Let’s talk bras and knickers. I think we need to. Perusing the shops earlier this week, I walked into the lingerie section of Next and came across the ‘Wow!’ bra.
“Wow!” I thought, that must mean that they think that I don’t know that they’re trying to make me think that I’ll think “Wow!” when I put it on! Unfortunately for the upstarts on what I can only imagine Next Retail calls their Blooming Brilliant Bras and Briefs Branding Brotherhood (the use of a little-known device called alliteration here is to show that their creative process is probably really complex), it wasn’t as easy as that. For there was something tastelessly, anachronistically, wearyingly wrong with the Wow! bra. It was pink. Love-hearts were present. The label contained a nice and obvious picture of a skinny lady with a nice big spray-tanned cleavage. It claimed (and this is the clincher) to increase your chest by ‘up to TWO cup sizes!’ At which point, I was thinking: what idiot designed this?
You might be wondering what the issue is. You might be thinking that I’m going to direct this thread towards a final urge for everyone to ditch bras altogether, chuck them on a massive bonfire outside the Rad Cam and that I’ll invite Germaine Greer to make special menstrual blood cupcakes as refreshments for the event. I’m not. I just don’t think that there is any woman who will ever get anything out of buying the Wow! bra. Absolutely, do pink- there are plenty of lovely, lacy, French-y versions out there; see Mimi Holliday for some downright sexy fuchsia instalments. Love-hearts are also not an offence if you’re looking for fun kitsch à la Princesse TamTam or even Topshop (more realistic price-wise, but to be worn with a pinch of salt). My problem was the presence of these factors in the Wow! bra combined with the jaw-droppingly colossal padding. It looked like a couple of blushing puffball mushrooms suffering from chicken pox. If you’re wearing padding, then clearly you want to make your boobs look bigger or establish a cleavage, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that; this can be a technique to fill out certain clothes better, or give you confidence, or (and most probably) make that person you’ve got your eyes on want to rip your clothes off. The trouble with this last one is that said person you fancy probably can’t rip your clothes off at that exact point in time without being faced with a pair of squidgy boulders discarded on the floor or a couple of disconcertingly moist chicken fillets flopping into their hands.
And so the Wow! bra got me thinking. Is this what we want from lingerie? True, it’s there to structure your silhouette (Gok Wan has shown us enough Spanx to last a lifetime); but what else can lingerie do for us, you know, mentally speaking? Sexy, beautifully made underwear need not be kept for special occasions; recently deceased war correspondent Marie Colvin used to wear LaPerla bra and knicker sets when reporting from the front line, because it made her feel ready for anything. Nor should proper, luxurious underwear be excluded to people except those who look like Victoria’s Secret models: there is nothing more thrilling than seeing a body, a real body with hills and dimples breathe life into these patches of embroidered silk and lace; think Lena Dunham’s commanding energy in Girls. The kind of sexy I’m talking about, here, is what we might call post-sexy. Gone are the days of self-consciously donning a padded bra in order to give oneself an edge. The edge these days comes from not caring about your silhouette or the specifics of your outfit, but knowing that you look great underneath your clothes regardless. That’s what Marie Colvin seemed to be thinking, anyway. Post-sexy is not obvious and it’s not about others. You know what you’ve got on, and you can decide whether or not to draw people in or keep this fact to yourself. The Wow! bra, in contrast, is a tacky display; and unfortunately for Next it’s going to remain hanging on the rails.