TALKING WITH THE WOMEN

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — There isn’t a perfect recipe for fashion lingerie, but one thing is certain: Fit and comfort are among the main ingredients women want.
So said four consumers who attended a roundtable luncheon at the WWD offices here earlier this month. The women — each representing a different lifestyle — agreed on one point in particular: They bought intimate apparel to please themselves, not their husbands or boyfriends. And while it had to be comfortable and functional, the lingerie had to be pretty as well, they said.
Fussy, frilly items like elaborate lace push-up bras and panties did not represent fashion to these women. Rather, they generally preferred contemporary looks, such as sleek and seamless styling in foundations, and beautiful luxury fabrics like a lustrous silk satin in softly tailored sleepwear and at-homewear.
Underwear of cotton or a blend of cotton and Lycra spandex was the choice for several reasons: opacity, breathability and, in the case of Lycra, the comfort of a stretch fabric that moves with the body but stays in place.
Brands were another key element in the women’s buying decisions. They all said a national brand or a big-time designer name lends a certain cachet to a product. They also said they believed a top name enhances the value and quality of innerwear and gives it more of a fashion twist. And, interestingly enough, they all seemed to consider Victoria’s Secret to be a national brand rather that a private label.
The women described shopping for bras — especially — as necessary yet frustrating. They said bra departments at major department and specialty stores, whether they merchandise assortments by brand or classification, focus on too many bras, crammed on fixtures like stacks of pancakes.
They generally said shopping for lingerie by catalog wasn’t particularly appealing, either, because the products — especially bras — have to be tried on to insure a correct fit. They consider repacking a catalog item and mailing it back a nuisance.
They had similarly negative feelings about buying lingerie on line: They wanted to touch the garment and see its quality,
The four women said they liked to wear pretty lingerie, but they also said they generally wait until their bras and underwear looked too worn and used before buying new styles.
Asked what they wanted from intimate apparel, they responded candidly and straightforwardly. Here is what they had to say:

Bobbie Patterson, 57, publicist, CMB Communications, a public relations firm in Manhattan specializing in “lifestyle” accounts such as restaurants and hotels. Bra size: 40C.
Bras: “In my bra size, you can only find underwire styles, and it’s difficult to find brassieres that don’t look like harnesses. I think there should be a way not to have underwires — perhaps more elastic underneath to hold up the bra and be comfortable.
“I was wondering why a bra can’t be made with Velcro, to fasten on the front, back or sides, so a bra can be adjustable.
“I do buy at department stores. I have gone to boutiques, but they never have my size. Victoria’s Secret never does a size 40, but what I’ve done is shop the ‘buy two, get one free’ sales at Victoria’s Secret — which does have size 38 — and then go to a department store and buy a bra extender in the bra department.
Brands: “I am aware of Olga. She was the first one I remember who had a snap-front bra. I really buy American products, and I hope the products I buy are made in America.”
“[European brands] mean you pay $5 dollars more, but the fabrics have a little more quality.”
Underwear: “I wear cotton things as often as I can…basic, full briefs, sometimes with lace trim. I wear them under slacks, but mostly for tennis. If you wear the nylon things, you would have to wear two or three pair so they wouldn’t be see-through.
“I can go a couple of years before I run out of underwear to wear. I replace underwear when it wears out…it’s like running out of light bulbs.”
Favorite item: “I have a pair of nice pajamas, silk satin in solid ecru with paler piping around the collar, cuffs and pant legs, and they have a crease down the front.”
She wears them when entertaining at home. “You can’t see through them, and the pants are wide, and the top is short, and I can wear a pin — dress it up. I wear gold espadrilles or leopard-print shoes with the pajamas.”
Main gripe: “It used to be you could find something full-length, slacks with a top to have drinks with your husband or friends at home — not a robey thing, and not something that costs $800…It used to be fun to shop, because there were so many things to select…half-slips, full-slips…you have to buy a camisole top now to wear underneath a sheer blouse.”

Pat Gilstrap, 38, data base administrative processor at DuPont in New York. Bra size: 36C.
Bras: “Sometimes I’ll go to Bradlees, and they have a bra section there. I usually buy Vassarette. There aren’t as many things at Bradlees, so you can find everything they have easily. It’s all together by company, cotton and lace.”
Brands: “It can be an emotional thing. Sometimes I wear Vanity Fair, sometimes Vassarette. Maybe, if I was going out with my husband, I would wear something sheer from Victoria’s Secret.”
Discussing European labels, Gilstrap said, “Maybe I would wear an Italian or French name. It might be more fashionable.”
Underwear: “I like cotton and Lycra — not because I work at DuPont, but because it gives a little stretch, and I’m a little hippy.”
Favorite item: “With two boys at home, I always wear black leggings when I get out of bed, with a big, comfortable T-shirt by Monika Tilley, which is very old. I can play with my boys and still answer the door. On days when I’m not working, it can take me through most of the day.”
Main gripe: “There are so many different [bra] racks…there’s too much of a choice. It drives me crazy..It can make you dizzy.”

Harriet Wright, 80, a former showgirl, who currently is an independent ready-to-wear and accessories designer in Manhattan. Bra size: 34B or 36B.
Bras: “There’s nothing worse than having a bra that’s uncomfortable. I can’t find any bras that I like, so I sew, and when I buy bras, I open up the back and make them my own. I do the same for the costumes of the [former] Latin Quarter show girls when they’re wearing them at special events. Half of them can’t fit into their costumes anymore, so I open up the costumes for them.
Brands: “I do believe we should be buying American products, but I cheat, because I go to Paris and Buenos Aires. I don’t look at the labels I buy there. Sometimes, European brands are sexier looking…you get more style with a designer label.”
Underwear: “Bikini panties — that’s all you can find at stores now. It’s for young people. When I go to stores, I don’t look for old-fashioned things. I want something that looks young, but I certainly don’t look for bikinis. I like to wear little junior girdles with garters. But I can’t find them anywhere, so I buy thigh-highs.
Favorite item: “I had six girls from out of town stay with me. It was my birthday. All of us slept in guys’ plain white cotton T-shirts. Everyone of us felt very comfortable.”
Main gripe: “There’s no help at stores, and there are too many racks. That’s why I shop at boutiques. I recently went to Orchard Street. There’s only one store there that still has things from the past. So I bought a lot of things — panty girdles and stockings — in case they go out of business.
“I don’t like to shop for lingerie out of catalogs. It never fits. And then, you have to pack it up and ship it back.
“Length. Models are very tall and skinny. I’m just under 5 feet. I always have to take inches off of a nightgown or robe.”
Wright had another complaint: “Cleavage. I think there’s too much cleavage. Girls today have their breasts hanging out, with just their nipples covered. It’s disgusting.”

Alina Pirrera, 35, supervisor of computer systems operations, Fairchild Publications, New York. Bra size: 36A.
Bras: “I think bras are important, and I shop for bras. But it’s hard to find something that fits well. I like front-closure styles that are plain, not lacy. There are too many lacy bras and too many underwires. I did try the Miracle Bra, which I bought at Victoria’s Secret. It’s the most uncomfortable thing. I want to take a look at the Angels [sheer] bras. The ad looked interesting.
Brands: “I wear Olga and Victoria’s Secret. My husband is a construction worker. He’s in the union, and he’s always saying, ‘Buy American.’ Now, I’ve even bought an American car, a Chevy. I really don’t go looking if something is from Paris.”
Underwear: “I love Victoria’s Secret underwear. I wear thong-back panties when I wear a dress, and at home on weekends, cotton underwear with a wide band at the top. I know they have a lot of bras, but there are too many underwires.
Favorite item: “High-cut cotton underwear and silky-soft thongs.”
Main gripe: “There’s a million bras all over the place at stores like Macy’s and Lord & Taylor. They should be presented as full-figure and medium sizes. I haven’t gone to a little lingerie boutique yet, but that’s my next option.”

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