Hello, Boys…Listen Carefully

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Christmas is just starting to poke its nose around the door. Only a little, and not really enough to get in your way yet, but it’s there and it’s no use pretending it isn’t. Which means that Girl Thursday is starting to limber up for gift-purchasing endeavours for private clients. And that inevitably means many, initially slightly awkward, conversations will be had with men about lingerie shopping.

Most women will admit that glamorous underpinnings are a good thing. Most fellas, I imagine, would concur. Two facts which may explain why almost all men will at some point give their lady a gift of lingerie. Doing so more than once will depend on whether her reaction is a) to shoot her best Bardot-esque ‘come hither’ look, b) to throw something at his head, or c) tears.

Assuming that we’re aiming for a) or c) – but only if they’re tears of joy/relief that the items are so perfect – there are some simple things to bear in mind when choosing. And before anyone gets their feminist knickers in a twist, I’d like to establish right now that what I’m going to be advocating here is lingerie that women might actually want to wear. That’s the point. Anything ugly, itchy, or downright unflattering can stay on the shelf at Ann Summers.

Getting the size right is very important. Get it wrong and, frankly, you’re done for If you buy too large then you’ve pretty much called her a heffalump; too small and she now feels like one. The only way to get this right is to sneak around in her knicker drawer and check the sizes. It’s best to make sure she’s out when you do this. While you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to check the brands to get an idea of what she chooses for herself and because sizes can vary between makes. Helpful of them, huh? If the labels are too faded to read then I’m afraid your problems are more serious than I can help you with here.

Next up, think about what ‘message’ you want the lingerie to convey. Please don’t just wander into the lingerie department at Selfridges with a scrap of paper saying ‘32B’ and grab the nearest thing that you find. This is unlikely to work. Essentially, the choices fall into three main areas: boudoir chic, laid-back luxe or everyday glamour.

Boudoir Chic

Distinctly on the naughty side. Pieces which are intended to – and will – make her feel sexy. The distinction between getting this right and reverting to the hideously cheap and tacky stereotypes we’re trying to avoid is going to be in the fabrics, colours and cut. If it is cheap, the chances are it will look and feel cheap, and then – guess what? – your lady will feel cheap in it. And please spare a thought for any body hang-ups you know she has. You may love the fact she doesn’t have a scary washboard stomach, but if that’s the bit of herself that she hates then maybe a chemise or babydoll would work well.

Myla is the master of boudoir chic. Everything oozes such quality and glamour that even their very naughtiest pieces are classy not tacky. Their online store is great but I strongly urge you to go into a ‘proper’ store if you can. The Myla girls are lovely and have grasped the assisting aspect of being a shop assistant. They won’t let you be embarrassed and they won’t scare the bejeesus out of you either. Yes, Agent Provovateur, I’m afraid I mean you. What they will do is help you choose and help you with the sizing. Even if you’re buying for more than one lady-friend at the same time, as I witnessed once in a Myla store and saw handled with considerable aplomb.

If you’re anywhere near the easterly edges of central London, you could do worse than pop into Bordello, near Shoreditch. A lovely small shop, with plenty of ‘naughty but nice’ ranges.

Laid-back Luxe

Rather more restrained; a single malt whisky to boudoir chic’s vodka martini. These are pieces for lazy days of snuggling up together with the Sunday Times and for long evenings by the fire. La Perla is the cream of this world and whilst the heights of such luxury don’t come cheap, I’m not sure a price can be put on the look of delight that is sure to be prompted by such a gift. Particular brownie points may be won with their Barocco babydoll (£322) or the Greta culotte and top set (£236).

Some of the Kiki de Montparnasse range would make the briefs at Myla blush, but they also do fabulous laid-back luxe, most particularly with their ‘Amour’ collection, stocked by Liberty in their lovely lingerie room which is probably London’s best one-stop-shop for this type of lingerie.
If you’re the type of chap who would rather give up your Sky Sports subscription than go into a shop and engage in a conversation about bra cup sizes, then Phoebe Carlyle may be the answer. It’s an online store that is jam-packed with goodies your lady will love, at prices less likely to induce a cold sweat. I particularly like their Elise Aucouturier Lovely Mary Cami Set at £125. It’ll all arrive beautifully packaged and you can even arrange for next day delivery (you never know when that might come in handy).

Everyday Glamour

These are pieces she can wear under her clothes and which will make her feel fabulous all day long. Phoebe Carlyle is a very good source for this category, too. An abundance of bows and ruching is not the thing here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about plain and drab, just more discreet. Think about ranges like Aubade, Huit or Lejaby – which you should be able to find in any good department store.

Top Ten Tips

This is but the tip of the underwear pile, so I’ll leave you with my top 10 hints and tips for successful lingerie shopping.

1. Check what sizes she usually wears but don’t make the rookie error of ‘subtly’ asking. Most of the time we lie to ourselves about what size we are, so the probability of us lying to our lover is quite high.
2. Think carefully about what she might like. This is a gift for her, not you.
3. Do not ask her friends for advice – that is creepy.
4. Do not ask your friends for advice – you will never live it down.
5. Spend as much as you can afford. In lingerie as with shoes, quality is usually reflected in the price.
6. When you go into the store, speak to the shop assistants like they’re just normal people. They usually are. I promise you that when you leave they won’t break into guffaws of laughter about you. They’ve seen and heard it all before.
7. Allow yourself plenty of time. If you do it in a rush (or 3pm on Christmas Eve), you’ll just panic.
8. When you get the lingerie home, hide it well. If she finds saucy lingerie hanging around you may be in for an awkward conversation.
9. Don’t be offended if she takes it back but try to learn why for next time.
10. If you get it right, you should feel very proud of yourself. You deserve to.

And ladies, when your chap buys you lingerie, do cut him some slack. The chances are that he has agonised over the choice and is well aware of the perils involved. If he’s got it wrong then why not just smile, tell him you’ll try it on later, and prepare to join the long queue of ladies snaking around the returns desk in Selfridges.

Angela Clutton, aka Girl Thursday, is an events and concierge guru, responsible for some of the most luxurious and exclusive parties, shows and private soirées in London. Discover more.

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