Like many people who grew up in California in the 1980s and ’90s, I developed an early obsession with hot female lifeguards. Less than their ability to save lives, I was infatuated with their aesthetic — bleached tips, dynamic tan lines, sweatpants rolled at the waist to reveal semicircles of skin edging up to suuuuuper-high-cut red bathing suits. Decades later, I continue to find myself smitten with the almost vulgar V shape of those exaggerated high-cut suits and am on a perpetual quest to find the underwear equivalent — a pair of skivvies that pays homage to Baywatch while providing enough coverage to feel age and life appropriate.
For context, I’m a 38-year-old mom who hasn’t worn something form fitting since 2006 — less because I’m ashamed of my bod and more because I’ve adopted the frump-chic look du jour where silhouettes are voluminous and quality of fabric reigns. Speaking of quality of fabric, I needed these undies I was searching for to be made of organic cotton (synthetic fibers are bad anywhere, but especially down there), but I also didn’t want them to break the bank (at the end of the day, we were talking about a very small piece of cotton that would be concealed from public view). I hoped they might come in red, to complete the lifeguard fantasy. Did these dream drawers exist? I clicked around to find out.
The Misha undies from Arq are awesome, but their substantial seams, though quintessential to their high-quality vibe, make them feel a bit too bulky under pants for moi. The high-rise option from Pansy Co. is beautiful but not cut high enough in the leg, IMHO, resulting in a thigh dig that takes away from the feeling of physical freedom that a true high cut offers. Negative Underwear makes a dreamy silhouette, but they’re $58 each. In the end, I turned where I always do when shopping like a regular person fails me: Etsy.
In a midnight off-market marketplace deep dive, I happened upon Elsy Marie, an El Salvadoran woman living in Robesonia, Pennsylvania, who advertised “sexy and comfortable underwear 100% cotton.” It was the shape of the undies that drew me in first: a perfect isosceles triangle with ever-so-slightly curved sides. When I clicked through to the on-figure shots, I discovered that this triangle was beneficial for many body types — it looked especially good when slung above a curvy pair of hips. (I would argue that the high-rise style works for so many figures because it tucks over the tummy while allowing the bum, hips, and thighs to do their own thing unencumbered.) The colors were great (lifeguard red, check!), the organic cotton was sustainably sourced, and they were only $15 ($13.27 on sale, which is for some reason always on Etsy), and even cheaper when purchased in bundles of three.
It turns out Elsy Marie had been on a similar quest as me. “Finding comfortable underwear that makes me feel sexy and comfortable is so hard,” she told me when I reached out to her on Etsy messenger. “So I started making my own.” Having learned dressmaking at a young age in El Salvador, Elsy does every part of the process herself, from the patterns to the sewing and finishing of each pair; her daughter helps her run her Etsy shop. She places a strong emphasis on sustainability and an even stronger one on making women feel good in their bodies. Of course I had to order a three-pack.
When my package arrived from Pennsylvania, I was stoked to discover that I had indeed hit the intimates jackpot. When I tried on my Elsy Maries I felt a little bit Yasmine Bleeth (read: pre-Y2K bombshell) and a little bit Rudy Jude (read: contempo homesteader). I was ready for jazzercise or one of the practice scenes in Dirty Dancing, but I was also aware that I was definitively wearing granny panties. It was just the jolie laide my private parts needed, and I’ve ordered multiple times since; the rest of my underwear have begun to depress me in comparison. Do they fade a tiny bit in the wash? Yeah. Do they ride up my butt sometimes? Sure, fine. Still: 10/10 recommend.
Molly Prentiss’ new novel, Old Flame, comes out April 11 and can be pre-ordered now.
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