Gifts: How to buy intimates

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.)


Anonymous said…
The flannel pj's are just my thing, soft and fleecy wins in my book, I'd be horrified if a man bought me a torturous basque!
HB said…
Hanro is such a fabulous gift! I have a couple pieces and treasure them.

A couple more lines that may interest gift givers (to self or others) are Mary Green for washable, lovely, silk. They also carry non-silk but I have always stuck with the main part of their line - her chemises are really great: And on Etsy, Sandmaiden has some beautiful loungewear and lingerie in natural fibers:
I love Prima Donna and this bra is lovely!
I prefer comfortable nightclothes to the racier versions...
I hope that some men are reading this post!
materfamilias said…
If I didn't suspect that my husband has been conversing with the lovely WendyB, I'd direct him to this very useful post. I also like Mary Green's silk pieces and would love a glorious pair of silk charmeuse pjs. Meanwhile, though, I also adore BedHead's cotton flannel ones, so well made as to seem nearly indestructible, and with the most delightful prints.
The giftees in your life are so lucky!!
coffeeaddict said…
Every man should indeed read this, especially the part about the three dimensions of a proper bra fit.
Susan said…
I love my Calida nightgowns. I've never worn pajamas since about age 4---always nightgowns. I love fine cotton knit or fine cotton, never nylon or silk.

I have a husband who has no appreciation for pretty lingerie, so I've always worn very plain things. Alas.
Frugal Scholar said…
Don't forget: hanky panky thongs in sets.
Tiffany said…
My husband surprised me this birthday and got me a nighty that manages to be comfortable yet pretty; modest yet unfrumpy. I'm going to stock up on them!
LPC said…
I love the way you cover all the bases:).
Anonymous said…
Awesome points and examples! I wouldn't want my husband to buy me a bra because as you say, it's hard enough for us to fit ourselves, let alone anyone guessing which bra would suit.

But other lingerie, yes please! :)

Mardel said…
This should really be required reading for quite a few men I know.

I didn't appreciate flannel pjs, or basic pjs until we had round-the-clock care-givers. Now those Garnet Hill options would really appeal.
Toby Wollin said…
I vote for slips - they are difficult to find and when you do, they are usually made in some horrible poly. So, to get someone a lovely slip in something else, even something like cotton knit with a bit of lace to keep warm in the winter, would be treasured. If the giver wants to be praised to the skies, give two, one in black and one in nude color. I am always looking for nice slips and can never find them.
laurieann said…
This post brings back lovely memories of decades past when my husband would buy me lingerie. Our gift giving has changed over the years but I do find this a very helpful article as I now have some better ideas for presents for myself. I am enjoying this series of articles very much.
Ali said…
You should open a lingerie boutique Duchesse. You'd kick butt.

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