I’ll never forget getting measured for my quinceañera dress and being horrified that my hips were double the size of my chest. I felt uneven; incomplete. Here I was—literally preparing to be presented to God as having officially entered womanhood—feeling the complete opposite of womanly.
Those feelings stuck with me well beyond my 15th birthday. And they’re largely why I’ve always struggled to view myself as “sexy,” especially when it comes to shopping for lingerie. That’s party because I grew up surrounded by hyper-sultry, hyper-stylized underwear ads broadcast everywhere from mall store windows to primetime television. I needed bras and underwear, but I was intimidated by the prospect of walking into a store and buying them—hell, I was repelled by it. Gisele Bündchen was sexy. Tyra Banks was sexy. Me? I was a work in progress.
Something is changing for me, though: I’m turning 30 in a few months, and I’ve started to feel like I’m running out of excuses to be flippant about what I wear underneath my clothes. I’m supposed to be “thirty, flirty, and thriving,” so shouldn’t my bras make me feel grown-up? It’s a doubly-significant milestone for me, because it marks 15 years since my quince. (Some Latinas celebrate a “doble quince” when they turn 30.) Considering how how the singular experience of getting measured for my dress led to so much insecurity about my body later on, it seems fitting that I begin to take that power back now. And that begins with my underwear drawer.
The process was easier than you might expect, in part because the ads and marketing we see for lingerie are changing: Indie brands like Lonely Label and TomboyX, as well as buzzy names like Aerie and Savage X, release campaigns that feel personable and welcoming, with different types of bodies and faces. They’ve inspired me to think about this type of fashion in a new way.
“The turn away from supermodels to more relatable, everyday models for intimate apparel has been significant,” says Cora Harrington, founder of The Lingerie Addict and author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. “When I first started The Lingerie Addict over 10 years ago, this conversation was just starting in the lingerie blogger community, and now it’s a part of our everyday dialogue when we’re discussing lingerie brands.”
Her advice to me on how to build my lingerie collection? “Only buy things you love and want to wear,” she says. “It’s easy to go a little overboard, especially when you’re first becoming interested in lingerie—I know I did. It’s equally easy, especially if you’re a hard-to-find size or if you’re not used to having options, to feel like you have to just buy everything. But you don’t want a drawer full of things you never wear or—God forbid—that you hate.”
Up to this point, my underwear drawer has been filled with rather blah bras I’ve picked up in bargain bins over the years. My focus this time was on finding everyday bras that were comfortable first and foremost, but that also felt feminine and sexy.
Harrington recommends starting with a little bit of research, if only to have a realistic understanding of what you need and what you’ll find. “Most of us aren’t really taught or exposed to much in the way of lingerie education,” she says. “A lot of people don’t understand that bra construction must change as the breast size changes.” For example, an F or K cup can’t be built the same way as a B or D cup is. “It’s not that manufacturers want you to have ‘ugly’ bras—it’s that a flimsy wire, thin straps, or too-delicate lace is simply not supportive enough.”