You know that old chestnut about overcoming public-speaking anxiety by imagining the audience in its underwear? The mind typically defaults to a sea of serviceable white or basic black bras, bikinis and briefs, right? Imagine, though, if those lacklustre skivvies were swapped for lacy white bras, neon-pink bustiers and lime-green boy shorts? Kind of hard to keep your mind on your speech altogether, isn't it?
But a rainbow of supersaturated hues and dusty pastel shades – any colour, really, except black – is what lingerie lovers (and apprehensive speech-makers) can look forward to this year. Sexier styles boasting sheer materials, frillier trims and garters galore are also hot. It's a sign that the sober minimalism that accompanied the recession no longer applies to intimate apparel, says Cristelle Basmaji, spokeswoman for Jacob (and daughter of the company's founder). "People," she notes over the phone from Montreal, "are looking for zest and oomph to brighten up their mood."
Lingerie is also reflecting ready-to-wear more closely than ever, she explains. The retailer's lead designer, for instance, now goes to the all-important Première Vision fabric trade show in Paris every February.
Don't be surprised, then, if the vivid swaths of orange, magenta, royal blue and banana yellow that made their way down the runways at Jil Sander, Prada and Louis Vuitton recently also end up as push-ups and lace panties.
"Women are coming to see lingerie as a very important part of their wardrobe – it's not just about the exterior [items]any more," says Sandra Smith Fitzgerald, the Columbia, Ohio-based senior vice-president of merchandising for La Senza.
Indeed, lingerie labels from Agent Provocateur to Fortnight, the Canadian upstart responsible for the now-viral Super Sexy CPR instructional video, are sending what amounts to the same message: the more options, the merrier. In this brave new underworld, you can start your day wearing vintage pink and conclude it by slipping into bed in au courant violet.
As lingerie brands continue to flirt with the boudoir past – high-waisted knickers, corsets, garters – unexpected colours have a contemporizing effect. Consider the bralette, a comfortable but notorious cleavage reducer featuring no underwire or padding and additional material around the carriage. In a rich crimson or shocking pink, it suddenly looks more flattering and feminine.
Andrea Praet, trend director for the fashion forecast agency Stylesight, notes that the coquettish flash of a bra strap or a touch of lace from a tap pant are more acceptable now among a wider range of women, within the realm of high fashion. "It's not about trying to hide straps any more," she says from New York.
Just ask Sarah Jessica Parker, whose favourite look last spring appeared to be an electric yellow bra poking out from her various tops. In any case, anyone who has an entire drawer full of noir undergarments can appreciate the novelty of a little colour. "Many women have already built up [their]black, so now [they]want something fun," says Shana Tilbrook, who runs the two Tryst Lingerie boutiques in Toronto with her mother, Louise Sommers. "Once they start wearing brights, they realize they don't need that many basics."
Colourful intimates, Tilbrook adds, are usually purchased in complete sets, whereas black items, such as a black bra, are more likely bought individually.
Hanky Panky, which is famous for its one-size-fits-all low-rise lace thongs, continues to introduce new shades that devotees can't seem to snap up fast enough. "Women get so excited that they want them in every colour," Tilbrook says of the American brand's wares.
For spring, she expects pale purple to do well, while Praet has her eye on antiqued shades in glossy satin or silk charmeuse. Basmaji of Jacob, meanwhile, is a fan of lime and turquoise; both hues, she says, will be well represented at the retailer later this season.
As always, though, the most titillating aspect of this pseudo-retro trend is the mystery of what might be under that business suit, winter sweater or pair of skinny jeans. After all, the experts agree that wearing colourful lingerie is as much a confidence booster as showing it off. How many women will be walking around on Monday in a red lacy something or other? Let the imagination go wild.
Product styling by Rei Briedis/Judy Inc. (www.judyinc.com).