There are lots of different styles online. I was wearing a pair of mine about a year ago when the elastic gave way and I had to excuse myself (I was teaching at the time!) to remove them. May be past time to buy a few new ones.

  • Yan

    I’m not large-chested, so for years I avoided specialty bra shops thinking I didn’t need a good measuring and fitting (and having flashbacks to the one awkward visit when I was 13 and a camisole would have fully supported everything). I WAS WRONG. The bra shop in my town is fully of very well-trained women who will measure you and bring you an overwhelming rack of bras to try on to find the perfect fit. I was not wearing the right size and I was not wearing the right fit at all. Now I own a few fantastic bras that fit everything perfectly, they do not cut into me, and I do not even notice I am wearing them all day.

    Now, if only I could find (under)pants to do the same!

    Also, I love full slips, but I like dresses with tights and don’t often belt tightly. I find I fuss less with a full slip than a half. They are hard to find in short but not too short lengths. Half slips work best for me with skirts. I’d love more camisoles, but can’t often find ones that are fitted, but not too fitted.