If you're in the market for lingerie, you're in good company.
The intimate apparel industry as a whole is on the rise, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group.
"Sales in the women's market started off slow in 2012 but started to gain momentum. All of a sudden, intimate apparel has become a very passionate category," Cohen says. "Women have gone so long without purchasing ... that it's time to update their wardrobes."
But selecting the right underpinnings can be a delicate matter. Let's face it, some of the more elaborate examples of intimate apparel — I'm talking to you, Kiki de Montparnasse Enchante Garter Belt with Chantilly lace and ribbon garter clasps — require a level of dexterity and enthusiasm that I suspect exists mostly in counterintelligence interrogation circles.
And, indeed, unless you look like Dita Von Teese, who recently launched her Von Follies pinup-inspired lingerie collection, the very idea of presenting oneself in a balconette bra, tap pants or thong delivers its own form of torture.
I recently did an informal poll of a couple of dozen Los Angeles women in their 20s to 40s, and all but two of the women I asked buy their own lingerie. "The last lingerie set my husband bought me was from Paris," confided one friend. "The tap pants were too small and cut off circulation in my thighs. I vaguely remember crying as I tried to squeeze into them."
So what's the best way to approach the purchase of lingerie?
Looking good starts with comfort, and a well-made bra will deliver that.
"I tell my students that whether it's a sexy panty or a bra — it needs to be comfortable whether you're wearing it for 10 minutes or all day long," says Mary Jo Bruno, a Redondo Beach-based lingerie designer who mentors fashion students at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Bruno's designs sell at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. "Lingerie needs to make you feel good and look good."
And sometimes the key to sexiness is simplicity.
"The word 'lingerie' often conjures something worn decoratively for a special occasion, confined to the bedroom, but I think lingerie is just what we wear under our clothes as the first layer of dressing," says Jen Abercrombie, owner of Panty Raid on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz. "Even basic pieces can be special, enhance a woman's form and become a personal expression of fashion and style."
Thinking of intimates as basics rather than indulgences is a mind-set that fashion stylist Anna Roth Milner encourages.
"The right undergarments are necessities," Milner says. "A good bra costs more than we think it should, but it does wonders for how we look and feel."
So what does a good bra cost? Black is classic and versatile, and one of the most popular examples at Panty Raid is the Fortnight Demi Bra ($145), a flattering and beautifully constructed garment from Toronto.
Trends such as neons, prints and the requisite red remain strong, and few do it as seductively — or expensively — as Agent Provocateur of London, whose Melrose boutique features bras and briefs in sherbet-orange sheers (Brittne bra, $130), as well as the Ariel lace set in sugar pink and neon yellow that manages to be both shocking and demure (Ariel Bra, $250).
Or, as Agent Provocateur's creative director Sarah Shotton puts it, "to be provocative yet always leave something to the imagination."
The Victoria's Secret "Very Sexy" Collection is decidedly less coy, offering push-up bras in bright red and ultra pink that start at $55.
But even though color holds strong, the freshest trend for spring is the feminine muted hues in pale pinks, nudes and neutrals, like Stella McCartney's blush balconette bra with recycled hardware and satin trim ($65).
"To me, the best lingerie is sexy but you can wear it on a date, not just duck into the bathroom to put it on like a costume at the end of the evening," says Abercrombie. "It's a surprise to be unwrapped."