This post is for men, or anyone with trepidation about buying intimate wear for a woman.
Women who enjoy lingerie and its more proper cousin, sleepwear, are delighted to receive dainties, if well-chosen. So before you swipe your credit card, a few tips:
1. Bras 101: Even va-voom has to fit.
Guys, guys, guys: size counts. Her size, that is.
A bra fits in three dimensions; it's a tricky purchase even for us. To get it right, peek at the tags, ask her sister, anything but flapping your hands around the saleswoman's torso, saying, "Pretty much your size, but bigger".
You'll give the gift that keeps giving back... but only if she wears it. You safest option is to pick a beautiful bra and panty* in a brand she buys. Notice whether she wears full or demi-cups, push up, padded. Buy from a shop that allows exchanges and has extensive stock.
Lace is very pretty, but an all-lace bra in larger cup sizes is not very supportive, so chose lace that's applied over the cup, or lace trim, as shown in the photo provided for instructional purposes. Shown, Prima Donna Deauville underwire bra, in Cherry Punch, $119 from A Brief Affair.
If a peek in her drawer reveals only beige and black, avoid wild colours, but navy is a chic choice for a neutral-loving woman.
*Always buy the matching panty. If the bra is black, you're right, she probably has something to wear with it, but go ahead anyway. A beautiful bra without the matching panty is like a golf ball without a tee.
2. Too sexy can be unsexy, but not-sexy can be very sexy.
Some women would feel self-conscious and unhappy in the Prima Donna bra, but flirty in German flannel pjs from Garnet Hill. Hint: if she is sleeping now in the "Property of Wayne County Athletic Dept." t-shirt that your son left behind, the flannel could be the better choice.
Nothing with a drawstring waist, kiddie patterns (cows, teddies, football logos) or writing across the seat.
We also like pretty things we can actually wash. I love Hanro for this reason. If you're in rugged winter climate, their non-scratchy woolies with lace trim will be coveted. (Price, $155 from Garnet Hill.)
Hanro make high-quality lingerie for all climates. Don't forget that point about the bra and panty: same for a cami. (But you can give just panties. Don't ask why.)
Above, Hanro Kiss camisole and bikini brief from Neiman Marcus.
3. Look for luxurious natural materials.
We appreciate your diligence, but you can put down that Victoria's Secret catalog. Think of the seductive luxury of other eras: velvet, satin, fine combed cottons.
Silk, which most men equate with sensual delight, is delicate for bras and panties that could actually be worn and is hard to care for, but in heavier weights like charmeuse, makes a divine gown, chemise or robe.
A lavish robe, long or short, is better for those of us with mature figures than a teensy bustier or a corset, unless you know she wants one.
It's hard to go wrong at Nancy Meyer. Arlotta's long cashmere robe ($498) lets you off the hook re precise fit (sizes XS-L) yet still delivers that Oooooh Factor.
4. Don't get us anything called "shapewear".
We buy this for ourselves; we'd rather you think we don't need it. Instead, choose a pretty chemise, which is a luxurious item that has nothing to do with control.
The Natori lace-top chemise (aka "slip") suggests that what lies beneath is perfect as it is. (From Neiman Marcus; price, $80 on sale.)
5. Not every woman is a standard size. Don't think that beautiful lingerie is off-limits to the plus-sized siren or the women with a mastectomy.
Web sites like Oola (international shipping) offer many tempting choices for large-sized women; the Floreale embriodered bra and panty are but one example.
DiMurini make exquisite lingerie; the woman who's had breast surgery can have a bra every bit as opulent after as before.
The Rowena bra is £55; the matching brief, £25.
Don't forget the elder. She wants to feel pretty, but grannies do not necessarily want a granny nightgown. Look for graceful styles like this Calida Egyptian cotton knit gown, which slips on without buttons. In sizing up to 18; price, $75 from Vermont Country Store.
6. Don't wonder why something so tiny costs so much.
You can economize by watching for a sale, don't cut corners on quality. Cheap lingerie scratches, loses shape and looks ratty after a few months. Better to buy an Egyptian cotton chemise than a gown and robe of sub-par poly.
You can find some treasures trolling Etsy, but look for new rather than vintage or upcycled materials. This cotton jersey Black Retro Bra Top by seller NaughtyNaughtyLingerie rocks, and it's only $35 (plus shipping); matching boyshorts panty, $18.50.
Finally, if you do decide to go with a provocative choice, think about where you will present it. My friend Jo was mortified to pull a certain piece out of its box in front of her in-laws. That sort of item is best presented in the place for which it is destined, the boudoir, accompanied by champagne and your solicitous assistance in trying it on. (Shown, Agent Provocateur Maggie playsuit, price, $390.)