First, define what you're looking for, and then treat yourself - Kathryn Hudson, 11/02/19
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“I’m sick of cheap underwear that never fit quite right. How do you find good everyday underwear?” — Toni, Toronto
Your approach to underwear says a lot about you. Sure, you can draw some conclusions from the style—certainly someone who opts for a lime green thong likely has a bolder fashion streak than someone who gravitates toward a charcoal bikini brief—but I believe the true personality test is in the way you think about, shop for and care for your underwear. It is, after all, one of the only garments that aren’t worn for public consumption, so it reveals a little about our relationship to ourselves. (And don’t debate that point as it relates to sexy lingerie, because I think it holds true: The boost in mojo from racy pieces is the point. I’ve never heard of a partner giving the styling details of a pair of underwear a close once-over before they come off.)
So what kind of person are you when no one is looking? I have become a minimalist because I crave soothing consistency when faced with very busy days and don’t want to start off my morning with a decision of which fancy panty to wear, so my drawer is stocked almost entirely with one style of black bikini brief that is comfortable and washes well. There is also a small corner reserved for the SWAT team undergarments—special-occasion-only pieces, like shapewear, that perform their duties only when absolutely required.
Lingerie designer Rosalie Wynne, who produces her handcrafted eponymous collection out of her Hamilton design studio, agrees that choosing underwear isn’t trivial. “It’s really about enjoying yourself,” she explains. “It’s about finding a piece you actually want to put on your body, that feels comfortable and that makes you feel lovely. That adds up to a very personal choice.”
But before we pull out the personality quizzes (a favourite pastime, to be honest) to determine what might be a qualitatively good choice for you, let’s agree on a few specific and quantitative characteristics that define high-quality underwear in general.
First, it needs to be breathable. “Hygiene is important,” says Wynne, who opts for a bamboo-blend fabric in her designs, since it allows for air flow, and she likes how soft it feels. (She then integrates lace panels to make the design more modern, without taking away from practicality.) A synthetic-fabric garment is fine, she furthers, as long as it has a gusset (the strip between your legs) crafted from cotton or any other material that allows your body to breathe. An all-cotton-blend brief is also a great choice, of course.
Next up, make sure that any elastic running around the waistband and legs is sturdy, so you don’t end up with a pair of underwear that is quickly stretched out and saggy. The elastic should stretch out to twice its size and spring easily back into shape. (Some cheap elastic narrows when it’s stretched, for example, which is an easy tell.)
When deciding what specific style to opt for, there are a few considerations, says Wynne. What kind of clothes do you wear, for instance? If you’re always slipping into high-waisted jeans, stocking up on high-waisted underwear is a good bet, since you’ll get a more streamlined look—and be more comfortable. What’s your lifestyle like? Wynne is skeptical that there’s any need for activity-specific underpants, like yoga briefs. Rather, a good pair of underwear should be comfortable enough to carry you from desk to downward dog. Lastly, how curvy are you? “Boy shorts are not very flattering on about 99.8 per cent of people because they cut off your legs,” she explains. “I find something that has more diagonal lines elongates your legs and gives you a little bit more shape.”
The main point of confusion for a lot of women is actually their sizing, though, says Wynne. Many of us are shopping online and using gut instinct to pick a size (“Mercury is in retrograde, so I must be a medium!” is not really a strategy). However, Wynne begs that we get serious and pull out a tape measure. “You have to use your measurements and then carefully check the size chart of the brand you’re considering because you can be a different size in any given style, let alone different brand. Knowing your measurements is the only way you can be confident when ordering online.” If your measurements fall, as is often the case, into disparate size ranges, opt for the size defined by the waistband measurement, since that is often the least forgiving area.
Then, once you’ve got a roster of hard-working underwear in your collection, treat it gently. Washing it in cold water in a mesh bag will seriously add to your lingerie’s lifespan—and the wash bag makes it easy to nab your pieces before throwing the rest of your laundry in the dryer, since letting undergarments air dry will also help protect their stretch. “Though handwashing would help protect it even more,” says Wynne, “I just don’t have time for that.” I’m glad she said that, since I am chilled to the bone by the thought that anyone has enough time to carefully hand-wash each pair of underwear.
Fundamentally, though, investing a bit of your time to find well-made underwear that feels fantastic and suits your lifestyle is as deep an act of self-care as any bubble bath or massage. “It’s a way of treating yourself,” says Wynne. “So how do you want to be treated?”