By and  on February 14, 2005

NEW YORK — The U.S. may be in a conservative mode, but seductive lingerie that leaves little to the imagination is the Valentine’s Day gift of choice.

Department and specialty store and high-end boutique retailers across the country said they initially expected the ramifications of economic and employment uncertainty to continue to quash purchases of high-ticket items and boudoir fare that had over-the-top sex appeal.

But to retailers’ delight, the buying mood of consumers for Valentine’s Day has been upbeat, particularly with the abundance of special-looking merchandise that merchants said inspired consumers to spend. Merchants also noted that while sexy fare is a predictable sell for the holiday, the preference this year was for merchandise that is more sexually suggestive and risqué.

Retailers also generally said that an increasing number of women were buying lingerie as an indulgent Valentine’s Day gift for themselves. Buying patterns were similar among men and women, who were described as purchasing gifts that have a fun, sexy appeal. A number of retail executives said male customers, a majority of whom traditionally feel awkward shopping for lingerie, were not embarrassed and knew what they wanted.

“I think it’s all of that sex on TV like ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Desperate Housewives,’” said Polly Berg, owner of her namesake store in Wayzata, Minn.

Bestsellers featured special detailing such as girly pink or red satin ribbon trim, lace-up back treatments, lace overlays and eyelash lace trim, provocative cut-out effects and allover sheer silhouettes. The top-selling solid colors were candy pink followed by lipstick red and black, while best-selling color combinations were black with pink or red trim, and pink or red with black trim. There also was a demand for a variety of blue shades on the West Coast, from French blue to baby blue. Key fabrics included shiny looks, such as polyester charmeuse or satin, or transparent chiffon, georgette and mesh.

Two themes underscored the buying trend for gift-giving: ultra-feminine looks that had a sweet, ingenue quality, and items that were described by a majority of merchants as naughty-looking and blatantly sexual.

Top-selling items included:

  • Sheer, layered baby dolls with built-in push-up bra cups at Frederick’s of Hollywood and Lane Bryant.
  • Dominatrix-inspired black bras, bustiers, G-strings, garters and sheer back-seam and fishnet hosiery at Victoria’s Secret.
  • Novelty bras, whether cut-out cups that encircle the breasts by French label Yoba or extra-low-cut balconette numbers that reveal the nipples by Myla.
  • Thongs, especially styles that are embellished at the top of the derriere with rhinestones, paillettes, beading, appliqués or bows. Top-selling brands included Cosabella, On Gossamer, Calvin Klein Underwear and DKNY Underwear at Bloomingdale’s.
  • Sex toys that resemble home accessories, such as a contemporary sculpture by Tom Dixon for Myla or assorted Objets d’Amour like a rubber ducky by Rykiel Woman at Henri Bendel.
“Thongs are the number-one gift item for us for Valentine’s Day,’’ said Donna Wolff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s. “Thongs are functional, fun and sexy, and we are selling them at all price points to all people. Instead of a bouquet of flowers, we are suggesting to customers a bouquet of thongs — at least seven, for each day of the week, or a dozen.”

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