Roundtable: on Underwear

Undies? Panties? Underoos? Unmentionables? Whatever you call them, let’s hear what our FWave authors have to say:


First off, I’ve got to say that the banality of this topic amuses me greatly. I enjoy a good pair of underwear. And as a woman I’m thankful for the many options presented to me, in terms of texture, pattern, cut, etc. The variety has its pros and cons, but generally means that if you don’t like it, you can usually find something else that works. So, what makes a good pair of underwear? My favourite/comfiest pair is actually some bright orange Jagermeister promo swag (Full disclosure: They sponsor my cousin’s band). I’m a big fan of black stretch cotton boycuts (Note: why are they called ‘boycuts’? That has always bothered me. Never have I seen a boy wearing anything like my ‘boycuts’. Some stores call them ‘bootycuts’, also annoying). Some lace or mesh detail is nice, as long as a) it is still comfy, and b) the added details do not interfere with the rest of your clothing. They’re a great way to be comfortable, sexy, a little badass, and to show off your assets if/when you choose to (haha, pun!). But overall, I have a pretty varied collection.

Main underwear issues I have are sacrificing one’s comfort for socially constructed ideas about “sexy”. Underwear serves many purposes, and one of those can be for its aesthetic appeal. But certain ideas, like ‘thong=sexy’ are misleading. Thongs are okay and can be extremely useful and functional depending on the occasion. But saying only one type of underwear embodies “sexy” is very limiting to girl’s self-expression, when many different types work for many different bodies and can all be considered “sexy”. It contributes to the hypersexualization of a particular body type. In addition, the marketing of sexuality through underwear to younger and younger girls is extremely problematic. (See post by Jessica on Feministing So, I don’t know, shall we throw a take back the panties party? Empower women and girls to reclaim their sexuality through variety of choice? It’s still consumerism. I think our underwear choice is a symptom, not a cause of society’s hypersexualization. So let’s keep up the good fight, and hopefully our underwear will follow.


A passage from a Tree Grows in Brooklyn came to mind when I was thinking about the lacy numbers versus the functional ones.

In the book, Francie and her family are able to scrounge together 10 dollars for
Christmas presents for the entire family.  Her mother gets a hat, her brother a pair
of spats, and Francie asks for a pair of black lace panties and a matching bra.

“Francie was wearing her lace pants and freezing.  Whenever an icy wind blew
her coat apart and went through her thin dress, it was as if she had no underwear
on at all.  ‘I wish—oh, how I wish I had my flannel bloomers on.
Mama was right, a person could get pneumonia.'”

I had this experience as a teen. My mother used to buy me full-coverage fruit of
the loom underwear until I was about 14.  At that point I decided I needed to be
given some authority over my life, and my underwear became an example of that

So when we went to JC Penneys before I started the 9th grade, I picked out a package
of cotton thongs. I wore them for a few days and decided having an awkward ill-fitting
piece of cotton up my ass was neither comfortable nor functional.  As far as I was
concerned the only function thongs had was serving as a superficial representation
of my potential sexuality as a young woman.

There are as many types of underwear marketed at women and men as clothing companies can find.
The g-string, the vintage ruffled-bottom bloomers (I have a pair), the boy-shorts and
personal favorites the bikini briefs and the lacy hipsters.
I love lace. It serves aesthetically to flatter the skin like no other material,
breathes well and if you get the right cut can still be comfy.

As a single woman, my underwear are generally not seen by many other people but its still
fun to pick out rad calcones that make me feel sexy or silly. I think
“boy-shorts” aren’t comfortable at all—I’m still baffled at men who wear boxers—So guys, you have
to tuck in your underwear into each pant-leg every time you put your clothes on? That’s way too
much work.


So I’ve been trying to figure out what my underwear politics are and say something insightful, and I really have nothing to say.  I wear plain, black, Hanes underwear.  The only variation is that some are boyshort and some are bikini.  *looks down*  Hmm, my underwear are not speaking to me.  But I’ll be interested to see what my cowriters have to say on the subject!


You know, I had always assumed that most women just wore the regular cotton undies with polka-dots and other patterns.  I play a lot of sports, and that’s what everybody would be wearing around the change room. It’s certainly all I had. I’m a big fan of both sports bras and the regular kind. I have a few really pretty ones from The Gap and such places. They’re just comfortable and pretty. Pretty is the word I would use, not sexy or buxom, just pretty.  Most are solid colours, standard issue, but I have two with a bit of lace. I just think they are so, so, pretty. I’m a lace fan.

So, I HAD always assumed that we gals wear cotton comfortable underpants, until a former boyfriend sort of joked about how my underwear and bra never match. Uh, of course not. You want me to buy this shit in SETS? You think I’m supposed to find a bra that matches my lime green underwear that says Drama Club on the bum? And one that should match this pair with magenta and lavender stripes? Or this red pair with green santa hats that I got on sale the day of Christmas one year? Yeah, right. Do people really match their bra and underwear? The conversation turned into a  “why don’t I wear sexy undergarments?” which was probably the beginning of the end of that relationship (there were lots of other factors, too) but I feel like it’s a touchy topic. I don’t like when disapproval is given to choices that I make on the basis of comfort (like wearing running shoes instead of nice flats or heels when grocery shopping, or wearing underwear that doesn’t rub, chafe, or wedgie).

To make this a feminist topic, I submit a conclusion: the underwear and bras I wear when I know somebody will see them are the same ones I wear when nobody sees them but myself.


This week’s question brings to mind a scenario my Womens Studies professor used during a discussion on gender performance.  We were discussing the act of choosing outfits, doing our hair, putting on makeup, etc as performance.  Some women in the class interjected that they get personal satisfaction and validation out of this behavior, that it is not for the benefit of others.  Her counter argument has stayed with me for years.  She asked these women what they do when they walk back into their homes at the end of the day.  They sat in silence.  She explained what we all knew to be true – that at the end of the day, we wash our faces, throw our hair in a ponytail, and put on some jeans, if not sweats.  We do not wear those heels or that makeup “for our own benefit” around the house on a Tuesday evening, so why then on a Wednesday afternoon at work or in class?

The issue of underwear speaks directly to this because it is the garment we choose to put on every day that is not (generally) seen, and yet has distinct sexualization.  As for myself, I am all about comfort down below.  My few pairs of “cute” panties (oh how I hate the word “panties”) are relegated to laundry days when my stockpile of clean chonies is dwindling.  Often, given that option, I choose to just go without.  In a daily basis, I am a big fan of the boy short.  It’s the most comfortable choice and has the added benefit of little to no VPL and full coverage in the case of short skirts (Spears, take note).
For myself, the more telling issue is that of the bra.  Now, I am not a well-endowed lady.  I honestly have no issue with this whatsoever.  For one thing, I’m very petite and I think my breasts are proportional to my body.  For another thing (and this does bring up the chicken-and-the-egg issue, but I won’t go there), I hate wearing a bra.  I can call this a boho Feminist with a capital F choice, but it’s really just about comfort.  I don’t physically need one in daily life.  I hate the feeling of underwires and straps and clasps digging into my skin.  They just feel superfluous for me.


When I do wear one, deliberately, it is usually my crazy padded, stack ’em up and serve ’em up pretty lacy brassiere.  Why?  Because my fiance thinks it’s hot.  Is it comfortable?  Good god, NO.  But for a woman whose bra size is literally called “Barely B” (are they trying to make me feel better by not just calling it an A?), the sight of cleavage is remarkably novel.  Does this make me a bad Feminist?  You tell me.


3 Responses to Roundtable: on Underwear

  1. Bex says:

    lol may it be noted that this very educational roundtable has led me to realise my faves are called ‘hipsters’ not ‘boycuts’. Thanks Mary 🙂

  2. Judith says:

    I’m just skimming right now but Lisa, I noticed your comment on wearing things in sets and it made me laugh. I suppose if you expect to be stripping in front of someone, sets would make sense, but I always thought the most obvious thing would be to match your underwear to the bottom and the bra to the top in case a bit of underthing becomes accidentally exposed. Thus, all my underwear and all my pants are black, while my three sports bras are black, blue, and white. This seems logical to me.

  3. Lora says:

    So, I was sleeping with this guy for a while and one day while I was getting undressed he commented on the “cuteness” of my underwear. As in, every pair of underwear he had ever seen me wear were the cutest thing he had ever seen. Every pair of underwear I remember wearing at this point in my life were colourful, cotton, low-rise, full coverage, panties. It was a great complement that he thought I looked so good in something I felt was so mundane.

    Thanks for uncovering your thoughts on these not-oft talked about features of our day to day lives.

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