After a day out running unsexy errands, I wanted to balance out my productivity with something hot.
I was near a shopping center with a Victoria’s Secret and decided to finally purchase an item I always wanted: a garter belt. So in I went, with my bags of melting groceries, and searched. I walked from front to back, to bras to PINK.
Nothing. I found the closest salesperson and asked where their garter belts were located. However, not only did this Victoria’s Secret not sell garter belts, this particular salesperson didn’t know what one was.
A minor inconvenience, yes, but I couldn’t help adding it as another example of Victoria’s Secret being out of touch.
Garter belts are veterans of the lingerie scene. In the 1920s and 30s, these suspender belts for stockings were a welcome alternative to the constrictive girdles and corsets that were previously forcing women into impossible, hourglass figures. Even with the invention of nylon pantyhose, garter belts remained a popular fashion item. Or so I thought.
Despite Victoria’s Secret being founded by a man, its creation was still an exciting moment for lingerie.
“It really was the only physical location for lingerie that millions of people had access to no matter where they lived,” says Cora Harrington, founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict. “As someone who didn’t grow up in a major city, like many people, the only option I had for lingerie shopping was Victoria’s Secret.”
Thirty years later, there are many more places to purchase lingerie, especially online — heck, even Target sells garter belts, although in the party supplies section. But even with this accessibility, purchasing remains a sensitive process.
Diving through a lack of options may be hard, but being met with a “Huh?” when buying something out of one’s comfort zone can be even more harmful. Especially if that someone was still figuring out what their comfort zone is.
The near instant-popularity of Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty is certainly exciting but not surprising. The company’s loud stance on challenging the outdated expectations of lingerie contrasted against Victoria’s Secret’s stance about how certain people aren’t worthy of fantasy.
But not wearing lingerie for someone else’s pleasure, or lingerie created for only a subset of the population, is also echoing what smaller lingerie businesses have been shouting for years.
“People want to be able to see themselves in a brand, they want to relate to the messaging,” says Lexie Taylor, Marketing and Operation Coordinator of online e-commerce lingerie company, Thistle and Spire. Thistle and Spire’s about page includes words like “fearless” and “self-love.” The Victoria’s Secret about page is nonexistent.
According to Lexie, T & S is inspired by women who take charge, dressing boldly inside and outside the bedroom. These pieces, she says, are “not just for their lover/s but for themselves, to go out, and just for the beauty of the pieces. We aim to share a love of lingerie and a motto of loving yourself first, with as large of an audience as we can.”
And despite not having a physical store, Lexie interacts with her customers through Ladies’ Night events, inviting women to discuss careers, approach to self-love, and confidence. T & S hosts these events twice per year. “It’s remarkable to see not only the strength in that room but also the vulnerability,” says Lexie.
Admittedly, the “sexier” pieces I own were purchased at the behest of lovers. (Also admittedly, I’ve been watching The Crown, hence “behest”). While I still liked them, their original intent was to please someone who would’ve been equally as pleased if I purchased a pair of edible panties.
Laura Henny, owner of Bushwick, Brooklyn’s The Rack Shack, is on a mission to make this distinction clearer. At the top of The Rack Shack website is the statement: NO body shaming – Trans friendly – Everyone is welcome. Comfort is just one of the many priorities at this all-inclusive bra and lingerie boutique.
“Every day I learn more about bodies,” Laura tells me. “When people aren’t educated in wearing the right size — and especially when the market is not geared toward all sizes — back problems and body issues unfortunately become a thing of the norm. Why would you target one side of the market?”
The Rack Shack’s store and site showcase a unique range of bra sizes (“28A–42HH and everything in between”) as well as expanding shades of nude in the collection.
And with Laura, you’re a human first, consumer second, “When you communicate what you stand for as a business, people are a lot more comfortable and I can give them a better feeling.”
Laura also emphasizes the importance of comfort for trans women and their first bra fittings. “Bras fit so different. It’s not only about the size of bra, it’s about the shape, which you can’t see online.”
Where The Rack Shack boasts its commitment to all-inclusivity, MySelf Lingerie has a similar goal: to make all women look and feel beautiful.
“What we’re trying to prove to these women with our vast selection of styles is that there is certainly a bra made just for you. Teaching them to embrace their bodies instead of shaming it,” says owner Rachel Rosenthal.
MySelf Lingerie originally only carried basic bras and panties but quickly went on to expand on brands and cup sizes (up to 46G and a few K cups) and even a selection of nursing bras. “I realized women were not given the proper treatment and specialty lingerie fittings they deserve,” says Rachel.
While their largest customer base is from the Orthodox Jewish community in the heart of Boro Park, Rachel trusts her professional fitters to find a bra for everyone, including folks with mastectomies, ostomies, and other conditions that may impact shopping for lingerie — a community that Victoria’s Secret, in 2013, admitted was “not in their wheelhouse.”
“We offer personalized service, one-on-one attention, where the woman gets treated as an individual who has gone through so much and yet is empowered to move on,” says Rachel, who is, along with another staff member, certified in mastectomy fittings.
They also offer custom alterations and hope to expand their expertise to accommodate private appointments and accepting medical insurance for these services.
Savage X Fenty’s NYFW show (now streaming on Amazon) was an undeniable reality check compared to the “fantasy” of Victoria’s Secret. The show highlighted all sizes and colors and gave the underrepresented their due time in the spotlight. An obvious win for inclusivity.
But physical spaces, no matter how small, need to be celebrated as wins too.
While Thistle & Spire, The Rack Shack, and MySelf Lingerie’s deserve fancy fashion shows and exclusive credit cards, that’s not what they stand for. What they stand for are their values and commitment to welcoming every body in a physical space. They keep the line of self-hate a step behind their doors, so that comfort is a priority, and that self-love can win the race.
“Every day, undergarments are a part of someone’s routine and is one of the first things on their body,” Lexie says. “[Lingerie] walks the line of self-hate and self-love every day.”
Carolyn Busa is a comedian/writer based in Brooklyn. She’s opened for Demetri Martin, performed on Good Day New York and is the creator of the popular comedy show, Side Ponytail. She’s written for Hello Giggles, SheKnows, and ILY Magazine. You can follow her work on her blog, My Sex Project, Twitter, and Instagram.