I’ve spent more than 20 years as a “sex professional,” from my first job at Planned Parenthood (at 13 years old) to writing two books on sexual history (Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens and Sporting Guide, about 19th-century sex work in L.A.) to directing the HBO documentary Pretty Things (a partner project to my book) to founding The Sex Ed.
I am also lingerie obsessed. It is the most essential element of my wardrobe and the foundation of my life philosophy: Confidence comes from the security of what’s underneath. My mother says I started stealing her French knickers and slips when I was 11 or 12 years old; friends from boarding school remember me sleeping in 1930s silks at 15. At 17, I was collecting (and wearing) bullet bras from the 1950s and buying 1960s-era leopard-print underwear on eBay. On my “you wouldn’t catch me dead in” list: Spanx, Victoria’s Secret, and too-tight panties that leave a mark (I’ll often buy a size bigger to avoid such a horror).
In our current climate of uncertainty and isolation, I look to lingerie to lift my spirits and gauge my sense of “normalcy.” Last week I had to remind myself, Snap out of it, Liz, and put on a nice bra for goodness sake! When feeling anxious or depressed, organizing my stockings and garters gives me a sense of calm. Going to bed in a delicious silk slip by Agent Provocateur or a treasured 1930s tattered nightgown helps me to look past my dark circles and to feel a bit like Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight.
My lingerie collection now numbers in the thousands, from brassieres handmade in the 1930s to Queen Anne’s lace stockings to burlesque costumes to brand-new pieces. But none of it was purchased with the intention of pleasing someone else: It’s for my own enjoyment, fulfillment, and desire. I’ve become somewhat of a guru to friends and family — whether taking my nieces to buy nice knickers for the first time, gifting glamorous maternity bras to nursing mom friends, or fielding questions on who carries great size-inclusive undergarments (to the latter, I answer: Hips and Curves). Below, some of my favorite brands and the pieces I own from them, along with a few new things I’m looking to add to my wardrobe.
The bra I have in every color
Dita Von Teese’s lingerie is chic and truly durable — I would know, as I have this Madame X bra in every color. (It has also been recommended on the Strategist before.) Right now, Bare Necessities has the black available in the most sizes for 25 percent off the full price of $75 (with code FF2020). Other colors like aquamarine are as low as $22 (but in limited sizes) with the code.
My favorite French designer
Chantal Thomass, with her severe Louise Brooks haircut and “Maitresse of the Boudoir” style, is, to me, the ultimate mistress of French lingerie. Her Audacieuse bra — which has a matching thong panty (for which sizing is, alas, limited right now) — is great to show off under lower-cut dresses and sheer tops. But Thomass also makes equally exquisite stockings, bustiers, and other intimates.
My (fancy) sports-bra alternative
Marlies Dekkers is an Amsterdam-based designer whose pieces make me think of the lingerie that Jean Paul Gaultier designed for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour. I wear this bra for workouts, including choreographer Ryan Heffington’s faster-paced virtual dance classes and the lower-impact online yoga sessions led by Courtney Avery. It has great support, doesn’t squash my boobs, and also looks really nice. Dekkers, I should note, also makes the chicest post-surgery bra I’ve ever seen.
The best line for all skin tones
The U.K.–based Nubian Skin has a fantastic range of nude lingerie, tights, and slips designed by and for women of color. The collection includes bodysuits like this simple style and a slightly more intricate one called the “Plumetis” that I particularly love (it’s sheerer and has a subtle polka-dot pattern). I was excited to see the brand is collaborating with Cora Harrington of the Lingerie Addict: She is my go-to resource for all the latest collections and what’s going on in the business of lingerie.
The bra I give to my new-mom friends
Maternity bras are an area of the market where we could see some improvement, because new moms deserve to feel good about their lingerie, too. The Goddess Keira wire-free maternity bra has old-fashioned glam, but still offers the comfort and support that nursing mothers need.
The corset that will change your shape
Autumn Adamme’s company Dark Garden is my favorite U.S.–based corset-maker for standard-fit, ready-to-wear, and bespoke pieces. Their corsets are absolutely an investment, but a great entry is their Waspie, which will give that nipped-waist, 1950s-Dior effect.
The brand I turn to for retro glamour
In my years (decades) of buying retro-style bullet bras, I’ve come to particularly love the ones from What Katie Did. Their Maitresse bra — which has a matching high-waisted panty — is a classic that’s also relatively affordable (as a set or separates).
The bespoke shop for making fantasies a reality
I have to shout out to Trashy Lingerie, a classic L.A. spot I started buying from in high school. They make everything by hand and every native Angeleno knows that they’re the place to go to for sexy costumes. When I was 24, I had a custom Maid to Order outfit made for my honeymoon — it outlived the marriage!
The latex set I dream of owning
Atsuko Kudo latex is my dream — the collection is handmade in London (and ships from there, so just know that when ordering). I don’t own anything from the brand yet, but have been a fan for years and keep a bookmarked folder with all of the pieces I am lusting after, like this baby-pink, ’50s-style bra-and-panty set that’s equal parts sweet and subversive. Another piece I’m eyeing is Atsuko Kudo’s Alejandra dress: I think it would make a great “second marriage at the courthouse” look. (Thankfully, I already have the perfect lingerie for the honeymoon.)
Editor’s note: Atsuko Kudo lists prices in British pounds, so the prices shown are approximate conversions in U.S. dollars.
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