It’s the summer before college, and I’m standing in the lingerie section of Target. Not very glamorous, but there’s a lot more lace and bows than I would have expected. My 14-year-old sister has her hands clamped firmly over her eyes, and my mother is distastefully eyeing the bra and panties set I’m holding: a red satin number. “You don’t need them,” she scolds. “What’s the point of buying lingerie if no one’s going to see it?” Covering my tracks, I toss the undergarments in our shopping cart and put on my best mature adult face. “I don’t need someone to see them. I can wear them just to feel confident.” But of course, I’m lying through my teeth: I’m hoping that in the magical college whirlwind of hookups, parties, and communal bathrooms, someone will see them. Society does a lot to market sexy underwear to the masses. Specialized stores, advertisements, catalogues, and an entire televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show tell women that they need alluring garments to go under their clothing every morning, where they probably won’t be seen again. Everything seems to be centered around lingerie for ultimate sex appeal. Victoria’s Secret is particularly known for this. Their bralettes, thongs, and slips are given names such as “Bombshell,” “Very Sexy,” “Peep Show,” and “Tease.”
However, Victoria’s Secret has a competitor on the market: Aerie. The company names all their products after girls. Instead of a “Dream Angel Bustier,” customers can shop for a “Katie” or a “Bridget.” Aerie markets underwear for women, to women. Aerie knows that feeling comfortable and confident in lingerie is much more important than what society dictates as sexy. We can, and should, determine ourselves what is sexy is.
For example, I have a friend who purchases only thongs. She loves the cut, the barely-there feel, and the way she looks in them. There’s no ulterior motive, no desire to show herself off in lingerie to a significant other. She’s never mentioned buying underwear to appeal to anyone other than herself. Another friend wears vintage slips under all her dresses. She appreciates the silk against her skin, she likes feeling pampered and sensual for herself in day-to-day life. I own four or five matching lingerie sets, and I’ll factor them in while planning outfits. I enjoy walking into class and knowing that not just my shoes and purse coordinate, but so do my bra and underwear.
It took me a while to appreciate underwear for myself. Eventually, it was the feeling of power and self-assurance that came with looking in the mirror and thinking I’m sexy. Nobody is going to see my body but me, but I’m still sexy. In college, I learned to fully embrace dressing for myself. My outfits reflect my mood and daily aesthetic, and it seemed only natural to me that this sentiment should continue through my underwear. Yes, I’ll slip on something extra lacy for a special occasion. But that special occasion can be a big test or an audition. Lingerie is a personal confidence boost. Nobody else knows the intimates I’m wearing, but that doesn’t diminish my confidence.
My younger sister (who still won't go into Target’s lingerie section after her so-called traumatic experience) loves boy shorts and sports bras. Last month, I offered her some lacy bras that didn't fit me anymore. She shook her head, claiming she didn't want them. Allegedly, she didn't mind how they felt and looked, but was adverse to the concept of lingerie itself. She felt it was too mature and adult, a bit too sexual. I convinced her to try the bras for a few days and see what she thought. She reported back that she felt different in lace instead of cotton, and in an underwire bra instead of an athletic one. Not worse, not better—just different. Fashion reflects personality—undergarments are a part of yourself just as much as outward fashion. After all, they’re quite literally near and dear to your heart.
A trip to the intimates section should be a grand romantic gesture: from you, to you. Take yourself on a date to brush through endless racks of silky bows and tiny hearts. Whisper sweet nothings to yourself as you caress that cute pink slip. Seduce yourself in the dressing room mirror. You’re in a relationship with yourself as much as you are with anyone. Self-love is important, and that should extend to embracing your sexuality. Look hot, feel hot, be hot—for you.
Photograph by Vivien Liu