During a conversation about underwear, a married friend whose wardrobe tends toward tennis whites and ribbon belts made a reference to pasties. “WAIT,” I replied by Gchat. “Pasties as in, ‘nude stick-on thingees to hide your nipples when braless’? Or ‘boudoir photography’?” The latter, she replied: “Sequins and tassels and shit.” As I pounded out a series of OMG-s, the preppiest girl I know calmly explained that the tassels belonged to a section of her trousseau she has mentally labeled, “Snapchat only.”
Also in that category: Padded bras, which she thinks look bad under her clothing (too much bulk) and pretty bras that no longer fit, but look elegant when holding still. “I mean, I’m not just gonna chuck La Perla.” When she actually has sex, she just gets naked. Sexting, though, is an opportunity for creativity.
Among the many superficial paradoxes of female life — dual-action acne-and-wrinkle prevention creams being one of the cruelest — the inverse relationship between money paid for lingerie, and the number of minutes you spend wearing it, has always bothered me most. I call it the Lingerie Paradox: The fanciest panties are worn the least, making their cost-per-use ratio unbearably high. (Or at least relatively high, compared to basic undies.) You can’t wear that stuff for the whole day; it’s poky and awkward and the rosettes and bows make lumpy shapes under your clothes. And as Bridget Jones observed, the shaping undergarments most conducive to sexy outfits stand in direct opposition to unclothed sexiness. (That’s Lingerie Paradox No. 2, though I have yet to meet someone who refused a hookup on the grounds of ugly undies.) So fancy panties are summoned situationally — deployed shortly before they are destined to be taken off, or they're treated as props, or they become underwear of last resort on laundry day. They have the most strange and specific lives of any undergarment — perhaps because “sexiness” in general requires an extraordinary level of mental partitioning in the first place. Attention must be paid to some body parts but not all of them, some bodily functions but not others. And it's a flashiness that happens in private, unlike other fancy but rarely used objects like fine china or a convertible car.
“I have underwear I only wear for taking photos,” a second friend admitted. “Like my favorite Agent Provocateur with the cutout ass and a bow in the back. When the fuck could I ever wear those? They look great in photos but under clothes the bow makes a lump.” What’s more, the garment is difficult to get in and out of, making it less than optimal for in-the-flesh encounters. It’s the kind of lingerie only a fashion editor could love — or an amateur editor of sexts.
This paradox is fed, in part, by how fun fancy panties are to shop for. (Assuming you’re the type who finds the ritualized exchange of capital for consumer goods entertaining. I sure do!) They’re pretty; there’s variety; you can try colors you’d never otherwise wear. And most critical, the shopping experience is utterly divorced from the user experience. You can’t tell how much you’ll like your new thong until you’ve been sitting with it wedged up your ass for a few hours. There will be many disappointments. But lingerie takes up so little space that you won’t really feel compelled to throw anything away — the Salvation Army doesn’t want your used thongs, and neither do your clothing-swap friends — so instead they pile up, waiting for even the tiniest use.
Though I buy fancy panties with the best intentions, after one or two awkward wears, they usually get shunted to the back of the drawer and only worn after I’ve used up absolutely all other underwear and am procrastinating on laundry. Thus, my fanciest panties are worn only when I am wearing all my other clothing of last resort: ugly, ill-shapen sweatpants and T-shirts with coffee stains running down the front and sweat stains beneath the arms. My underwear is at its sexiest when the rest of me is grossest.
Others, however, have developed systems for deploying sexy underwear at sexy moments. “Wait, can we talk about lingerie?” my most dedicatedly sexy friend texted, unprompted, a few months ago. She’d attended a brunch where all the women were laughing about how frumpy their underwear was. She was appalled. I responded by telling her about laundry-day lingerie. She was further appalled. “I just don’t get women who spend $800 on their hair and then wear panties their moms would find frumpy. It’s the easiest way to make guys go crazy,” and when your sex partner goes crazy, the sex only gets better, she reasoned. But what about the Spanx dilemma, I asked? As an ardent practitioner of sexiness, surely she understood the value of non-lumpy undergarments in the name of a hot dress.
“I carry it with me sometimes for a quick change,” my sexiest friend replied. “Sometimes even go from Spanx to lingerie once I’m at the guy’s house after the date because they don’t notice the lines then and are like, OMG you’ve had that on the whole time?!” Hanky Pankies are small enough to fit into a coin purse, after all.
Still, this strategy seemed unduly burdensome to me. It takes a lot of effort and planning, mostly in service of a guy whose grubby hands are just going to mess up your nice undies anyway. (Quit stretching out the elastic with your pawing, men.) Men already enjoy vastly easier upkeep as compared to women; why add yet another layer of forethought and fussing to female clothing and mating rituals? What more: “Let me slip into something more comfortable … this elaborately boned corset with a thousand hooks” has never struck me as particularly sexy, or conducive to “staying in the moment.”
Nevertheless, I decided to give purse panties a try on a date night when I wore a white skirt that necessitated flesh-toned briefs — and promptly forgot about the back-up panties when hookup time arrived. But they were extremely helpful the morning after, when the primary panties had been lost and neither of us could remember what they were or where they had gone or if they’d ever existed, in the first place.
Most Viewed Stories
I Worked at Fyre Festival. It Was Always Going to Be a Disaster.
Famous Guests Were Reportedly Warned Not to Go to Fyre Festival in Advance
Life Lessons From the Great Fyre Festival Disaster
The Kardashians Just Broke Up With the Stylist They’ve Been Using for a Decade
This Fyre Festival Apology Is As Extra As You’d Expect
Why Wallflowers Don’t Make Friends
Don’t Follow Pippa Middleton’s ‘Extremely Restrictive’ Wedding Diet
These Tweets Will Make You Very Glad That You Didn’t Spend Thousands of Dollars to Get Stranded in the Bahamas
Female Dragonflies Fake Their Own Deaths to Avoid Males
It’s a Girl for Ciara and Russell Wilson
The Cut’s Latest Love and War FeaturesA Holiday Season Weekend Through London
A good guide for avid The Crown fans.It’s About Time You Learned Tove Lo’s Name
The singer has crafted pop hits you’ve heard a thousand times by now.Marina Abramovic Has Outlasted Her Lovers and, She Hopes, Her Critics
The world's most famous performance artist at 70.The Wing: Do Women Still Need a Space of Their Own?
This exclusive social club for women, is part sorority, part start-up.In Virtual Reality, Women Run the World
A new generation of female artists is making VR the most diverse corner of the male-dominated tech space.The Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Ava DuVernay on Hollywood Racism, Modern-Day Slavery, and Why She’s Still an Optimist
The director, whose new documentary The 13th chronicles America’s history of racial subjugation, talks to Rebecca Traister about Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the modern criminal-justice system.What No One Tells Couples Trying to Conceive
It helps to be rich.The Hidden Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
A segregated unit of mathematicians born of desperation during World War II became the secret to NASA’s success.Slut-Shaming Squids Are Everywhere
The “Bermuda Square” comic strip is back.
The collaboration that dreams are made of.Good Morning America Host Amy Robach Apologizes for Saying ‘Colored People’ on Air
She quickly apologized.Unknown NFL Player Tries to Get Attention by Asking Aly Raisman Out in Video
That’s one way to do it.Don’t Mess This Up, Mischa Barton
Marissa Cooper is poised for a comeback ... maybe.California Votes to Remove Time Limit on Prosecuting Rape Cases
In light of the Bill Cosby case.Beyoncé’s Behind-the-Scenes Lemonade Photos Belong in a Museum
She had the "Boycott Beyoncé" sign already in formation on set.The Rise of the Male Celebrity Full-Frontal
An ex-publicist explains.Gabby Douglas Will Be a Miss America Judge
The gold-medal gymnast will help choose the 2017 pageant winner.Camille Becerra’s Photo Diary of Rockaway Beach
An ideal trip to add and cross off your summer bucket list.Sorry Nerds, Ian McKellen Won’t Officiate Your Expensive Lord of the Rings–Themed Wedding
Not even for $1.5 million.