Bras, panties, shapewear, teddies, nightgowns, foundations... There is a whole world of beautiful, feminine lingerie to be explored: a world so wide that many are not aware of all the lovely choices you have. I hope you can use the detailed information in this guide to know what kinds of lingerie are available and which pieces you might need in your wardrobe. You can then go about selecting particular styles and use your newfound knowledge to shop with confidence.
Types of LingerieThe best way to become acquainted with all of the lingerie options available is to break down the items by category. Following are the major groups of intimates with subtypes noted where applicable.
BrasThe bra (short for "brassiere") became popular in the Western hemisphere around the turn of the 20th century, although there is some evidence that bra-like garments existed as early as the 14th century. Most women wore corsets to support the breasts before bras became widely available. The following table lists modern bra styles.
|Balconette||An underwire bra with wide-set straps; provides a rounded, uplifted look; cups are low and often sectioned|
|Demi-cup||Covers the bottom half of the breast and the nipple, often in the balconette style|
|Full coverage||Cups cover most of the breasts; upper cups minimize bounce|
|Mastectomy||A typically full-coverage bra that covers surgery scars and features pockets in the cups for holding prostheses in place|
|Minimizer||Redistributes breast tissue to reduce bust projection and make chest appear smaller|
|Nursing||Supports heavier, larger breasts and facilitates breastfeeding with cups that can be opened|
|Plunge||Cut very low between the breast to allow for a low-cut dress or blouse to be worn without showing the bra|
|Push - up||Designed to make the breasts appear larger and enhance cleavage|
|Sport or athletic||Supports the breasts during physical activity, especially those involving high-impact movements|
|Strapless, multi - way, or convertible||Can be worn with dresses or tops that have unusual necklines, such as strapless, halter, one-shoulder, or cross-back|
|Training||Provides modesty for young, developing girls who may have breast buds showing through clothing|
|T-shirt||A smooth, seamless bra that is virtually undetectable under clingy knits|
Bra sizing can be complicated, but many department and specialty stores have knowledgeable salespeople who can help with fitting. For those who prefer to fit themselves can do so by using a tape measure while wearing a regular everyday bra. To calculate the band size, measure the circumference of the rib cage and add four inches to an even number or five inches to an odd number. To determine the cup size, measure the bust at the fullest point and subtract the band size from the bust measurement. A difference of one inch equals an A cup and so on, adding one cup size for each additional inch of difference, so that a band size of 36 and a chest measurement of 40 would indicate a 36D bra size.
Breast Forms and EnhancersYou may have probably been stuffing their bras since the undergarments were first invented. Certainly facial tissues, cotton balls, socks, rags, and other materials have been used to fill out bra cups and give the illusion of a bigger bust. Thankfully, the lingerie industry now offers mass-marketed products that do the same job. There are many types of breast forms and enhancers on the market, but the following table explains the most common ones.
Breast Form and Enhancer Types
|Postmastectomy breast forms||Prostheses that mimic the look, feel, and weight of natural breasts; worn inside a bra or swimsuit by women who have had one or both breasts surgically removed|
|Push-up pads||Foam pads that are worn in combination with a push-up style bra to make the breasts appear fuller and enhance cleavage|
|"Chicken cutlets"||Usually nude-colored silicone pieces that look like real breast flesh, inserted into the bra cups to add one or more cup sizes|
Corsets and BustiersMost people buy corsets and bustiers for fun, but some do wear them as functional lingerie. These two undergarments are often classified together but serve distinctly different purposes.
Corsets wrap around the midsection and fasten by means of hooks and eyes, laces, or zippers. The corset typically extends from just beneath the bust to hip level and was originally designed to reduce the waist size by several inches. Bust support is not the primary purpose of a corset, although it occurs secondarily due to the squeezing of the torso.
A bustier is essentially a longline strapless bra that supports and defines the breasts. This is achieved through a similar action to the corset, and although a bustier may feature boning, it is not worn tightly cinched like a corset but merely snugly to the form. A bustier also features bra cups at the top and is shorter than a typical corset, normally stopping at the waist or slightly above it.
Garter BeltsThe invention of pantyhose made the garter belt unnecessary years ago, although many people still prefer to wear stockings with a garter belt. For one, stockings are better for the environment; when there is a run in one leg, it can be discarded individually, and the other leg can still be worn. A garter belt can also provide more shaping support to the abdomen and hips than control-top pantyhose. Vintage garter belts combined the functions of a girdle and a garter belt. Now, garter belts are most often worn in the bedroom as opposed to as everyday functional undergarments.
Originally, garters were worn by men and women when it was customary for both sexes to wear hose. Men continued to wear sock garters until the development of ribbed and elasticized sock cuffs rendered this practice largely unnecessary. Women, too, wore garters, one on each leg to hold up stockings. The garter belt is different in that it is worn around the waist and has suspenders or straps with clips that extend down to the top of the thigh where the stockings end. These garters are then fastened to the stocking tops with clips, clasps, or buttons.
PantiesPanties are worn for warmth, modesty, protection, and hygienic purposes, although many styles of underpants are decorative as well. The following table lists the different styles of panties available.
|Thong||A triangular panel in front narrows to a very thin strip of fabric at the back which lies between the buttocks and gets wider toward the waistband|
|G-string||The barest type of thong and similar in design, with the crotch narrowing to a mere string that sits between the buttocks and joins the string waistband|
|String bikini||Triangular full-coverage front and back joined with thin, elasticized fabric "strings" over the hips|
|Tanga||Triangular full-coverage front and back connected by a wide waistband|
|Bikini||A full panty that is cut very low, leaving very little material over the abdomen and hips|
|Hipster, hip hugger, or low-cut brief||A full panty that is cut moderately low so that it does not show when worn with low-rise jeans|
|High-cut brief||A full panty that sits at the natural waist but has high-cut leg holes|
|Brief||A full panty that provides maximum coverage all around the body|
|Boy short||A low-cut panty that extends onto the thigh like shorts or hot pants|
|Tap pant||A loose-fitting short, cut much like a track short but feminized with silky fabrics and lace trim; often worn with a matching camisole|
Panties come in a variety of materials: lace, nylon, microfiber, and cotton, to name a few. It is suggested that the crotch of any everyday panty be lined with 100 percent breathable cotton for health reasons. Most underpants are elasticized at the waist and leg openings, although laser-cut designs eliminate the elastic to reduce visible panty line (VPL). The main focus of panty technology is the elimination of VPL, which is why the thong style is popular with many gals.
ShapewearCorsets were the original shapewear, followed by bras and girdles. Throughout most of modern history, people have strived to alter their body shape with various structured undergarments, some of which were not so comfortable. Modern shapewear is not only comfortable but gives a much more natural look under clothing. The following table discusses the five top categories of body shapers.
|Bodysuit||Looks like a one-piece swimsuit and provides support for the entire torso; may include a bra or be cut so that a you can wear a regular bra underneath|
|Brief||Like a full-cut panty, a control brief fully covers the abdomen, hips, and rear and gives light support to one or more of these areas|
|Shaping top||Similar in appearance to tank tops or camisoles; like bodysuits, they may have a built-in bra or be designed to be worn with a separate bra|
|Slip shaper||Much like a half slip, this garment smooths the abdomen, rear, hips, and thighs|
|Waist cincher||Fasten around the waist and serve to create a narrower waistline; a modern variation of the corset|
The main thing to remember when purchasing (or trying on) shapewear is to stick to regular clothing size. Shapers that are too small will merely pinch the flesh, make wear uncomfortable, and possibly cut off circulation. In fact, even a shaper in the right size sometimes is too tight; if the shapewear digs in and creates a muffin top or unnatural rolls or contours, try one size up. Do not go too large, however, as the shaper will bulge and twist and not be effective. If more support is desired, go with a higher level of control (or stiffness), not a smaller size.
SlipsA slip is worn beneath sheer dresses and skirts to mask the leg and crotch, which may be visible when the wearer is standing in front of a light source. Slips can also add a layer of warmth and eliminate the effects of static cling. The following table describes the two main types of slips.
|Half slip||Covers the lower half of the body where a skirt would fall; elasticized to sit at the waist; varying hem lengths available|
|Full slip||Combines a camisole and half slip into one garment, essentially forming a full body lining for any dress or skirt-and-blouse combination|
Slips are not as common as they used to be, but it is always practical to have a shorter half slip on hand just in case; a shorter length is more versatile, perhaps not covering the entire inner legs but the crotch and thigh area. Slips for pants or split skirts, also called pant liners, are also available.
TeddiesA teddy is a one-piece garment that covers the entire torso and is held up with shoulder straps. Teddies are also referred to as bodysuits, although a bodysuit is generally considered to be a form-fitting garment, while a teddy is a looser, more sheer item that is not intended to provide support of any kind.
While teddies have a modern reputation as sexy undergarments, they actually were considered modest when they first developed in the early part of the 20th century, providing the function of a camisole and knickers in one convenient piece.
Miscellaneous ItemsMany items do not fall into these straight categories but may be considered lingerie accessories. Examples include
- Double-sided tape
- Pasties or petals to be worn over the nipples
- Interchangeable bra straps
- Bra extenders
Fun LingerieThere are hundreds of items classified as lingerie that are not mainstream or practical for daily wear. These pieces include but are not limited to
- Costumes: French maid, bunny, nurse, and so on
- Fetish wear: leather, rubber, and metallic garments
- Crotchless panties
- Cupless bras
- Sheer lace or fishnet dresses and tops