Where Have All The Lingerie Loving Women Gone? (Part Two)
Alternately titled: "Did Feminism Murder Lingerie or Is Victoria's Secret To Blame?"
Some suggest that I am being unfair to "Today's Women", calling them lingerie illiterate. But I swear, I am being kind. I don't think they are stupid or unable to love lingerie, just uneducated. They've been under-exposed to under things.
Some of you posted that I was over-stating my case, some blamed feminism for the decline of femininity, some tooted Victoria's Secret as the way for women to find their way 'back' to lingerie again (as if!), and someone even emailed me to say I was just plain nuts to put this much thought into lingerie at all. But if there is one thing I've learned from a 'nutty' lil lingerie blog is this: lingerie is woven into the fabric of our culture. Even the absence of lingerie means something...
There's some truth to the argument that feminists killed lingerie. As women strode towards equality many did so in pants. Part of letting it all hang out emotionally and spiritually meant you no longer confined your body. Girdles, corsets, modest slips -- they all went bye-bye. With the anti-establishment mode of thinking the mode of dressing-up was seen as old school. (With no one dressing for entertaining it's no wonder Casual Fridays would eventually creep in to take over the whole work week.)
Others not necessarily feminists or free-lovin' hippies bought the fashions of the 70's and 80's too. Many of these fashions included trousers, jeans, mini-skirts and other fashions which literally left no room for lingerie. Even a modest knee-length skirt left no room for vintage panties for their pretty ruffles and accents pressed against skirt fabric left bulges.
Pantyhose became the norm, and their nylon built-in panties replaced not only real panties but their control tops meant no girdles were needed. The new science of Lycra etc. put stockings out of work. Why wear 2 or even 3 garments and a slip to smooth it all, when you could just don a pair of pantyhose?
The New Look had become 'the old look' and we all ran out to buy what was new now.
There were a few gains. Hip-huggers meant new hip huggin' panties, and pantyhose (as already mentioned); but for the most part, lingerie was now just reduced to underwear. Overall elegance had left fashion, for most of us anyway. We were supposedly free of it all.
We still needed underwear, so lingerie manufacturers still existed. Eventually, by the 1980's, a few even decided to promote what I call 'play wear', a more refined version of Frederick's of Hollywood garments which were to seduce the wearer and the viewer. I say 'more refined' because Frederick's had become by now synonymous with trashy -- a throw back to the kitchy days of old when women were seen only as sex object or at least not true equals. No one liked Frederick's -- at least not outloud. Shopping at Fredrick's meant you were a hooker, a harlot or an anti-feminist; none of which were the things to be. So the few companies which began to offer play wear were careful not to be compared to Frederick's.
In part this return to fun lingerie was likely due to attempts to limit or undermine women's power -- as our necklines plunge so does our stock as equal persons. This is the backlash of pushing forward. It wasn't all some plot of patriarchy or a conspiracy against women. Change is hard, especially if you mainline it hard down the center. Sometimes you want to revert to something comfortable and familiar. And there have always been women who loved lingerie and wouldn't abandon their love for the sake of 'fashion' or politics. But some who had forsaken lingerie now reconsidered things...
Women, and indeed men, had voiced desires to see a return of femininity. Women began to wear bits of lace and invest in lingerie that was more than practical. Bras and panties in wild colors were designed to be seen -- in private. Like the ads said, you never knew where she'd turn up.
Even if you couldn't hide it under your suit or tee shirt, you wore them to shockingly invite your mate into the bedroom. This play wear was sexy -- not just because it was pretty and luxurious, but because it was sold to women as a way to use their own power. No longer did she need to sit back and hope he'd come to her, she now could draw him ever near herself. She could ask him out. She could invite him over to her place. And she could invite him under as her as she worked away on top of him.
Equality? Maybe not, but bras and panties were now sold as symbols of women's power. Our undies were practical fashions but they also indicated women's rights -- powers which we could use. Along with this new vibrant bra & panty party were other items of play wear. Teddies, bustiers, and camisoles, all designed to be seen beneath a power suit, a jacket, a sweater or even just paired with a skirt. (Remember those old Cosmo 'how to dress at the office' articles?)
While lingerie was now meant to be seen, it wasn't the good old days. We were as brash and forward as the lipstick red and hot pink bikini panties we wore. We weren't coyly hiding anything. And the message changed from 'you never know where she might show up' to 'she's here & waiting now.'
In fact it nearly became expected that we'd show our unmentionables, and therefore bare our bodies. But we couldn't bear our bare bodies as they were, so we began to go to gyms and hire personal trainers. We became slaves not just to skinny, but muscular. We were to be equally strong as men -- only we had to wear pretty panties of power too. And if all this diet and exercise was diminishing our curves, well we could fix that too; we'd get implants.
This awareness of what a 'healthy body' looks like in skimpy-scanties drove fashions which didn't allow for bodily flaws. You couldn't fit girdles & slips under these clothes -- and even if you could, you'd better not! These were body bearing fashions. Even if the fashions would hide, allow or forgive foundation garments to fix your flaws, fashion designers wouldn't.
The shoulder pads of the 80's were heartlessly ripped out as women were told to create their own damn shoulder mass to counter balance the female curve of hips. Lycra was put into everything -- including the garments we wore to the gym to work for bodies which could wear them. Hell, many of us desperately purchased home workout videos so that we could get in shape enough to present ourselves at the gym to get a membership. (And we were right to do so, for gyms were the new meat markets where sexy healthy people paired up.) We couldn't even hide behind big hair and perms for now hair became as straight & sleek as our bodies.
As if this weren't enough, work-out fashions became everyday clothing. Bicycle shorts, sports bras, leotards & leggings (what yoga suits & pants were called before they were called 'yoga suits' and 'yoga pants'), and tank tops replaced t-shirts and jeans. Clothes pressed ever tightly towards our bodies, leaving nothing to the imagination save for what colorful play wear you had at home to prance about in.
Victoria's Secret thrived in this environment. Supermodels in super-skimpy lingerie prowled not only catwalks and magazine layouts, but in catalogs which became the new Playboy magazines openly left out in every bathroom -- men's and women's. Gone too were the beautiful gowns, the peek-a-boo play sets, as the romance of illusion was replaced with tiny triangles of 'pow'.
The fear of not being able to fit into our 'liberating', powerful pink panties with the VS logo drove women to more exercise, more dieting, more implants, more struggling to tug up & on our tiny intimate garments so that we could liberatingly provide sex on demand -- even if the demands came from our own mouths. We needed new lingerie to shock and demand which propelled us forward into more diet & exercise, more skin tight workout outfits, more implants & rib removals, more videos of highly glossed thin women in tiny clingy clothing writhing about.
More & more men began envisioning us thus, making workout videos the new porn -- not just because of the attire, but the limber actions. (So popular, there were even TV shows of women working out that men enjoyed while prone or seated.) The workout videos, clubs and lingerie models were projecting the never-ending increasing high standard of sexy. And we bought it all. We bought the idea that we had to be this thin, this sexually aggressive, this scantily clad, this limber -- & all the goods & services that went with it.
We were not free sexually empowered women but rather we were scantily clad babes who existed to fulfill male fantasies, no matter if we liked it, knew it, or not. That's Victoria's Real Secret.
What may have begun as a way for women to be treated as equals -- different but equal -- had now become a trap. Our perceived power to choose as men do had became as forced as our earlier chastity. Third Wave Feminists continue to see this undie-baring swagger of sexual offerings as evidence of "sexy" and "equality". They even take men's underwear, 'boy shorts' and 'wife beaters' (or the equally ugly 'husband beaters'), and prance about in these feminized versions of male symbols. But is that liberated equality?
Feminists who swear that we have the right to bed 'em and leave 'em, just like men do, are missing the point. We do not become equal by imitating our captors. We become equals when we have the choice to be ourselves. As women, this involves curves. Curves we may choose to exploit as we wish, not in some body-hating, straight muscle-massed "I wanna be a man!" fashion. (And by 'fashion', I do mean actions as well as clothing.)
If we want to be equals, we need to see ourselves as we are. Yes, we can wear boy shorts if we wish to. We can go braless. Be androgynous even. But we should also feel as free to wear a girdle and stockings.
Yes, we can ask him out -- and we can screw him on the first and only date. But we should also feel free to wait for his invitation to dinner, and make him wait 'til the third date or marriage for the opportunity to see us in our lingerie let alone naked (because that's what it is, an opportunity given -- a gift, not a required performance). If we want to.
Lingerie is about choice & celebration of femininity. Fashion, as I've said before, is about communication. And intimate apparel even more so.
We should not be forced to wear corsets and stockings any more than we should feel condemned to wearing boy shorts and cotten camis. We should feel free to exhibit what we wish and to hide any parts of ourselves we deem private. We should embrace our female bodies as much as we do our female minds. Lingerie, especially the vintage styles, allows for modesty. Modesty, be it the physical hiding of a curve or the emotional kind that says you're not an exhibitionist or egomaniac, is not anti-feminist. We women need to know that if we are the modest sort, we are no less feminine, no less feminist -- no less a man's equal. If we can't, how can we expect men to do so?
The absence of other forms of lingerie is a gap in education which prevents women from knowing all their options.
This is lingerie illiteracy. This is what has lead to less lingerie loving women.
© Slip of a Girl
A woman who adores lingerie so much she blogs about it.