How to Store What You Adore: Lila’s Life in Lingerie, Part 1

My dream bra drawer, compliments of Alison Rubke of Faire Frou Frou

Today is the day you’ve been waiting for!  I met Lila Smith three years ago and have wanted her to write a guest post for Hourglassy ever since.  In this post, she describes her history with, and love of, lingerie.  In tomorrow’s post, she gets to the practical part–how she stores it all.

I was never one for sweatpants, mesh basketball shorts, or similarly unglamorous apparel. When my freshman year Phys-Ed teacher in high school informed us on the first day of class that we would be required to wear pants or shorts with an ELASTIC WAISTBAND, I was horrified. My answer:  satin pajama pants. Oh, and the matching satin top. I was allowed to wear this as long as I showed up on time and my badminton game didn’t slip. It did not.

There was something defiant about those pajamas. There was an appeal that went beyond the sheen of the fabric under the yellow gymnasium lights. It was a feeling that I was dressing in something that felt distinctly different from the jeans I wore the rest of the day. My pajamas were a transformative costume, in which I could be Jean Harlow, Olga Baclanova, or Myrna Loy. So began a lifelong affair with lingerie.

That transformative effect was, and still is to me, the most powerful draw of the drawer. It can be the purely glamorous appeal of a vintage bias-cut silk nightgown from the ’30s, or the physically transfiguring results of shapewear (oh, you know, Spanx), or any garment in between.

I’ve had the advantage of working in the industry for the past 7 or 8 years, beginning in college upstate when I had a part time job at Private Drawers. The store was a wonderland of decadent piles of neatly folded silky, lacy, strappy, racy bits, stored in antique furniture which we sold as well. If a piece of furniture sold, we’d remove all the lingerie and rearrange it in the next piece to come to the floor. I loved organizing the collection in different ways all the time, depending on how many drawers or how much hanging space a piece would have. It was like a puzzle where the pieces were made of the world’s softest and sexiest things. I vowed that my own drawers and closets would always be full of lingerie as well, and then began to seriously build my collection.

Closeup of the hand-applied lace from my first vintage purchase from Private Drawers

From Private Drawers I purchased my first vintage piece: an ivory silk bias-cut, ankle-length sleeveless nightgown which tied around the back. It has the most lovingly hand-applied lace at the neckline and shoulders. I swear they still don’t make anything quite like the pieces I’ve collected from the 30’s and ’40s. Jane Woolrich and Janet Reger, both British lingerie designers, are the closest I’ve found to the care required to create something truly spectacular. Christine of Vancouver also makes sumptuous silks and lovely laces.

I learned how to fit women for bras while working at Private Drawers, but I really honed this skill when I worked at La Petite Coquette, the East Village lingerie Mecca where form finally met fit. We never used a tape measure, since it didn’t seem to make a difference. Women wear bra cup sizes for all different reasons, depending on where they’re the fullest. I can identify all shapes and sizes of breasts now, and determine exactly what size bra they should be held by, just by looking. It’s a great party trick.

It was also at La Petite Coquette where I really built the base of a very comprehensive collection of bras and bottoms. They usually match, though I now like to mix it up sometimes. I also became very regimented there about folding things perfectly and organizing them in a way that made sense.

Closeup of the lace and embroidery on my early 1940s bridal nightgown

The drawers at La Petite Coquette were organized by size–at least one drawer for each size with fashion bras neatly folded into rows. There were separate drawers in the back where the employees would access the selection of basic bras (a term I have never liked). These are also called t-shirt bras, everyday bras, workhorse bras, and similarly uninviting nomenclature. We organized the bras within each size drawer by brand, so we would best be able to grab the bras we were familiar with when a customer came in for whom they would work perfectly. I’d take one look at a woman and bring her a selection of bras that I felt would suit her size, shape, and lifestyle. I’d always try to find bras in the fashion drawer that would work under a majority of garments, in lieu of a traditional t-shirt bra. If the lace is flat enough, I find I can wear fancy bras under almost anything.


The Lingerie Goddess Touches My Underwear Drawer

I don’t know why I thought the rules for lingerie would be different, but Margaret Shrum injected some common sense into my lingerie life.  Here are three guiding principles that I took away from our consultation: [Read more…]

More than Lingerie: A Consultation with The Lingerie Goddess

As some of you know, I have a $170 store credit for La Petite Coquette.  I was dying to use it as I left the last day of CurveNY.  I’d seen so many pretty things that I felt I needed something new for myself immediately.  Fortunately, I remembered Margaret Shrum‘s offer of free lingerie consultations during the month of August.

Margaret is a personal lingerie shopper.   Who better to tell me how to spend my $170? I decided to go home and write to her instead.

She had an opening for me on August 11.  It was only as I frantically cleaned my house in preparation for her arrival that I wondered what I’d done.  A former lingerie buyer for Barney’s was coming to my house.  A woman who has worked with the finest lingerie in the world would be examining my lingerie drawer.  Nooooo.

I’m glad I didn’t back out.  The woman who came to my door was gracious and down-to-earth.  She had a fascinating background and amazing stories.   I learned so much from her in the time she spent with me that I’ve had a hard time deciding how to cover it all in just one blog post–hence my only writing about it now.

I’ve finally decided that there’s no way to cover it all in one blog post.  Instead, I’ll write just a few things in Tuesday’s post, with more to follow over time.   In fact, there’s a good chance that Margaret will write a few guest posts for us in the future.

But tomorrow, look for her advice to me about my everyday bras and underwear.





Transform a Boxy Dress to Fit Your Curves: Leah’s Third Column

It is way too hot to wear anything but dresses in the summer, but finding ones that are casual, the right length, fit correctly, and are still modern is a real chore. Off-the-rack cheap-o dresses like those you find at H&M and Forever21 are definitely not designed for a “womanly” body.

If the boobs and the butt fit, you usually end up with a whole bunch of extra loose fabric around your waist. But if you buy a size to fit your waist, then the fabric across your boobs and butt stretches too far and gets those awkward horizontal lines, and it rides up when you walk.

But the prices are so right that I just can’t help myself! So instead of getting mad that the $20 dresses don’t fit, or getting frustrated and not buying them at all, I buy the size that fits my curvy bits and nip in the waist at home.

This week’s alteration is another that I use all the time. It’s taking a simple boxy dress and turning it into a more “hourglassy” shape. You can also use this on tunics and pretty much any oversized shirt as long as the armpits and shoulders fit okay. It works best with stretchy fabrics.

Materials: ill-fitting dress, pins, needle, thread, white chalk
Project time: 20 minutes

Click below to read the illustrated instructions.

[Read more…]