An excerpt from my book, Wardrobe Communication:
Your underwear is there to be a bridge between the body you have and the clothes you like to wear. It’s a tool, and you should use it. The modern attitude seems to be that we should shape our bodies to the clothes we like. That’s a worthy goal, but not always possible… and what do you do in the meantime?
Your clothes will not look well with bad undergarments. They just won’t. Accept this, and figure out what you, personally, need to do about it. Do the girls need balancing? Pad one of them out. Do you have visible panty line or a flubby tummy? Either change what you’re wearing underneath your clothes, or change your clothes. Wearing knit tops? You need a t-shirt bra, not one made out of lace. Is your bra a violently different color than your skin or shirt? Add a camisole so you don’t have show through. Slips are valuable for keeping skirts from inappropriate translucency, and they also work nicely to keep static cling at bay. Want that wide vintage silhouette from your full skirts? Get a petticoat or crinoline.
More outfits have been ruined by poorly fitting or missing undergarments than any other factor. A good bra will not be cheap. But you can buy two, wash them by hand and let them drip dry, and keep them for longer than you think. I am the first one to complain of shoulder pain from bras, but I’ll tell you – the first bra I had that was properly fit, and seriously supportive? I felt instantly more comfortable. Better posture. And –bam- it looked like I’d dropped five pounds.
If you’re carrying a lot on top, it is vital that you keep your girls hiked up. This will make every bit of your clothing look better, and it will make you look slimmer and more youthful. I know. No one wants to be sentenced to underwire, but so it is. Look for wide straps, and spend time at a good store being fit by someone who knows what they’re doing. That last part applies to women of all shapes and sizes: June Kenton, lingerie expert, suspects a shocking 85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. This is a disaster for our health as well as our appearance. Finding the bra that fits will take time, and regrettably they change styles all too often, so you’re not going to be able to just get another one in six months or a year… but it is time well spent, and money well invested. The older you get, the more important this becomes.
The reason we wear bras is to appear younger and firmer. So, since you are wearing a bra to appear younger and firmer, make it do what it’s there to do. Your nipple is supposed to be about 3-4” below your armpit – no lower. And it’s not supposed to show, so if you’ve nursed a baby or two, you might consider a molded cup bra.
Slips smooth out the lumps and bumps of your other underwear. They prevent sheer items from being see-through. They keep static cling at bay and help your dresses drape properly. It’s only been a few decades since a slip was assumed, and they can be beautiful. This is a garment that deserves to be brought back to popularity. It adds a finishing touch.
Girdles smooth the waist, belly, hips and thighs (depending on model) – they will sometimes produce some reduction in volume, but the best use is to reduce the appearance of lumps. Tight camisoles can reduce the appearance of under-arm bulge (from the bra) as well as filling in a too-low neckline. More ornamental camisoles fulfill the function of a slip, but only above the waist. Petticoats hold long skirts or dresses out and they keep the legs warm, as well as being highly ornamental. Crinolines are stiff petticoats, usually knee-length, and they are used to create volume under skirts.
Underwear is a tool in your arsenal. Have some fun with it if you like – it can be great fun – but use it thoughtfully and without apology. 50 years ago no woman would be caught dead without a slip and pantyhose. They’re called *foundation garments* for a reason – they are the foundation of your wardrobe. Our generation is the first one in hundreds of years to make the outer layer do all the work – mostly it can’t. Give your clothes some help.