Buying lingerie for your girlfriend is something that often pops into the male mind as being "a good idea" for a whole multitude of reasons. It shows that you've put thought into buying her a present that you've chosen yourself. It gives you the chance to buy something that she'll enjoy and find useful. A present that tells her 'I think you're beautiful.' Something that can be given for anniversaries and birthdays, or just because you felt like it. Plus you get to see her wear it, and then rip it off her. What's not to like?
But the world of women's underthings is a huge and frightening place for the uninitiated male. There is nothing quite as nerve-wracking as walking into the lingerie department of a store when you don't know what you're doing. The temptation to just pick up the nearest thing that you like that looks to be vaguely her size and then run is sometimes overwhelming. Well, there's nothing that's going to go down like a lead balloon quite like being given badly chosen, badly fitting lingerie. It's the choice of gift that could go horribly wrong. There is no middle ground. You're either going to be in the doghouse, or seventh heaven by doing this, so let's aim at the latter and get it right.
First off, before you even open a browser window or go to a shop, there's a bit of research that you need to do, and some decisions that you need to make. Well, I say a bit... and imply some... What I mean is, 'sit down and have a real think about this, and then when you've finished thinking about it, think about it a little bit more.'
First, and most importantly, how much do you want to spend?
Buying lingerie can be a very expensive affair, if you want it to be, but it doesn't always have to be. It depends on the occasion, and on your girlfriend's breasts (more on that bit in a while.) If it's just a 'I just wanted to show you I love you' random present, then about £25-50 (US$50-95) could be considered reasonable, depending on how flash with the cash you were feeling. Birthdays and anniversaries... well. Again, depends how flash you're feeling with the cash, but I think that £50 is the least that you should be thinking of spending (depending on what you're thinking of buying her) and if you really wanted to treat her, well... sky's the limit. Designer lingerie, for matching brassiere and knickers can set you back £300 (US$570) if you want it to. So, decide on a budget and stick to it. What that budget is will be dictated by a number of factors, but as I said, more on that as we progress.
Secondly, what's her bra size?
Get this wrong, and you may as well just slap yourself and save her the effort. Maybe you already know her bra size, because you're just that kind of couple, but it always pays to check these things; it's as easy as going to her underwear drawer, picking up a few bras, and looking to see what the size on the label is. If you don't know her bra size, and you have no access to her underwear drawer, get her best female friend in on the deal.
Now, to complicate matters. If you're not the type who likes to complicate matters I suggest you move on to 'Thirdly', but if you're considering spending £100 on a bra, I'd advise that you keep on reading.
Scarily, 80% of women wear the wrong bra size. The reason for this is simple: breasts change size (weight / hormone fluctuation) over time, but a woman usually keeps buying the same bra size. There's a chance you're about to waste a lot of money. So, you have a couple of options here. First you have to establish if there's a chance that you're with one of the 20% who are wearing the right size; find out by 'subtly' asking if she's been properly measured up for her bra recently -OR- (and this is probably the option most of you will chose) you can spend a large amount of time staring at her while she's wandering around in a bra. If the bra strap around her body is riding up her back despite being on the tightest hook, then she's wearing the wrong back size – you'll need to buy at least one size smaller, maybe even two. So if she's thinks she's a 36C, there's a good chance she's actually a 34D or a 32DD. I'll explain a bit more about sizing in a second.
Now you get to stare at her breasts; do so while she's just in a bra, and while she's wearing a top. Do her breasts fit in the bra cups properly? If she ever gets that 'double breast' thing (you know what I mean), then she's wearing a too small cup size; again, she's going to have to go up by at least one or two cups. If there's a lot of room between her breasts and the bra fabric, then she's wearing a too big cup size, and she'll need to go down by at least one.
There are two components: the back size and the cup size. Traditionally, these were always determined using a measuring tape and a complicated bit of mathematics, but this invariably ended up giving the wrong size anyway. The best way for a woman to find the correct size is to go to a specialist lingerie shop and be measured up by an experienced sales assistant who will do it by eye, and by getting her to try on a range of bra sizes until they find the right one. Bra sizing is not an exact science, by any means. The back size (number portion) is the size around the ribcage. This is where the support from a bra should come from (not the shoulder straps), so it's got to be right. Cup sizes (letter) are the size of the breasts themselves, and are considered in relation to the back size, so a 34C cup size is not the same as a 38C cup size. The UK and US use the imperial measurement (30 upward) to measure backsizes, but the same is not true of other countries. See here for a handy conversion guide between countries. But sticking to the UK/US system numbers (because that's what I know, the actual working theory is the same) if you move up a back size, then you move down a cup size to compensate. So, if a woman was a 32B and she really wanted to buy a particular bra, but they didn't have it in her size, she could buy the 34A instead. This is called a 'sister size' bra. It works the other way as well; she could buy the 30C. Neither of them would fit as well as the 32B, but, if she really has to have that bra...
So, you've noticed that your SO is blatantly wearing the wrong bra size. What do you do? Well, you have two options. One, you can fly by the seat of your pants, do the math yourself, and try to buy the right sized bra off the top of your head. But imagine this: You've noticed that the back is really riding up, but she's got a bit of a double breaster going on. She thinks she's a 38B. What should you probably buy her? If you just broke out in a sweat, or found that you'd plain got it wrong when you hovered over the question mark, then I suggest option two; enlisting the help of the best female friend. This is not something that you yourself will be able to get away with without raising alarm bells. Ask female best friend to mention to SO, "Hey, apparently 80% of women wear the wrong bra size. Fancy a girl's day out at the shopping centre?" and just pray she says yes.
Thirdly what's her hip / waist measurement?
Now, this is going to be a bit brutal, and you've got a tough decision to make. Look in her underwear drawer again to see what size knickers she wears... and then be honest. Have you noticed that they might be a little... tight? If they fit fine, then you're on easy street. However, plenty of women live in the delusion that if they buy size 12 knickers then that means they are a size 12, when actually, they're a size 14. Expensive lingerie can be fairly unforgiving in the stretching department, so you have to think what's going to be worse: buying size 12 and having her not being able to get into them, or buying her size 14, and having them fit, but her sulking because she thinks that you think that she's fat, and it's turned out that she 'is'. It's okay, do not panic, you have a get-out clause: "The shop assistant advised that I buy a size up, because apparently these guys skimp a little on the sizing." This is only going to backfire if the manufacturer really do skimp a little on sizing, and you have to buy her a 16. Then just substitute the word 'little' for 'lot'. Again the hip / waist sizing varies a lot between different countries, and here is a nice conversion table.
Fourthly what type of lingerie do you want to buy her?
Brassiere and with matching knickers – This is a classic option, always well received, but it can be very expensive. First off, there's the bra; say you buy a good, mid-range bra, which sets you back around £35 (US$65). Not so bad, huh? Unfortunately, the manufacturers know at this point that they've got you by the short and curlies. You have to buy the matching knickers (other wise you're just going to look... well, crap, to be honest) and so the knickers often don't come cheap; you'll be looking at around £10-£15 (US$20-30), which has bumped up the price a fair bit. Now, let me let you in on a little secret: when girls buy matching lingerie for themselves, they will often buy more than one pair of knickers, because really, who wears a bra only once before washing it? So if you really want to impress, buy her a couple of pairs. So, it's ended up being rather expensive, but you do look good for it.
Camisole – a camisole is a waist-length fitted top held up by shoulder straps that can either be worn as daywear, nightwear, or both depending on the style; some are very obviously daywear, some are very obviously for seducing and sleeping in. If you can't tell the difference, ask the advice of a shop assistant or female friend. They can sometime have underwiring in but not very often, so I only really recommended for women with smaller, more pert breasts (D cup would be the maximum.) Some ranges may offer a matching bra, cami, and knickers. Think how popular you'd be for that...
Chemise – a chemise is a slightly looser version of a camisole that comes down to the tops of the thighs, and again, are really only recommended for women with smaller, more pert breasts. They are usually worn as nightwear or underwear. Again, some come as a matched set with bra, knickers, etc. Similar to this are babydolls or negligees, which are nightwear.
Bustier and Basque – tread ever, ever so carefully if you're thinking of buying her one of these. It might not go down well; if in any doubt whatsoever, don't do it. A bustier is close-fitting and (usually) strapless top that pinches the waist while pushing up the breasts. They are usually worn as a top; one of those simultaneous 'clothing and underwear' things, but can also be used underneath clothing. A basque (merrywidow) is along the same lines; a tight-fitting bodice that continues down to the top of the hips. They are mostly worn these days as a tool of seduction, but do also funtion as underwear, though not really a day-to-day item. Both will usually have a suspender belt (garter belt) for stockings. I personally think they are beautiful, but they're also something I'd rather buy for myself than have bought for me.
Fifthly what style of lingerie should you buy?
Again, back to the underwear drawer. What patterns and trends do you see in her choice of self-bought underwear? If she's got a lot of lacy stuff, that probably means she likes lacy underwear. No lace at all means you probably shouldn't go there. Look at the style of bras and knickers that she likes wearing (more later) – if she has no thongs in sight, she is really not going to appreciate you buying her a g-string, even if it is jewel-encrusted. On the other hand, if she has a lot of padded bras, then she's probably not going to take offence if you buy her a padded bra. Then there's the matter of colour. Some people don't like colourful underwear, some people think a luminous lime green bra is the best thing since sliced bread. There is a whole range of lingerie out there, some of it in simple, tasteful colours (the standard white, ivory, black); others in beautiful silk prints that are bright and funky and don't deserve the ignominy of being worn under clothing. If there's a lot of black and isn't much white underwear in her drawer, it probably means she doesn't like white, but that doesn't mean that she wouldn't like a pale pink with black-mesh detail and ribbons.
Okay. Planning's done. Operation "Buy lingerie" can now be started
Assuming you've done the groundwork, actually choosing what lingerie to buy her shouldn't be too stressful; you've already done a lot of the work. You know kind-of what you're looking for. If you're really lucky, she's also done a lot of the work for you by dropping lots of hints at you for the last two weeks, and that's why you went looking for this guide on E2 in the first place. All you've got to do now is go out and find something that you like the look of and that, more importantly, you think she'll like the look of. You can now either browse on the internet, or go out into the real world. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
- Don't have to leave the comfort of your living room – plus it'll be delivered to your door.
- Bigger choice, especially for those of you who don't live near a moderately sized town or city. There are large number of internet sites that sell lingerie, and even better, there are specialised sites, so if you know you're looking for something in particular, it'll be a lot easier to find (or at least find a phone number so that you can find where out you can buy it).
- None of that 'being intimidated by sales assistants / large numbers of women shopping around you' thing going on. Can just be done at your own leisure.
- BUT you only have a 2D picture of what the bra looks like, and you've got no idea what the material itself feels like. The number of things that look good on models in catalogues, but pretty poor in real life are legion.
- Returning unsuitable items is a lot more hassle over the internet than it is via a shop, mostly because you will have to wait about a week for them to receive and process your return, and then either refund your money or send you out a replacement item. But when it's your only choice, it's your only choice...
Well the advantages / disadvantages are kind of exactly the opposite of the disadvantages / advantages of shopping on-line. If the thought of walking into the lingerie section of a department store or a lingerie shop is just too terrifying for you to think of, enlist a female friend to drag you around. Apart from anything, she'll be able to offer good advice with regard to what to look for, where to find it (some department store lingerie floors are huge), what looks good, what would be comfortable to wear, what wouldn't be.... If you do decide to go it alone, then most sales assistants, especially in specialist lingerie shops, are trained in the art of guiding a befuddled male through the minefield of buying his SO lingerie. However, if you're one of those men who just don't like to ask sales assistants for assistance (I know my father's one; this might just be a British thing), then here's a run down guide of what you'll be running in to.
full cup – a full-cup bra covers the whole of the breast. Available for all breast sizes, but will be the best (and often only) choice for women over a D cup as they offer a lot of support. For those of whose SO is well-endowed (D and over) you've probably heard occasional long rants about how difficult it is to find bras. Well, sorry to break it to you, but it is. There is good stuff out there that is very beautiful indeed, but it's expensive. A-D cups are easily catered for by the majority of clothing stores and labels, but above a D cup are specific labels.
half cup – a half-cup bra usually offers nearly the same support as a full-cup, but only covers half the breast; again, available for all breast sizes. The advantage of a half-cup over a full-cup is that she will be able to wear lower-cut tops with it, and it looks and feels just a little more sexy because more of the breast is exposed. For this, she is only sacrificing a little of the complete support that a full-cup provides her.
balconette – a balconette bra is as it sounds; a balcony for the breasts. It's a half cup bra with wide-spaced straps, but it also pushes the breasts up to create cleavage. Not recommended for anyone over a D cup (unless manufactured by a company that specialises in +DD bras, and even then be careful).
plunge bra – a plunge bra is merely a bra where the band that connects the cups is a thin strip below the line of the nipples, allowing the woman to wear very low-cut tops. Plunge bras can usually be found up to quite large sizes.
push-up bra – a push-up bra pushes the breasts up and in, making them look fuller and creating a lot of cleavage. The Wonderbra is a type of push-up bra. Often a push-up bra will be combined with a plunge bra making a...
cleavage bra - a cleavage bra is the kind of thing that haunts men's dreams. Depending on the manufacturer, you can get these made up to an F cup (Wonderbra only goes to C or D at most).
triangle – a triangle bra is strictly for pert C cups and under only. Offer practically no support (as they usually aren't underwired), and are pretty much there for decoration... which is why they can be so very luxurious.
There are, of course, other kinds of bras. But none that you need concern yourself with. Women's business. Move along.
briefs – the word briefs is usually used to describe knickers that give whole coverage of both the front and buttocks. They may be further described as being low-rise (the waistband sits on or below the hips) or high-legged (the cut of the leg finishes high on the hips).
thong – thongs have full coverage at the front, but leave the arse cheeks bare. Again, available as a low-rise version.
g-string – a g-string is the barest of bare underwear, composed only of string apart from a small triangle at the front to preserve modesty.
shorty – shorties (boy shorts) are low-rise knickers that go down to the tops of the thigh; knickers that look a little like shorts, in other words. Very popular at the moment.
french knickers – french knickers are similar length and style to shorties, but looser in fit and feel; absolutely luxurious when made in satin or silk.
Again, I have completely simplified the world of women's knickers (jodiek tells you more in her node if you really do want to know more), but that's the basics (most of which you probably knew anyway, but hey, this is meant to be the definitive guide, right?)
In my opinion, the best thing would be to combine the two. First, research across the various sites on the internet. If you don't live near a town or city, then at this point you have no choice, and a lot of lingerie sites have a free returns service, so you're not completely losing out. But if you research first, and then go out into the real world armed with a list and a willing female friend / nerves of steel, you can actually take a look at the items that you were thinking of buying and decide whether or not they look so good on the hanger, and feel the material. Hint: women generally don't like things with the texture of sandpaper to be anywhere near their nipples.
If all is good, take the plunge, and hand over your credit card.
And don't forget to ask for it to be gift wrapped by the store; it just looks a bit better than you'd do at home with a bit of old Christmas paper and sellotape.
The holding your breath bit
Your time has come. You have handed her a box containing a few scraps of material that have cost a ridiculous amount of money and time. She's cooing and going "Aww, you shouldn't have!" and you're sitting there almost wishing you hadn't. She opens the box.
Now, at this point she either loves it or hates it instantly, but if she's any kind of reasonable person, even if she does hate it, she will appreciate the amount of time that you must have put into finding this for her. I'm assuming at this point that you didn't wander into Ann Summers and purchase a peephole bra and a pair of crotchless knickers. So, you still have the receipt, and you can take it back and she can choose something she does like.
If she loves it, tries it on, but it doesn't fit; again, receipt, change it for one that does.
If a miracle has occurred and it fits, and she loves it, then you probably aren't going to be getting much sleep tonight.
Written for heknowswhoheis. Hope she enjoys the present, Babe.
Now, I've stated that this is the definitive guide, but I am by no means thinking of myself as the definitive guide writer. Anyone who has anything useful to add, /msg me and I'll add your tip for the top to the writeup. Also, here's a list of some of the sites that you may or may not find useful in your quest for lingerie. It's hard to have a decent list a) there're so many sites b) there're so many countries, but remember, Google is your friend. If you find anything brilliant, then let me know and I'll add it to the list.
- Figleaves.co.uk – offers over 250 brands of lingerie, with a £2 delivery charge. Searchable by bra size.
- Figleaves.com – US version of the same site, will ship to the rest of the world.
- Bravissimo – UK site that specialise in D cup sizes and over, will ship to the rest of the world.
- Glamourous Amorous – boutique lingerie specialists based in the UK. Definitely for those times when you feel like spoiling her. Will ship to the rest of the world.
- Nicola Jane – UK company who specialise in bras for women who have undergone partial or complete mastectomy. Will ship to the rest of the world.
- Blossom – because impending motherhood shouldn't put off the urge to wear fabulously small garments (or maybe it should; haven't put myself through the process yet to find out), Blossom are a UK company who specialise in maternity stuff, including lingerie.
- Rigby & Peller – Rigby & Peller were granted a Royal Warrant in 1960 by Elizabeth II, so, yes, these guys are bra-makers for the Queen of England. And I can tell you right now that if I could afford to, I probably wouldn't shop anywhere else. Often. If it's to do with lingerie, these guys do it. Including bespoke...
- Victoria's Secret – the existance of which is pointed out by belgand for those in the US who live on a budget: "A decent bra suitable for gifting tends to run $30-40, and matching panties are often no more than $15 and that's at the higher end of things." However, he then goes on to say "VS is overpriced and overadvertised with the actual garments making up the least amount of thought put in. They also have some of the ugliest prints known to man or woman. Unfortunately the vast majority of Americans do not appreciate the finer things in life in almost any area and to them it serves its purpose." You have been warned.