Dizzying array of styles changes underwear shopping from simple task to marathon


May 06, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

Today's column is about an important subject that is not really on everyone's mind: the never-ending choices in women's underwear.

There was a time when, if I needed underwear, I only needed about 30 seconds to shop for it. It was hanging in a plastic three-pack on a rack in the back of the women's department. My choice was limited to: size. That's because "color" was the ever-unflattering brilliant white. This type of underwear had an elastic waistband that, as its name indicates, came up to the waist, and two similarly, boringly appointed leg holes.

Today there are huge sections of department stores devoted to women's underwear, and entire specialty stores, too. Apparently, in the late 1960s, the underwear design team was demoted to more practical jobs in tents, kitchen linens and, perhaps, even eyeglass frames, where fashionable elements were still largely unheard of. The outerwear design team was transferred over to work on the underwear.

"No more handbags for you, Andre! Get over to women's underwear, and see what kinds of uncomfortable, itchy embellishments you can create!"

Suddenly, women's underwear featured catchy phrases or bold statements, with embroidered flowers or rainbows or cartoon characters, finished off with an accent of beads or fringe. And that's just the decoration - there's a dizzying array of styles.

Recently, as a woman in need of some new underwear, I had to wander the aisles for hours, choosing from the high-cut, the low-rise, the bikini, the French-cut, the Brazilian, the boy-short and, of course, the thong, which I don't really think belongs in the underwear category, just as the fish stick doesn't belong in the seafood category and the Chihuahua doesn't belong in the dog category.

I'm sure thongs look good on some women - but I happen to think those women are primarily the ones in the window displays at stores in the mall like "Veronica's Confidential," if you know what I mean. Most times I have had a thong pointed out to me on beaches, it's not because it's fabulous looking, but rather because it's a most astounding sight - an out-of-body experience of a different sort.

"Will you look at that woman up there toting those enormous grapefruits to the cabanas? Oh, no, that's her bathing suit!"

Chances are, if you're not browsing the thongs, you're in the suppression underwear section; selecting garments designed to smooth what popular R&B singer Fergie coined in 2005 as our "lovely lady lumps" into a particular shape for a party dress or ensemble. But then when you go home at night, well, we must quote pop singer Lesley Gore who sang in 1963: "It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to." What was compressed must be expressed; these "smoothers" are nothing more than the "zip files" of foundation garments: everything's just been temporarily condensed.

On the flip side, I was surprised to learn that I could purchase underwear that could enlarge my buttocks! This is not something I had considered possible, or even desirable. I tried some on, and I can honestly say that I appeared to be toting enormous grapefruits. Again, though, the effect would be temporary - once this sort of underwear was removed, I'd be back to living with my original rear end and its somehow disappointing or inadequate profile.

I often wonder what happens when young people have plastic surgery that alters their bodies or faces. Someday, if they marry and have children who inherit their original noses or hips or thighs, they will have a lot of explaining to do. Luckily, Maury Povich will probably have a brief new show that will get to the bottom of it.

Which, somehow, brings me back to women's underwear choices. I ended up with one type for every day of the week. Now, depending on my mood, I can be slimmer, more curvaceous, sporty, sexy, daring, cute - but always, always, darn uncomfortable.

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