What Lies Beneath: Why comfort is the new sexy when it comes to lingerie

Bravo!’ bralette, €55; ‘Jean’ hot knickers, €45-€55, Hot Knickers Lingerie. Photo: Taidgh Richards

As profits at Victoria’s Secret take a fall, has lingerie really had its day? Annmarie O’Connor on why comfort is key this Valentine’s Day 

There are generally two camps when it comes to smalls: those that go all-out Agent Provocateur style and those who rock a more utility vibe – nude multi-way bras and basic five- pack knickers.

For the record, I fall squarely in the latter category. It’s not for lack of trying, mind you.

I’ve longed to be that woman who could effortlessly wear pretty, grown-up pants – the kind that makes you feel sexy without the validation of an external gaze.

By the same token, I also prefer not having a hostage situation with a lace thong and my bottom cheeks.

Every year, the Victoria’s Secret show brings its models together for what is consistently a glittery catwalk extravaganza
Every year, the Victoria’s Secret show brings its models together for what is consistently a glittery catwalk extravaganza

Nor do I wish to have my breasts cantilevered like an overstuffed hostess tray. In an ideal world, I’d like a hybrid of feminine fabrics, sports-like support and everyday ease; something that doesn’t require bulletproof confidence and a degree in engineering put on or an act of God to remove.

It appears I’m not alone. An undercover undies movement is most definitely in the offing.

From the left field viral sensation of newbie retailer Aerie for American Eagle’s unretouched underwear photos, to the reported dip in profits and public image of Victoria’s Secret’s fallen angels, there’s been a palpable shift towards inclusivity and body positive realness.

Bra, €34.90; bikini, €24.90, Tommy Hilfiger
Bra, €34.90; bikini, €24.90, Tommy Hilfiger

Even the very sensible M&S has opened its first stand-alone lingerie concept store in Malaga, Spain. Whether this translates into an equally real bottom-line depends on whether fantasy and function can peacefully co-exist.

Will shopping for pants get easier or are we doomed to get our knickers in a twist?

Irish model and Style Me Curvy (stylemecurvy.net) blogger, Louise O’Reilly, seems cautiously optimistic.

View this post on Instagram

Yesterday’s makeup.. I’m a fluey mess this weekend so all the makeup, contouring, highlight and dewiness/ kitchen sink was needed!!😂😷🙈 My skin is so dehydrated this week ( coffee & cold weather not helping of course!😂) so the lovely John in Brown sugar went for a satin finish - it stayed for the night without looking too shiny either 👏. Shimmer & Matte Eyeshadows were from the Nars Wanted Eyeshadow palette & lashes are individuals lashes over mascara. For hair I went for a bouncy blow dry style ( would love to be able to do my hair like this on my own but I’m hopeless!) I have extensions also so that helped hold the soft curl for the night as well .. should I wear my hair like this more?❤️🤗💃🏼 #redcarpetmakeup #makeupaddicts #hairstyles

A post shared by Louise O'Reilly (@stylemecurvy) on

“It’s still a grey area,” says the Dublin native, “something which I’m constantly asked to consult with brands on.”

Citing purchasing clout and social media immediacy as currency and clout, O’Reilly still concedes that although fabric and style choices have improved, there are certain fit factors that need addressing, especially for the well-endowed.

“I feel larger busts are still penalised to some degree. The majority of DD+ lingerie is a lot more expensive or is limited to shopping online (most retailers only stock certain sizes in store) which makes shopping, for many of us, a difficult task.”

Flower lace halter bra, €39, & Other Stories; Floral lace high waist briefs, €19, & Other Stories
Flower lace halter bra, €39, & Other Stories; Floral lace high waist briefs, €19, & Other Stories

Although according to a 2017 blog post by D-K cup retailer Curvy Kate (curvykate.com), there’s a hard cost attached to the hardware in bigger bras, the struggle is real when trying, not just buying.

Plus, the higher the digits, the lower the selection of covetable styles. Case in point: the recent controversy surrounding Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty size-inclusive lingerie line.

Lauded for its pro-diversity stance both in advertising and product, it most recently suffered the slings and arrows of social media fortune in two e-commerce images of the same sheer Valentine’s Day bra in different sizes: the smaller featuring cut-outs, the bigger boasting thicker straps.

Arguably a construction issue, also one arguably overcome by other brands.

The verdict is still out.

One woman who knows how to make the everyday elegant is Ali Wheeler, the brains behind Clonakilty’s Hot Knickers Lingerie.

Having started from a career in circus and theatre costume design, the Yorkshire native segued her skills in 2016 into creating handmade intimates that provide the perfect balance between comfort and ‘come-hither’.

“Women would say to me that they liked knickers that came up to their waist because that’s where your tights or leggings came up to,” she explains.

“The big knickers that were available were mostly the Spanx things or the big cotton white ones; there seemed to be nothing in between.”

What’s more, they weren’t easy on the eye. Enter the ‘Paula’ – burlesque-style underpants that fit to the waist and under the bum.

“A lot of women, no matter how thin they were, had issues with their tummy being a little bit wobbly or floppy or not as toned as one would like,” says Wheeler.

“So, I put a layer of power mesh in the front just to give a smooth line. It wasn’t going to pull you into any shape, it was just going to make it look aesthetically smoother so that you wouldn’t get that oh-so-dignified apron flop.”

Available in two styles from size XS to XXL, the ‘Paula’ knicker is made from Italian fabric with a percentage of elastane designed to help keep its shape; no riding up, no falling down, no cutting into tummies.


Plus; it’s trimmed with stretch lace and features a gusset big enough to fit a pantyliner.

“I left them open at the sides so if you had one with wings, it wouldn’t pull on the pretty fabric when you took it off.” Smart thinking.

Should you wish to expand on your trousseau, Wheeler offers a capsule of knickers, bras, slips and camisoles from which to choose; and a made-to-measure fitting service for the bespoke customer.

Handmade, it seems, has the upper hand. That said, sometimes the high street can rustle up a few gems.

& Other Stories – the atelier-based sister to H&M is a go-to for mix and match fancy pants designs from €12-€69; while those who prefer an athleisure sensibility should look to Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein for 90s-inspired sporty sets.

Multicoloured lace triangle bra, €29, Other Stories; Multicoloured lace high waist briefs, €25, Other Stories
Multicoloured lace triangle bra, €29, Other Stories; Multicoloured lace high waist briefs, €25, Other Stories

Marks & Spencer may well-known for their basics but the ampersand duo also wins big in their design partnership with model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

The eponymous Rosie for Autograph range boasts the fastest-selling smalls in the store’s history, fitting bras up to a fulsome G cup with knickers up to a size 26.

According to O’Reilly, the Japanese Wacoal group (boasting names such as Freya, Fantasie and B Tempt’d) are equally expert in the area of asset management, catering up to a 44H with cult favourites like the Lace Impression seamless underwire bra that combines technology and taste.

Calvin Klein monogram bralette, €37; Calvin Klein monogram briefs, €24, Brown Thomas
Calvin Klein monogram bralette, €37; Calvin Klein monogram briefs, €24, Brown Thomas

As for me, I might well be persuaded to hang up my pedestrian pants and go West. Clonakilty – the new knicker capital. Who knew?

More on this topic

Twitter utterly bemused as Kenny G serenades Kim and Kanye on Valentine’s Day

Gardaí warn people to beware of romance scams after woman parts with €48,000

The business of love: Couples share what it's like to run a company together

A movie at home for Valentine’s? Sofa, so romantic

More in this Section

Large and ambitious collaboration at Midsummer Festival

Mark Ronson: Groove is in the heart

Question of Taste: Olivia O'Leary chooses her favourite poets, music and films

Whatever happened to Duncan James from Blue?

Latest Showbiz

Anna and Jordan share first kiss on Love Island

Taylor Swift on Katy Perry: 'Being pitted against each other added tension to our friendship'

Cecelia Aherne announces she's expecting third child

Julie Andrews to voice character in Shonda Rhimes' new Netflix’s series

More From The Irish Examiner