By the time you reach my age, you’ll have been through many phases of knickers, starting off with something serviceable then probably shrinking to something scanty, and back again on occasion.
When I was old enough to choose my own briefs, I remember my mum voicing her disgust at the scarcity of fabric. But knowing her mother (my grandmother) was from the era of the bloomer, I’m pretty sure Mum was considered racy herself. So modest was my grandmother, she couldn’t even name what she wore under her dress and referred only in a whisper to ‘undergarments’. I may have inherited this revulsion as the word ‘panties’ perturbs me if uttered aloud and as a small schoolgirl, I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘navy blues’, so my uniform unmentionables were known as ‘nabynoos’.
Life was so much simpler when you could buy your undies of choice in a multipack and one style worked under every outfit. For a while, the range of knicker types a woman requires has been expanding not least because much as we love how feminine lace lingerie looks when choosing from the drawer in the morning, we must weigh up the pros and cons of committing to it for the day. Will knowing you’re wearing something sexy be worth the discomfort or will the scratchy surface and lack of stretch simply get too distressing? I can be quite moody if I’m uncomfortably conscious of my pants. But that’s nothing compared to the irritation caused by accidentally wearing them the wrong way round – these days, knickers are often illogically smaller at the back than the front. And as for gussets: I’m pretty sure the word indicates strength, support and width, so what’s been going on there then?
In Australia, thongs are what we call flip-flops which suggests they don’t bother with the bottom strap variety – how sensible of them. There surely has to be an extremely good reason to decide to spend the day with a wedgie. I’m not certain what the difference is between a thong and a g-string, but one does sound slightly more slicey than the other and now we are expected to deal with the c-string which, in case you were wondering, has no strings at all.
Just like the kitchen cupboards we can’t reach, these garments are likely to have been designed by misogynists – for men. I wouldn’t want to deny anyone the boyish excitement of glimpsing his consenting other’s netherwear, especially if he bought them for her, but what he imagines will look sexy doesn’t often allow for her spare tyre flopping over the top and quite possibly concealing the entire triangle of fabric which barely contains her lady region.
Industrial strength knickers with armholes anyone?
Folded up at the other end of the knicker drawer, we can choose between ‘Bridgets’ (sturdy control briefs, the source of surprise for Hugh Grant’s character who had finally managed to get Bridget Jones on her back) and the whopping ‘Hollys’.
When asked on telly how she got such a smooth line in her dress (by the bloomer-wearing drag comedian Mrs Brown) Holly Willoughby disclosed her underpinnings started at her navel and came down to her knees and then revealed her expansive, flesh-coloured underwear to prove it. Quite remarkable for someone who’s modelled lingerie for years. But then Holly’s a mother of three now. As a mother of three myself with more than a few years on Holly, I’m wondering if the next phase will be industrial strength knickers with armholes.
I recently ventured with Drew into a lovely lingerie shop saying: “You can’t ever come in here without me or you’ll look like a perv.” I needed some Hollys to wear beneath the weather-girl style dress I’d chosen for my nephew’s wedding. While Drew sat on a velvet chaise trying not to make eye contact with anyone, I disappeared behind a swish curtain and squeezed myself into the ugly, tight instruments of torture hoping the seams wouldn’t split.
The effort required made me very hot but even under all three different lighting settings (day, night and dusk), I couldn’t see in the mirror where all the extra flesh had gone. What I could see, however, didn’t resemble a human abdomen in any way. And I simply hated how they felt, so braced myself for the reverse procedure which was when I noticed the livid, red wheels on my skin. I was having such an extreme reaction to something in the fabric (fibreglass perhaps?) that Drew had to walk very close behind me on the way out while I had a good ol’ furtive scratch. He even began to talk quite loudly to mask that noise you just have to make when relieving a powerful itch.
From comfortable ‘nun’s knicks’ through fun frillies to bedroom pretties, our drawers are full (pun intended) but if they’re not on show, do we really need so much choice? Do you honestly care about the neighbours seeing them on the washing line? When I moved in with Drew, he felt uneasy unloading the washing machine because it meant handling my briefs without me present. To me, with a lifetime of dealing with it, our underpants are just laundry at that stage.