Maybe now, with The Iron Lady film still fresh in people’s minds, is a good time to talk about Power Dressing. No, not huge shoulder pads and square masculine suits. Not the hard, varnished, impersonal look of the corporate rat race. No, I’m talking about something altogether more intimate and personal. I’m talking about boosting confidence and feeling powerful… due to your choice of knickers. Seriously.
Once, in my distant pre-confident past, I had a partner who only liked me to wear cheap .99p-for-five type horrible big granny knickers, and faux sports bra style white boneless horrors. Of course, I realise now that he was intimidated by my pretty sets and lace, although there were many pseudo-feminist reasons that he came up with for my not ‘demeaning myself’ with the embellished and gem-encrusted beautiful things that I started out with. It wasn’t terribly good for the self esteem, and at the end of the relationship I had a wonderfully cathartic bonfire, onto which I piled all the hideous, ‘honest and sensible’ underwear. Then and there I made myself a promise that I would never again own a pair of knickers that I didn’t consider to be a thing of beauty. (Then and there, my neighbours decided that I really had lost the plot and was probably dangerous to socialise with).
It actually took a lot longer for me to truly weed out any undesirables from my wardrobe. I had to teach myself never to buy lingerie on ‘fat days’ when I felt grim about myself, or I would be guaranteed to come home with something sensible and depressingly mundane. But, eventually I managed it. My lingerie drawer today contains nothing that I wouldn’t be happy to be wearing supposing Johnny Depp suddenly arrived bearing wine, chocolates, and bad intentions.
I frequently bore people senseless with my theories/obsession on the importance of wearing the right foundation garments, and I’m often met with disbelief from other women that this would be possible for them. Practicalities are often mentioned, along with budgets and time. So, in the interests of scientific-ish research, I made a couple of ladies of my acquaintance spend a week with all sensible and mundane smalls banned. (I’ve had huge fun coming up with suitable names, in the grand tradition of ‘names have been changed in order to protect the identity of the participants’. So, for reference, I am thankful for the assistance of ‘Claudine’ & ‘Faith’. Who are now going to murder me).
The idea of Power Dressing Lingerie is that it gives you confidence. To do that it must:
- Fit perfectly
- Remain in place all day long without causing discomfort
- Be beautiful to the eye of the wearer (Notice here, I said THE WEARER).
I cannot say this often enough, to enough women: If it doesn’t fit well and offer support, you will feel crap and self conscious wearing it. If someone else thinks it looks great and you don’t, you will feel crap and self conscious wearing it. It matters not at all if this item fitted once, or never; or if it cost lots, or little; or even if it looks good when arranged properly and one doesn’t move too much. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it and find something that does work – for you.
To begin our little experiment, we did a storage sweep, and packed away everything that didn’t fit or that wasn’t pretty. The sorting of a lingerie drawer into ‘desirable & well fitting’ and ‘other’ turned out to be slightly shocking to both my ladies. The first pile turns out to be smaller than either of them imagined that it would be.
The idea originally was to keep the lingerie being worn to the items both ladies already had, but this fell slightly by the wayside – I assisted with a couple of small alterations to Faith’s slightly too-large but deeply loved lacy strapless bra, and also with the loan of my red Vargas roll-on girdle, after the horrified discovery that the only suspender belt Claudine owned was a tiny black nylon bit of string, with 4 tiny plastic clips dangling uselessly. But other than these two small items, everything was already owned, and ranged from M&S to Primark. Lingerie Power Dressing doesn’t mean spending the earth. It means wearing things that fit, flatter, and look fabulous. (Although, I am of the opinion that Primark knickers fall apart shockingly fast and were probably made by 5 year olds or something dreadful).
Now it was just a case of letting my lovely volunteers loose on the week, and waiting for the big debrief over wine & cupcakes… (Well, you can’t have a debrief WITHOUT wine and cupcakes, can you?)
Faith has a very active job, spends a lot of the time outdoors, and is normally found in jeans and jumpers. So, how did she find it, to dress in beautiful things underneath her jeans? “Amazing. I felt feminine, and pretty, which I never normally do at work. The first couple of days were really giggle inducing – it felt slightly naughty, to have a delicate lace thong on when I was at work. Wearing pretty things is normally reserved for special occasions, it was quite decadent to be wearing them for every day.”
Claudine agrees, decadent is the word that she chooses to sum up her week too. “It was totally insane, I felt like a fallen woman! I was running around doing mundane things with this big secret, my lacy lady-of-the-night bra, and stockings, actual genuine stockings instead of tights. I felt thoroughly wicked!” For her, the eureka moment came when she had an important meeting at work that she had worried about in advance. She boosted her confidence by dressing up in her ultimate seduction black lacy bra, and the borrowed red roll-on Vargas girdle. Did it work? “I felt a bit silly getting into it in the morning. Like, was I some cheesy B-movie actress bent on promotion by shagging the boss. But, once I was into my normal work clothes on top, it felt pretty good. Above all, a really busy day that didn’t involve trips to the ladies to hoist up the crotch of my tights. I cannot believe how secure and comfortable stockings are with a proper girdle.” (I’d like to point out here that Claudine is tall and slim, and tights tend to be too wide at the waist if they’re long enough for her. I’ve been trying to convert her to stockings for a while – I think I may have just won that argument). “The feeling of having a feminine little secret was great, but the feeling of total comfort and security and knowing there were no lumps or bumps or falling down bits was even better.” And that, right there, is the secret of Lingerie Power Dressing.
How about the evenings and weekends? Faith said she felt quite inspired to go the extra mile when getting ready for a dinner with the boyfriend – even though they weren’t going anywhere particularly special – because dressing nicely during the week “upped the game a bit.” So she broke out her super-special occasions basque. “Taking the time to dress up made it all feel a bit more exciting, and there was a bit of anticipation, and excitement about the reveal bit. I definitely flirted more during the evening, and it was almost like when we were first dating.” Claudine, who has a live-in partner, is used to totally not making an effort on weekends. “If we’re having a lie-in, it’s normally big comfy pj’s til midday. I was really tempted to cheat and go back to the comfortable stuff – it seemed such a huge effort for nothing. Only instead of feeling all meh during the morning, once I’d taken the time to get dressed nicely, it seemed a shame to waste it, so we went out instead. It definitely lent a different focus to the weekend.”
I found myself feeling slightly envious after the de-brief, in all honesty. I don’t feel particularly wicked or daring for slipping on my lacy underpinnings any more. But everything else they experienced was exactly why I think it’s a good idea to do a regular sweep of your lingerie drawers, and get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel fabulous. And what makes you feel fabulous has got to be down to you – be that thongs or big vintage knickers, ¼ cup lacy bras or sleek satin full cup bras. Make sure it fits, make sure it feels great all day, and make sure you love it. Everything else is then just icing on the cake.
I’ve been accidentally compiling this list since Mary’s Bottom Line started being promoted – its by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure it’s going to get added to and edited extensively, but here’s a start! (Oh, and we make about 60% of our stock in the Uk at the moment).
Some Uk manufacturing units:
AJM sewing; I cadged all my info about them off Ayten – they were set up when Gossard moved production overseas, they employ 41 people, and they do lingerie, swim, nightwear and the occasional bit of upholstery. They said they work regularly with at least 10 UK brands
Gio – the old stockings company I work with, who still make hosiery the 1950′s way.
Vixen, who make the 10, 12, and 14 strap suspender belts that I refuse to!
British made British brands;
Ayten Gasson – silk lingerie and nightwear with vintage Nottingham lace and inspiration.
Lascivious - directional lingerie brand
Pretty Form and Revival – not only vintage style but vintage patterns!
Betty Blue’s loungerie - glamourous styles to relax in
Mint Siren – edgy, quirky pieces
Miss Crofton - east London-made soft bralets and big knickers
Modern Courtesan and MC Lounge - Seduction apparel
Bordelle – more straps than you can shake a stick at
Obey My Demand – luxury lingerie in leather
Jane Woolrich – longstanding romantic sleepwear brand
Sulis - silk underwear for women and men.
Dainty Lady – for the petite of bosom
Who made your pants – ethically made in the UK by refugees.
Bugsypants – creating the swimwear in the print you want
Rebecca Ansah – luxury lingerie
Lucile Lingerie - sumptuous silk undies and robes.
Buttress and Snatch – luxury burlesque influenced retro lingerie
Strumpet and Pink – elaborate luxury knickers
Fred and Ginger - the silk may be Parisian but it’s all made here
Beaujais – luxury large cup bra sets made in the UK
Andrea Billiard – modern lingerie with bold design
Artemis South – new lingerie brand with nightwear and swimwear, plus a bespoke option.
Atsuko Kudo – luxury high fashion latex lingerie with exclusive prints
Darling Ava – made to order corsets and lingerie
Ell & Cee – luxury silk chiffon with amazing detail
Frantic About Frances - new retro brand.
Gilda and Pearl – individually customisable silk lingerie
Love Baby Grand - handmade in house
Nicole de Carle – choose your colours and trims!
Nicole Gill – luxury lingerie with a bespoke option
Sian Hoffman – bespoke and individually made corsets and girdles.
British brands who make some or most of their goods in the UK
Us! – check the product descriptions, but roughly speaking, if its a continuity item or a different colour of a continuity items, it’s made here, if it’s a bra set, its made overseas. Stockings are part British, part French, part European. We’re making over 60% of our pieces here now. You can also come and see us in London, near Marcle Arch, where we’re starting to stock up on more Uk made items.
Velda Lauder – luxury corsetiere to the stars, her corsets are all UK made, the lingerie is sometimes made overseas.
Fleur Of England – silk and lace English lingerie, bridal and swimwear. Mostly made in the UK, some in Europe.
Made By Niki - luxury lingerie and shapewear with a high fashion take on it all. The String range is made here in the UK, I think the Feel is made overseas – check with them for other styles.
Paolita – superb swim and beachwear, their robes and kaftans are made here in the UK, mostly available through our shop in Marble Arch.
British brands made overseas but exporting British style round the world!
Playful Promises - though the pasties exclusive to the shop and site are British, most of it is made overseas to make their trend led, fun and flirty styles very affordable.
What Katie Did – ditto on the pasties front, WKD are one of the largest independent brands there is, exporting faux vintage lingerie around the globe!
Miss Mandalay - large cup bra and bikini set specialist, she does make the occasional range here but you’d have to ask her which ones each season.
Candy Baker – printed and crystalled hosiery based in the UK
Kriss Soonik - Estonian based in London making cute loungerie – she makes her peices back in Estonia.
Twenty8 and Miss Fit Uk – Uk designed but not made large cup small back bras and clothing
Aloe – luxury loungewear and clothing in flowing silks
Amoralia – maternity lingerie made with love
Beautiful Bottoms - silk georgette lingerie
Damaris and Mimi Holliday – One of the longer standing UK designer brands.
Dirty Pretty Things – self explanatory!
Lulu and Lush – steel boned corsets and lingerie
Harlette - luxury lingerie
Jenny Packham – designer lingerie and bridal.
Love By Susie – luxury bridal wear
Myriam Girard – French designer stuck in London!
Ma Mignonette – lingerie for the enchantress, “hand finished” in the UK
Pistol Panties – designer swimwear
Shelle Belle Couture – beautifully feminine swimwear, lingerie and slips
Royce – British designed non-wired bras
Berdita – classic lingerie and shapewear
Rigby and Peller - By appointment to the Queen!
Shock Absorber – a UK sportsbra specialist who export across the globe
Sweetling – ethical teen bras
Tallulah Love – ex Playboy lingerie designer comes over to the cute side!
Stella McCartney – now there’s a familiar name
Yes Master - boutique brand
Ultimo – patented one of the first silicone bras
The corporate big boys
UK companies who don’t make in the UK and probably don’t need our help but hey, for the sake of completeness here’s a list.
Making in the UK? Based in the UK and employing ever more people? Spotted a mistake? Let me know on catherine at kissmedeadly.co.uk.
Why am I talking about eating disorders?
Once upon a time, far far away and a long time ago, or more accurately, about an hour on the train from London and a few years back, I worked in an Eating Disorder Unit.
I worked in a psychiatric hospital that had an adolescent eating disorder unit (ages scarily young to 17) and a young adults (ages 18-25 unless you managed to get admitted at age 24.5), starting doing nursing assistant stuff (I am a fricking demon with a spillage pack and some vomit to clean up) and moving on towards a job that was more based around group activities and group therapy. I have certificates and everything.
During this time I started to regularly answer the question “what do you do?” in social situations with ever more bizarre made up jobs. I think I once said proctologist. Why? Because 95% of people who hear you say you work with people with eating disorders say one of two things:
1) “really? wow. My aunts friends sisters dog walkers girlfriend had that! oooh, it were terrible”.
2) “Is it the fault of them skinny models then?”
And actually no-one was paying me to do psycho-education outside of normal work hours, and I was getting to the stage of headdesking any time 2 came up, which was most of the time.
So fast forward several years and one seriously strange career jump, and it appears I am STILL headdesking because of comments similar to 2. And also when people tell other people to eat a cheeseburger. And also when people make allusions to the BMI criteria for eating disorders. And also when people basically imply that they can make judgements about health from pictures on the internet. And also when people imply that saying negative things about pictures of other people is motivated by concern about their health or in some way will help their health. So here’s for why.
I’m going to try to keep this simple, but eating disorders are really complicated and also I’ve forgotten most of the things I ever knew (I now know lots of random facts about taxing structures across the globe instead), so it might be slightly wibbly in parts.
What are eating disorders?
Lets start with a fact about prevalence. The number of people in the UK diagnosed with an eating disorder is about 1%.
That’s not very many at all. Even less end up in hospital. The reason people get so het up about eating disorders is that they are confusing and scary and arguably have the highest mortality rate of any mental health problem – not to mention being occasionally very, very visible, which most psychological issues aren’t. But in spite of the focus on them in women’s magazines, full blown eating disorders are rare. Disordered eating and having poor body image, practially normal in terms of prevalence, but I need to explain the difference before I say anymore about that, which will take some time.
Refusing to keep your body weight at a minimally acceptable level – which is pegged as 85% for adolesents (your healthy weight changes week by week at that age), or 18.5 BMI.
This is the much vaunted physical criteria for eating disorders but note the first 5 words – refusing being the key one. Lots of people end up under this weight because of other illnesses or problems. Sometimes people get so depressed they don’t eat. Sometimes people with chronic fatigue stop eating because they’re so tired. People with drug or alcohol problems lose weight because they don’t care about food, and people with dementia sometimes can’t remember whether they’ve eaten or not. But if you have an eating disorder, its a decision not to eat, based on ideas in your head about you and your weight and your life.
Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though actually underweight.
This is the bit that baffles people, but if you think of it like a phobia it makes way more sense – people with eating disorders are genuinely terrified, there’s some evidence of disturbances in their visual cortex, and, as with phobias, they build ideas from minimal evidence about their bodies , food and weight. I once had to point out to someone that if they could absorb calories through their skin, she believed at the time, then we wouldn’t bother fighting to get food into them, we’d just put them in a vat of food substitute every night. I’m not sure they were entirely convinced!
Disturbance in the way you see your weight or shape, using body weight and shape as a huge factor in self evaluation, an/or denial of the seriousness of your own low body weight.
We’re talking here about people who have lost so much weight that their appearance in public worries people immensely but who firmly insist that they are fine. This actually often only applies to certain stages of the illness – often people who are recovering, while still immensley bothered and struggling with this sort of idea, do have increasing insight and know that there’s a problem.
Amenorrhea – your periods stopping, or in the case of adolsecents, never starting.
If you’re a genetic woman, your cycle is linked to how healthy you are and your weight; its actually such a good indicator of minimally healthy weight that if your cycle starts normally at a BMI level below 18.5, eating idsorder units will sometimes let you stop there. But as with the weight itself, on its own it means nothing, there are a thousand reasons your periods can stop, so it has to be the psychological sympotms that distinguish this from other health problems.
Sub types – restrictive eating, that is, reducing your calorie intake, or binge purge, that is, eating lots and then getting rid of it through vomitin, laxatives, diueretics etc.
Recurrent episodes of binge eating, where binge eating is characterised by the amount and a sense of losing control.
Recurrent behaviours to stop subsequent weight gain. That can be vomiting, dieretics, laxatives, all sorts of things. Its also says it must be at least twice a week for 3 months.
Then again we have:
Disturbance in the way you see your weight or shape, using body weight and shape as a huge factor in self evaluation.
I know most people think if it involves vomiting its bulimia and starving is anorexia, but most people are wrong – it’s more complicated than that.
You don’t need to have all of the symptoms to get diagnosed, nor even all of them to get put into a hospital without your consent ( a process we call sectioning in the UK).
If your weight is falling very fast, thats actually very dangerous even if its not yet gone below the diagnostic criteria. If you are binge purging to a huge extent, thats also very dangerous – both for the same reason, which is that your body can’t maintain a sensible electrolyte balance, which causes heart problems. You know, and death. So the under 18.5 BMI thing in and of itself thing really isn’t the key diagnostic or risk assessment thing.
Do not get me started on the problems with the stats used here.
There’s also a bunch of other disorders that sit in the same group that are rarer and I won’t cover here, but its worth mentioning a subtype most professionals would recognise but doesn’t seem to have made it into the books, which is people who do restrict their calories but also overexercise. When you wear a hole in the flesh over the base of your spine because you’ve done so many sit-ups, you have a problem. If you did it because you thought you were fat, it’s probably an eating disorder problem.
Dull, lifeless hair and flaking nails, skin problems, teeth problems, and all the rest of that stuff that gets touted as signs of an eating disorder? Not so much – again, they can be a sign of any number of things, so unless you have an accurate picture of whats happening inside a persons head, its impossible to say based on how they look.
Like most things mental health wise, the difference between a disorder and “normal” is extent. Full blown eating disorders are like addictions – the person with them loves them and things they’re a great solution and can’t see what the problem is, and everyone else slowly realises that the food and weight issues have taken over their life, their personality, and that the person is self destructing.
Why do people devlop eating disorders?
So why would someone end up believing that they are fat, that being fat makes them a terrible person, and that the solution is to starve, purge or exercise themselves away?
As with most things mental health wise – we’re not exactly sure. But clearly, its not just exposure to skinny models, or every woman in the UK with reasonable eyesight would be in hospital by now. The reason most eating disorder teams are multi-disciplinary is because there seem to be dozens of things that go into the mix.
Firstly, as well as being like addictions, they are actually addictive and do seem to be linked to some physiological tricks. The binge purge cycle tends to repeat, for example, for both pshycial and psychological reasons. Starving yourself will initially give you a bit of a high. Meaniwhile, people inadvertantly reinforce the “good” behaviour of at the start of anorexia, often complimenting weight loss and perceived self restraint or “healthy” eating! On some now-considered highly unethical experiments in the 1950′s, Keyes managed to recreate eating disorder symptoms in originally perfectly health people by restricting their intake. So it does seem to be one of those things where the way we are wired can be a tad maladaptive!
Like many psychological problems, eating disorders often seem like a fantastic solution to a problem someone faces – initially. If you value control and don’t feel you have any, if you want to avoid being sexualised or having to deal with having periods, if you have been abused in any way, if you have been bullied (especially about wieght or shape), if you have horribly low self esteem, if you have family, academic or social difficulties, dealing with this by changing your eating habits can seem like a good option sometimes.
However, most of these things are also linked to other mental health issues, so why would someone be more likely to develop an eating disorder than, say, depression, a drug addiction, or something else? Its a mixture of not well understood factors including genetics, quirks of brain chemistry, what happens to get reinforced, family attidues towards food and eating, and yes, finally – societal focus on thinness and perfect bodies!
Wait, so it is all about the skinny models?
Llets unpick that last bit a little. There is cross cultural research that shows a correlation between increases in the incidence of eating disorders and increased focus on thiness. I can’t recall the reference but someone did a neat piece of research that correlated references to low weight in lonely heart adverts in India and rates of eating disorders. There’s also a tonne of feminist analysis of why women in particular might react to the focus on their bodies and how they enact this, and you should totally read it. But that doesn’t make it The Cause, or even The Main Cause, and it doesn’t make it as simple as “skinny models make people hate themselves enough to starve themselves to death”.
Some young women with eating disorders regard them as a trigger, others as a maintenance factor, and some think the entire thing is hilarious – I will forever remeber the day I wandered into the dayroom to find two of the girls stalking up and down, hips bizarrely orward, backs and heads at an unatural angle backwards; they were pretending to be on a catwalk, and they thought it was absolutely ridiculous! They were right too . . . I saw that exact same walk a few years ago at harrogate, there was one model I was seriously concerned would fall over!
So as far as eating disorders go, here’s my plea; stop talking about the skinny models so simplisticaly. Because its not as simple as “skinny” vs “normal” vs “plus sized”
Its the fact that we obsess over looks. Its the fact that you put a picture on the net and instead of talking about the clothes or the makeup or the styling or the art concept or the thing they are doing, we talk about the peoples weight and supposed health. Lets stop talking rubbish about peoples health based on pictures. You cannot diagnose a psychological problem from a picture. Hell, you can’t even diagnose a physical health problem from a picture. And its not your job to anyway, so why do it? Who does it help? No-one. Its our obsession with looks and weight and shape that is the problem, not the lauding of one particular size or shape.
Here’s the other plea, and the other reason to stop doing it. Eating disorders are relatively rare. Very few people have such tramuatised lives in such a toxic environment that they go all the way down to starving theselves to death – even I only saw it happen once and I worked with at the most severe end of the spectrum for 4 years.
But disordered eating? Eating when you’re not hungry, not eating when you are, crazy dieting, yoyo dieting, hating on your body, thinking that bits of it are “wrong” or “bad”, stressing out about what you look like and whether people like it and all the rest? A national obsession, and not just for women. And you know what? It won’t kill you, and it won’t be half as horrific as the things I’ve seen and others have been through at that serious end of the mental health spectrum, but it is not doing doing any of us any good. It’s wasting your time and your energy, stopping you from enjoying yourself and doing fun stuff and productive stuff, its holding you back, and more than that, its holding you down. So yes, lets change how the fashion industry works, and post your pictures up and celebrate you and have fun and absolutely not body snark ever – but lets do it for all of us.
If you want more information on these issues, try: