Please help educate me on the purchasing of nice lingerie
August 10, 2011 7:27 PM   Subscribe

Educate me about the purchasing of fancy lingerie. the past, I was very frugal and paying off student loans, and I didn't have a boyfriend for awhile, and when I did he didn't care much about these things and/or we did not get to the stage where this was an important issue.

Now...the student loans are paid off so I have more money to spend on such things, and I have a somewhat serious boyfriend who loves the fancy underthings. I also have a large gift card for a quality local mall. I want to buy some quality garments that will last a long time, be very good as far as care and support of the body parts, and give the boy a bit of fun.

I have no idea what stores to shop at. I have no idea what to look for in terms of quality, fit etc. I have no idea what I should expect to pay for good stuff and how I should take care of it short of handwashing and leaving it hanging to dry all over the place, which would not be my preference. I have been buying cheap stuff and machine washing it. I have no clue what I am doing. In short, I am a complete newbie at nice lingerie and need some pointers.

Mitigating issue: although I am not overweight by more than a few pounds, I am very big on top (36D last time I was properly fitted) and my experience, limited though it might be, has been that there is not as much to choose from (especially in the cute stuff) for woman of my size. Can I go to La Senza or Victoria's Secret (which just opened here) or must I go to a specialty shop? And once I am there, how can I spot the quality items?

Geography issue: I am in Toronto if that helps, and have access to a car
posted by JoannaC to Shopping (33 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
36D is a tough one, last I looked - like sizes 12 and 14, it exists on the hazy edge of what places carry. If your Victoria's Secret doesn't carry stuff you like in that size, swing by Cacique (Lane Bryant's lingerie line). Lane Bryant is (or was, anyway) part of the same corporate family as Victoria's Secret, and the Cacique styling does intersect with VS's to a certain extent.

If you don't have a Cacique but you're willing to go to Buffalo, I'm pretty sure you'll find one there.

(I have to say, though, that no matter how careful you are, it seems like "nice" underwear wears out much faster than you're probably used to.)
posted by SMPA at 7:35 PM on August 10, 2011

IANALady but I have learned from my girlfriend that finding nice lingerie is larger bust sizes is tough. 38DD gives her some trouble, but Victoria Secret came along and is her new favourite bra place (and I am definitely not complaining).

Specialty shops are probably a better choice, but I don't imagine that your mall gift card gives you that option.
posted by asnider at 7:41 PM on August 10, 2011

Specialty shops are probably a better but significantly more expensive choice, but I don't imagine that your mall gift card gives you that option.

(Is what I should have said.)
posted by asnider at 7:42 PM on August 10, 2011

Be aware that however careful you are, Victoria's Secret stuff will absolutely not last a long time. It's designed to be sort of semi-disposable so that you'll buy more of it. Machine washing will only hasten its demise.

Look around at large department stores to see if they have a decent selection of stuff you like.
posted by corey flood at 7:44 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sophia's Lingerie, Beestung Lingerie de Femme, Linea Intima, Nearly Naked...all specialty bra/lingerie stores in Toronto. If you aren't willing to spend as much as they have, I would go to a quality department store (Do you have Lord and Taylors/Nordstroms?) Atleast go to have one of them fit you.
posted by quodlibet at 8:00 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have a Nordstrom's, that would be where I would go. Or whatever nice department store you have access to.

Usually, it's machine washable if you use cold water, delicate cycle, and a lingerie bag*, but skip the dryer. Heat kills the elastic.

*Instead of a lingerie bag, you can toss them in a pillowcase and tie a knot in the bag, or tie it closed with a shoelace. If you use the bag, make sure you fasten the hooks on the bras, otherwise they get caught on the mesh.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:20 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're buying nice stuff to show off to your boyfriend and you need to stretch a gift card, why not try La Senza or Victoria Secret. Very generally speaking, lacy lingerie worn for a significant other is not particularly functional, so bra size is no big deal.

However, if you're buying it for yourself, then you owe to yourself to spend a little more money (this means avoiding the stores in the mall) to get a better fit, and to ensure better quality (and ultimately better value for your money, even if it is expensive up front).

How do I know this? My wife has a large bra size, but is also Asian, and so has to wait until trips back home to purchase bras.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 PM on August 10, 2011

Lord and Taylor does carry larger cup sizes - quite often up to DDD. It's quite refreshing.

Different brands work for me every time my body changes, so don't be afraid to try on a lot of stuff. Once you find a magic brand, stock up.

Look for:

1) Solid everyday bras that are attractive but practical in black and beige. Underwire, at least 3 fasteners in the back, no decoration that looks lumpy under your shirt. Jog in place and see how it goes. Spend some money on these. The gals need support.

2) OMG I feel pretty!! bras which may or may not be appropriate for everyday use. These have very simple requirements: they should make you feel amazing and they should be comfortable.

Any bras that fit both categories are immediate winners. Don't buy all your bras in one go. Get 2 or 3 different types and wear them for a few weeks first. See how they hold up and how you feel about them. See which one you find yourself wanting to wear every single day. Go back and buy more of that bra in different colors.

Taking care of your bras: on the weekend, fill a sink with detergent (I like to use lavender-scented dish soap) and water. Drop in the bras you used that week and let them soak for at least half an hour. Rinse a couple of times. Then use a synthetic chamois to press out the water by folding the chamois around the bra and applying pressure (don't twist!) and hang them to finish drying. If you put a fan on them they usually dry quickly.

Bra-Tenders fitting advice

007 - Bra size advice
posted by bunderful at 8:25 PM on August 10, 2011

You're just not going to find quality wash-and-wear lingerie. Abandon that notion. The missus seems to have an aversion to Victoria's Secret (quality is apparently not so good), and would never be caught dead in a Frederick's.
Does your mall have a Nordstrom? (On preview, I'm now the third person making this rec) If so, you might be able to find some good stuff there. The Hanky Panky brand is enthusiastically endorsed by this guy (pointing to self).
Be aware that this stuff is not going to be cheap. You pay for quality, and you're not going to find it for cheap anywhere.
If you decide to continue shopping after you've exhausted your gift card, I would suggest you check out Bare Necessities online. Lots of sexy stuff for ladies of every shape, and lots of great brands you might not have the time or temperament to track down yourself.
posted by Gilbert at 8:27 PM on August 10, 2011

The not-utilitarian selection at La Senza (IMHO) kind of skews blingy and bright these days. Depending on what you're looking for, you should be able to find something, but if you're going for more of a classy/refined sexy look, Victoria's Secret is probably a better pick at that price range.

If you have one of those Cadillac Fairview gift cards, it's also worth it to check out the lingerie sections at The Bay or Holt Renfrew. The latter, in particular, would be a good way to get boutique quality with your gift card.

As for boutiques, Change has very nice — but expensive — pieces, and most of their collections have a large range of sizes.
posted by thisjax at 8:34 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would go and get fitted again; any weight gain of +/- 15 pounds can change your cup and/or band size. This is most important for your cup size; you should wear your bras on the outermost fastening anyway, using the narrower fastenings as necessary,

For everyday use, I wear Spanx's Bra-lelluljah line: the demi push-up and underwire contour bras are comfy, and there's something to be said about minimalism. In nude or black, its easy enough to match to other pieces, like ExOfficio's Give-N-Go boy-cut briefs or Hanky Panky's boyshorts, which both have ridiculous tolerances for washing machines and hotel sinks. For dress-up sexytime, I actually just buy cheap, fun, disposable pieces; if it stays on long enough for the good doctor to recognize that it might be more Frederick's of Hollywood and not Agent Provocateur, it's not living up to expectations.
posted by evoque at 8:36 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

quality garments that will last a long time

This is basically the opposite of what you will find at La Senza or Victoria's Secret.

La Senza stuff is crappy and cheap. As far as I've ever been able to tell (and I've purchased a ton of lingerie from both places), VS stuff is of marginally better quality than La Senza but costs at least twice as much. If "nice lingerie" = frilly/titillating lingerie, you can certainly get a lot of bang for your buck at La Senza. But it sounds like that's really not what you're looking for.

Unfortunately my advice pretty much stops there -- I just wanted to warn you against those two options, because really truly they suck. I'm not yet at a point in my life where I can afford the good stuff, so I don't know much about it except that it's out there and I am vaguely covetous of it. I will, however, be watching this thread with interest to find out if there's any good quality sexy lingerie that can be gotten for under, say, $100 a bra.

If you're serious about this, I'd say go to a specialty shop and assume that pretty much anything that catches your eye there is a safe bet for quality.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:40 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have no idea what I should expect to pay for good stuff and how I should take care of it short of handwashing and leaving it hanging to dry all over the place, which would not be my preference.
I hand-wash my bras and it's really not a pain in the ass. I got some Soak Wash. (Extra bonus: they're a local company for you.) I fill my sink with water and Soak wash and stick my bras in it for a half an hour. I take them out. Soak wash is designed not to have to be rinsed out, so I can just hang my bras up to dry straight out of the sink. I have a gizmo like this, which is basically a bunch of clothes pins attached to a hanger. I hang it over my shower head, put the bras on it to dry, and the next morning all my bras are clean and dry. It takes about five minutes of actual work.

I don't know Toronto at all, but I would avoid Victoria's Secret. A lot of women who think they're a D are really bigger than that. It's just that D is the biggest cup size that most stores have, and that includes VS. You should go get a fitting at a good bra store to figure out your real size. VS's stuff is low quality, but more than that, they'll try to fit you into a size they have in stock, even if it's the wrong size for you.
posted by craichead at 8:44 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Busty gal here. (38D/36DD, depending) Are you looking for pieces that you'll wear for a little bit and take off? If so, I wouldn't go super expensive. Especially if they get pulled at and off you!

However, I'd avoid Victoria's Secret. I find their support and overall quality to be...lacking. I personally gave up on them, because I'd rather spend money on bras and underwear that will last long and be made well. Also, their bras never fit me right. There is something about their 'D' bras that makes me feel that they are cut a bit small? Maybe it's just my boobs since I edge toward a DD from time to time.

What's your price range? What do you consider expensive? I've got some great bras but they are definitely in the 90-150 price dollar range. PrimaDonna used to make some cute demi-bras and I really liked those. Another brand I like is La Mystere.

Some bras fit differently than others too - don't be married to your size - I've found I take a different size in French-made bras than others. That could just be me though. When I went through a similar quality bra buying experience, I found that some bras just fit me better in the smaller band and bigger cup and vice-versa.

I'd recommend you go online to some place like Bare Necessities or Hips and Curves to get an idea of what kinds and styles of bras you think you'd like. Then I'd go to a local specialty shop and try a bunch on and see what works in the real world. The people at those shops (in my experience) tend to be really good at helping you find what you are looking for and also are considered about fit and quality of the bra. I've never been unnecessarily up-sold on bras that weren't my style or fit wonky.

As for other lingerie, what are you interested in purchasing? Is it just cute panties and bras? Garter belts and longline bras or corsets? Again, if if it's just meant to be a hot visual and then not really used in the practical world, go cheaper there, and save your money for the bras and other things you may wear on a day-to-day basis.

I wash all my lingerie in a cool water bath in my sink. I had a few samples of Soak which is a no-rinse formula, and I thought it had a great smell and made it extra easy to clean stuff. Otherwise, Woolite works well too.

And just as a final word - I had a very well-meaning former bf gift with me some lovely Agent Provocateur underthings. I never wear them because they are ALL lace and totally scratchy. They are lovely to look at, but I'd never wear them for any period of time.
posted by carmenghia at 8:50 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: No Nordstrom's here :)

So...recommendations for a good specialty store in Toronto? :)

Btw, the boy is really disappointed with the answers so far. I think he was anticipating going to Victoria's Secret on Saturday and helping me spend the gift card, then taking me home and helping me, um, unwrap them :) Now, I am telling him he has to wait until I can go to a special store...
posted by JoannaC at 8:52 PM on August 10, 2011

Well, that big mall gift card isn't going to be any use at a speciality lingerie shop...I don't see why a bit of it shouldn't go towards picking up a little something lacy (and poor quality but oh well if you only wear it for ten minutes at a time it doesn't matter) so that you can get around to the important unwrapping business this weekend ;)
posted by ootandaboot at 9:31 PM on August 10, 2011

I'm a 36D and happily buy most of my bras at La Senza. I find that the cheapo 3 for $30 on sale bras from there last at least half as long as a $60-$100 specialty shop bra, if not as long as. (I know everyone else says otherwise, but that's my experience! YMMV!) I don't usually buy their fancy lacy wisp type bras, but some of the casual ones are pretty good looking.

I do think that sexy lacy bras from specialty shops look better than lacy bras from La Senza; so I buy my sexy bras at specialty stores or department stores and my everyday ones at La Senza. Opposite Day!
posted by equivocator at 9:43 PM on August 10, 2011

Best answer: +1 ootandaboot -- I am totally confused as to why Victoria's Secret and La Senza are appearing in a thread about better lingerie.

Definitely go to a boutique. It is a whole different world. "And once I am there, how can I spot the quality items?" -- there is a low risk of running into inferior stuff at a specialty store. Even the lower-priced stuff will be quite decent, quality-wise. (Do not be shy about your desires; it is fine to say "Unlined, no seaming, and under $50" or whatever; something fitting that will be cheerfully delivered to your fitting room.)

(Americans! We do not have Lord & Taylor, or Nordstrom's, or Bloomingdale's, or whatever other US dept store is going to be mentioned. Holt Renfrew's lingerie section is very small in Ottawa, but I suspect that's not the case in the bigger TO stores, in which case, worth a visit if you are feeling spendy)

Go to a few boutiques, find the one that suits; get a good fitting, try on loads of stuff. Bring stuff home. After a few months, decide which brand[s] out of the lot you adore -- then go hunt on eBay for liquidators who bought up discontinued styles from that brand, and buy things at a fraction of the price.

Here are some posh brands: La Perla, Rigby and Peller, Freya, Aubade. All affordable if you have the patience for eBay...

(I like Wacoal and Grenier for everyday bras, and Marks and Spencers for plain cotton bikini unders.)
posted by kmennie at 9:50 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Secrets from your Sister (Bathurst & Bloor)
Avec Plaisir (one in Greektown, one in Yorkville)

Expensive, but these people KNOW from bras. Fantasie and Prima Donna are good brands.
posted by emeiji at 10:26 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go to Victoria's Secret and buy fun sexy panties and camisoles!

Buy better bras that are well made from others shops.

I wear at 36DDD, I know your troubles. Wacoal makes sexy bars for bustier gals, I also like the Fantasie line of bras, not as pricey as Wacoal, great fit.
posted by jennstra at 10:34 PM on August 10, 2011

Try Tryst, on Queen just west of Spadina. Great selection, terrific staff. Functional and frilly stuff. I don't work there, or know anyone who does, but I've been there a couple of times & have really been impressed. Plenty of stuff for larger sizes too.
posted by kate4914 at 11:04 PM on August 10, 2011

Seconding the recommendation for Wacoal. They are well made but perhaps a bit more conservative, They have a store finder that may be helpful. Freya is really nice too and more colorful. Here is their store finder. Victorias Secret stuff I remember as being scratchy or pinchy. You could do like other have suggested and get some fun fantasy lingerie there and get some higher quality stuff for actually wearing more regularly.
posted by oneear at 11:41 PM on August 10, 2011

Secrets from your sister is having a big sale right now, 70% off older models. You may be a common enough size to find some deals (I was not so lucky). They have quality stuff and a wide range of sizes (one of only two stores I've found that can fit me) but you will pay for it. Mine usually hit around 100$.
posted by sgrass at 12:08 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm on limited Internet access so I can't link to various brands, but here are some things to consider:

First, you're probably not a 36D - if you're just a few pounds overweight by your words, you are likely not a 36 back -- I'm a size 18 and I'm a 36 back. It's a really common mistake for women to have a bra with too small of a cup size and too large a back size, which doesn't give her proper support. I'd guess you are probably closer to a 34F at minimum. If you go to my profile page, there are a few links to more info about bra-fitting and how you can get a good fit.

Second, as everyone else has said, no mall store is going to give you the quality that you are looking for. Beyond the cheap materials and construction, these brands don't even bother to properly size, probably because it's a lot easier to tell a woman she's a 36C (the most suspect bra size in the world, by the way) than to actually produce and stock the full range of sizes,which would in reality go up to cup sizes like H and I. If you just want a cheeky slightly scratchy nightie for your boyfriend to rip off by this weekend, by all means shop there, but if you want something that makes you look and feel incredible, try some other brands.

For the size I suspect you are, here are some great brands - the first is the three F's produced by Eveden -- Freya, Fantasie, and Fauve. They go up in terms of quality and price, and style. Freya is a young, colourful brand, Fantasie has more lace, and Fauve is the closest in style to traditional French lingerie with suspender belts, etc.

There's also actual continental European brands, like Empriente, Prima Donna and Marie Jo. All are very good quality and are usually stocked by speciality lingerie stores.

A few more brands you might want to try are Miss Mandalay (who also do great bikinis for larger cups) Charnos ( who do good basques) and Rigby & Peller's own brand, which you can find at their website. In fact, the R&p website is a great place to start, they stock many of the brands I've mentioned.

A lot of the names I've mentioned will be more expensive than you are expecting, but with lingerie, you really do get what you pay for in terms of comfort and longevity. A Freya bra has a shelf life of about 6 months, a R&P has lasted me up to 2 years.

If you really want to blow your boyfriend's mind, here are a few more brands that are less bra-and-knickers and more daring: Mint Siren, Bordelle, Strumpet and Pink, Lascivious, What Katie Did, Kiss Me Deadly. They are all very different and sexy in their own way!
posted by ukdanae at 2:59 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

By the way - there is no reason why you can't tale your boy to Victoria's Secret. You don't have to buy anything...
posted by plinth at 3:05 AM on August 11, 2011

The trick with fancy lingerie is that you only put it on in order to take it off.

That way you avoid the daily wear and tear and the loss of novelty. This also reduces the importance of perfect fit/support issues and replaces them with strictly aesthetic ones.
posted by srboisvert at 3:54 AM on August 11, 2011

Does the mall have a Jacob? I don't know about sizes there, but they have lingerie that is not quite as neon as the stuff at La Senza.
For fancy stuff, Secrets from Your Sister is amazing but yes, expensive. I have been hearing good things about Tryst on Queen but haven't been yet.
posted by kyla at 4:51 AM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: 36C (the most suspect bra size in the world, by the way)

Hear, hear.

If you've never had quality lingerie, then I think you need to do two things:

1. Get yourself fitted at a specialty store. (If they use a measuring tape, run.) Buy at least two bras there, of which one should be a T-shirt bra. That'll be your workhorse, you'll want to get at least one more of those on Ebay.

2. Once you know your correct size and have taken care of your real lingerie needs in 1 above, go with your boyfriend to the mall and have fun picking out sexy stuff to wear for fun. You're unlikely to find your perfect bra size, but because it's for fun and not utility, you can approximate as follows: if your actual size is a 32DD, you can buy a 34D, or even a 36C depending on the style, and have the band adjusted by a tailor. The cup is what matters - as the band size goes up by one, the cup size goes down by one.

Then sit back and note the dramatic turn for the better that your life will take.
posted by Dragonness at 7:11 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

In case you're doubting ukdanae's math above, I would like to share that I wore a 36DD for years, and when properly fitted found out I was actually a 32G. I'm on the slender side, and while my chest is quite noticeably larger than average, I don't look like Dolly Parton or anything. I don't think a true 36D would read as very large-breasted.

After the initial fitting, I have bought stuff online (but I live in a small city in the American South, so my brick-and-mortar options are limited). I agree with everyone above that if you want to get nice underwear to wear under your clothes, a boutique is a good place to get fitted and started. If you just want "playclothes" there's nothing wrong with Victoria's Secret.
posted by jeoc at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2011

Here to recommend Secrets from Your Sister and Change (on Queen St., near John, I think). I would actually argue with the person above who said Change is expensive -- it's way cheaper than Secrets. I bought five bras there recently and all of them were in the $30-$60 range. I think I spent $180 total, tax included. Just a warning, though -- Change does a weird European sizing thing, so you'll probably end up coming out a 32F or something.

Both Change and Secrets will fit you and the bras will be amazing. Spend a bunch of money, by yourself a half dozen bras or so. Wear a different one every day (they'll last longer if you aren't wearing them multiple days in a row). Handwash and hang them up to dry. Get refit whenever you lose or gain 10ish pounds or so.

One more tip -- a proper fitting bra will feel a bit tight in the band when you first wear it. It will loosen up as the band stretches with wear.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2011

Gah, *buy yourself.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2011

honestly, if it weren't for the gift card i'd say go to nice shops that have all the crazy array of sizes and really good built to last brands (wacoal, felina, chantelle, natori, and up), find the size in those brands and the style number/name you like, and then do a devoted ebay filtered search and order that way. it is the best bang for buck i've found with bras--anything in a walk-in mall store unless you have something on the level of nordstrom's isn't going to last that long when it comes to bras, and bras are expensive! for some reason they are reliably as much as 70% cheaper new with tags on ebay if you're diligent about looking.

and the idea of bras that are functional in an everyday sense (12 hour support, say) as being the same as sexy lingerie for fun times doesn't compute to me, honestly. but maybe i misread.
posted by ifjuly at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2011

Btw, the boy is really disappointed with the answers so far. I think he was anticipating going to Victoria's Secret on Saturday and helping me spend the gift card, then taking me home and helping me, um, unwrap them :) Now, I am telling him he has to wait until I can go to a special store...

No, no, no. Go to Victoria's Secret with the boy! It's very um, fun and ah, stimulating--been there, done that fairly recently. It makes for a lovely Saturday ;)

You've got the gift card anyway. Definitely go and have fun spending it this weekend, and sort out the fancy stuff at some other point in time (that's two different fun things: this weekend for him giving advice--I'm still bemused by what my boy found sexy and what I thought he would--and knowing what he's going to ah, unwrap and then another weekend for you to go and get fancy stuff and then surprise him).

As one with a similar bra size, here's my Vicky's recommendation: don't get any bras hardly at all and only get certain styles of lingerie. For the lingerie, watch out for anything that has a triangle cut to the breasts (this, for example) because they might not fit right OR comfortably.

Look for something like this which if it fits at all (no gurantee--Victoria's Secret is not so well equipped for the well endowed, oddly enough) will be more forgiving in the chest area. Or try something like this. The key is to look for something where you're sexily spilling out, not uncomfortably packed in.

FYI, the stores often have a more limited selection than online (way more limited than you might realize, honestly). It's still fun! I genuinely recommend going out to the mall with the boy for fun and looking later for the fancier stuff. Double the pleasure...
posted by librarylis at 8:53 PM on August 11, 2011

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