“How can I feel pretty in my underwear?”
That was the subject line of an email I got a few weeks ago. I get messages like this sometimes, and I’m always really glad that you guys feel like you can confide in me.
The writer--who would rather remain anonymous--said that she envies my confidence, and wants to know how she can improve hers. She told me that she’s almost never naked because she doesn’t love how she looks, but she wants to start wearing pretty lingerie, both for her boyfriend and for herself.
“Anything you tell me to do will help,” she signed off.
It’s a good question. How DOES one feel confident in their underwear? Obviously it isn’t as easy as just doing it, or having somebody shout motivational slogans at you. If it was, then we’d all feel confident as soon as a yogurt ad comes on TV.
Back in the day when I modeled (ugh), I sometimes got paid to pretend to be confident in my underwear. Emphasis on “pretend,” because I never really was. It’s hard to be confident while also having someone tell you how revoltingly fat (and therefore bad at your job) you are.
I don’t model anymore, and I’ve shaken off the idea that I need to weigh a hundred pounds to be a worthwhile human being. I realise that, as someone whose body is fairly tall and thin, saying that I’ve learned to accept my body might provoke some eye-rolls, because OF COURSE I accept my body. The dominant message from society says that my body is the epitome of acceptable.
And yet! It took cancer to knock all those horrible voices out of my head--the ones that told me I’d never be thin enough, that I was fat and disgusting, that no matter what I looked like or how much I tried, I would always be WRONG WRONG WRONG. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve felt comfortable and confident in my own skin.
It’s a little sad that cancer was my body-acceptance reality check, but here we are.
Now my body is fit and healthy, which is the most important thing. It does everything I need it to, and I celebrate that every damn day by treating it well and dressing it in fantastic things. And that includes things like great undies.
To get the lowdown on how to feel like a superbabe in your underwear, I headed to superbabe underwear central: Agent Provocateur. Ground zero for insanely beautiful, detailed, sexy, EXQUISITE lingerie.
One of the things that I like the best about the Chicago store is that the boutique itself is the most well-thought-out, perfect extension of the beautiful things it sells. It feels like walking into a elegant boudoir. And the ladies who work there--who, it must be said, I’m proud to call my friends--are insanely knowledgable and professional.
I talked to Kendra, Rosa and Charlotte at length about lingerie, beauty and confidence. It was really wonderful; seldom have I ever felt so awesome after being so naked. They truly know their stuff, and they’re all really invested in helping women find things that make them look and feel incredible. Instead of being vaguely torturous, they make shopping for underthings fun and uplifting, literally and emotionally.
Here are some of the things that they taught me. And just so you know that I practice what I preach, I will be illustrating these lessons with an assortment of photos of myself in AP underwear. It's all very PG, but if you're at work and your boss hates underwear, please be careful.
This is not about trying to collect compliments in order to bolster my ego, because I already like how I look. I want to show you guys that if I can ladypose in my underwear for the entire internet to see, you can wear and do anything you want!
It is a truth universally acknowledged: nobody can feel confident in underwear that doesn’t fit.
“When I was in high school, I was wearing a 34A bra,” said Rosa. “Because that was the size that they told me I wore when I got measured. But I had gapping at the top of the cups, the band was always shifting... and I thought that was MY problem.”
This is an issue, she says, that a lot of women have: They think it’s their bodies that don’t fit bras, rather than the bras not fitting them. That idea that somehow you’re shaped so incorrectly that you can’t even find a bra is a confidence destroyer.
“Fit is everything,” Kendra told me. She’s the store manager, and has seriously forgotten more about lingerie than most people ever know. I was wearing a loose flannel shirt to conduct this interview, and she correctly sized me THROUGH MY CLOTHES. That’s how good she is.
So what should we look for in a correctly fitting bra?
“The cup needs to fully cover the breast, with no shelf room or spilling over the top,” she explained. “The band shouldn’t come up too high--it can’t migrate up into your armpit.”
“The band should be tight,” added Rosa. “If you’ve been wearing the wrong band size, this might feel strange at first, but you really, really need that for support.”
“When I was training,” Charlotte said. “I was taught that you should be able to fit two fingers under the band, but nothing else. If you can grab onto it or it’s riding up, or if you have to have it on the very last hook, it’s the wrong size.”
As with everything, bra sizes vary depending on who makes them--and then even within labels.
“If you can try stuff on, you should,” said Kendra. “I know that our sizes are different than what you’d find at Victoria’s Secret, and then some styles fit more closely, while others offer a little more space.”
“You can’t be too attached to a size,” Charlotte said. “We have women who come in and insist that they’re a double D, even though that’s way too big of a cup for them.” A correct fit is far more important than a letter and number on a tag.
Agent Provocateur carries sizes in store 30B to 36E, and can special order others. This is a really impressive range, especially for a small boutique. I was honestly delighted to find a whole bunch of bras in my usually hard-to-find size range of 30/32C, rather than just one or two.
Obviously I’m not saying that AP is the only brand in the world that makes awesome, well-fitting undergarments. When it comes to finding bras and knickers that fit and make you look (and feel) amazing, the most important thing to do is to find a store with staff that knows what they are doing, and try on everything. Even things that maybe you wouldn’t normally be drawn to.
“There’s no body shape or size out there that cannot find a bra that fits them,” Kendra said, firmly. “I’ve never NOT been able to fit someone with something that makes them feel sexy and comfortable.”
“There’s this idea that beautiful lingerie has to JUST be for special occasions, but that’s not true,” said Kendra. “I’ll wear a gorgeous matching set under jeans and a t-shirt. Nobody else has to see it, but I know what’s under there, and that’s a really powerful feeling.”
My written notes say “LIKE A HOT SPY,” which I think sums this theory up wonderfully.
“We have women in all the time who think that their underwear doesn’t matter because it’s just gonna come off in five seconds anyway,” said Rosa. “But that’s not how it should be. Lingerie shouldn't just be about sex.”
I know that I personally feel way more confident in my daily life when I know that I’ve got great underwear on. It makes me feel happier and more together if I know that I’ve put some thought into everything that I have on--all the way down to what’s underneath. Even if I’m not exactly out seducing anyone, I feel way more poised and confident than I do when I have my crappier undies and an old sports bra on.
“You never know where life is going to take you. You never know where you’re going to end up,” said Charlotte. “You should be dressed for everything!”
This really echoes a belief that I have, and that I know I’ve articulated many times in my articles and in the comments--you NEVER have to wait for a Grand Occasion to do or wear something special. LIFE is a Grand Occasion, and we only get one of them. Don’t put off wearing gorgeous lipstick or fancy underwear on the daily if that’s what you want to do!
“If you’re a grown woman, you should have grownup lingerie,” said Kendra. “It can change your mood, your confidence, your bearing. Every woman deserves to feel really hot every day of her life.”
OF COURSE I asked the AP ladies about their essential confidence-boosting beauty products.
“When I wear makeup, I don’t want to look like I’m wearing tonnes of makeup,” said Rosa. “My three essential things for a normal day are blush, mascara and chapstick. But when I need a boost, NOTHING makes me feel better and more confident than lipstick.”
I second this. Lipstick is the ultimate confidence booster. The right lip colour lights up your entire face, and there’s very little in the world that can’t be helped by knowing that you look your best.
“Red lipstick is the ultimate,” said Charlotte. “Nothing’s more chic and sexy on any woman.”
Kendra, who was hard at work behind the scenes at this point, shouted “RED!” very loudly, so we know that she agrees.
Perfume is also important. No matter what you have on--even if it’s nothing, wink--smelling gorgeous is a great way to feel confident. I know that when I catch a whiff of my perfume, it makes me feel really happy, and a happy Alle is a more confident Alle.
Agent Provocateur makes several fragrances, some of which are available online. As with everything else they make, the perfumes are incredibly seductive and rich, but not overpowering. They wear beautifully; all of them open up as you have them on, and it seems like they almost customise themselves to YOU.
My favourite was L'Agent Eau Provocateur. At first, it’s super-light and fresh, almost citrusy, but then it changes and opens up and you get these really deep, rich scents underneath. It makes me think of a really bright, sunlit dressing room in a gorgeous old English house.
Charlotte and I both put this on--it’s her favourite--and in half an hour, it smelled totally different on both of us. Body chemistry is cool! And also, I still liked it! As someone who’s pretty used to hating 99% of all smells, this was pretty wonderful.
You guys all know that I’m a big fan of shimmer, right? Well, so is Rosa. She has literally the most gorgeous skin that I have ever seen up close, and she introduced me to AP Body Glamour. It’s a lightly fragranced, super-moisturising lotion with a light shimmer that makes your skin look a million times more magical. The shimmer itself is slightly pink, but not overwhelmingly so, which means it works on a wide variety of skin tones.
And because that shimmer is really subtle, all you’re left with is skin that looks glowing and gorgeous, rather than like a glitterbomb went off right next to you. I put some on my chest, and it was like candlelight in a bottle. So flattering!
I could write something here about how to set the mood for sexy times, but there are already heaps of articles about how to seduce your partner with candles. Wanting to feel desirable for your partner is awesome, and it’s totally a valid goal, but you also have to be able to feel desirable for yourself, and by yourself. And the only way to do that is to practice.
As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anyone else?”
Get to know your body. Is it healthy? Is it strong? Does it persevere? What has it gotten you through? What can it do? What do you love about it? Get specific. Don’t focus on any “problem areas” or obsess over things you wish were different. Look at all the positives--and yes, you absolutely have them.
I’ve found that spending lots of time in your underwear is especially helpful when it comes to getting over all that negativity, because you can’t hide. Get dressed up in something that fits and makes you happy. Play some music that you love, and hang out with yourself. Have a glass of champagne. Feel AWESOME in your underwear. Revel in your body--it’s the only one you get. Oh, and relax. Relaxation is confidence’s best friend.
If you have a picture in your head of how amazing and babely you are, that’s absolutely going to carry over into your daily life. The next time you strip down, you’re going to feel amazing because you’ll already have so much practice THINKING of yourself as amazing.
The ultimate key when it comes to feeling confident in your underwear is your attitude. No matter what you’re wearing--the sexiest lingerie, a burlap potato sack, jeans, whatever--if you’re comfortable with what you’ve got on, and you’re happy, that’s going to make you feel like a million bucks.
You can’t hide yourself behind fancy underwear, or clothes, or heaps of makeup. These things should enhance your beauty and bring out the features that you love, rather than being a mask or something to hide behind.
If you’re not feeling confident right off the bat? Fake it. The thing about faking confidence is that it becomes the real thing very quickly, because the line between pretending to think you’re awesome and REALLY thinking you’re awesome is pretty thin.
Even Beyonce needs to channel Sasha Fierce sometimes, and she’s Beyonce.
ALLE’S HELPFUL TIPS
OK, so now we come to the me-specific part of this story. After spending a couple hours trying on all manner of insanely gorgeous lingerie--most of which was very different to what I’d usually wear, or even think about--and then being photographed in it, I have some confidence (and just life) tips:
Champagne is liquid confidence. I always get really bad stage fright right before I have photos taken. And photos in my underwear? For the internet? I think that for most people THAT’S REALLY SCARY. Rosa gave me a little can of champagne, though, and it helped me not run away screaming down Oak Street. Obviously I am not saying “Everyone run out and get drunk before you let anyone see you in your knickers,” but they don’t call it liquid courage for nothin’.
- Don’t get too drunk. Kendra told us a really funny story about getting too drunk at her boyfriend’s (now fiance’s) birthday one year, getting home, trying to take off her her gorgeous special-occasion lingerie...and losing her balance, falling over on the floor and passing out. The moral of that story? Kendra says “Don’t do ANY of that.”
- Road test your underwear. I didn’t realise that I'd have a hard time dressing myself until I went to hook my stockings into my suspenders...and couldn’t do it. Like, at all. If I had bought this stuff and tried to put it on myself at home for the first time, I would have given up in a huff. As it was, Charlotte very slowly taught me how to do it...but I still wasn’t as good at it as she was. Thanks for getting up close and personal with my legs, Char.
- Find something that works for you. The second I walked in the store, I fell in love with the bright purple Rizzo corsellette. Such a gorgeous colour! So beautifully made! Rainbow Brite Cat on a Hot Tin Roof realness! And then I put it on, and it was UNBELIEVABLY TIGHT. It looked amazing, but if I had to do more in it than stand up perfectly straight and pose, I would have passed out. The Indigoe corsellette--which I called my Sexy TARDIS outfit owing to the gorgeous blue colour--was way more my speed. It emphasised everything I like about my body--the seam around my waist was especially flattering--while also being incredibly comfortable.
Try on stuff you wouldn’t normally try. Bears repeating. Never in a billion years would I have picked out the incredibly strappy Whitney set for myself. Charlotte and Rosa made me try it on, and I loved it.
- Roll with the punches. It's easy to think that confidence relies a lot on everything going totally perfectly--you wear the perfect thing, take it off in the perfect way, say the perfect thing, and then everything is PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT. That never happens in real life. If and when something silly or awkward happens--I fell out of of my slingback mules like four times, because stockings are slippery--you gotta be able to laugh about it. True confidence stems at least in part from being able to delight in yourself, ridiculousness and all.
- Look to the classics. If ever you find yourself in a position where you’re being photographed in your unders, and you’re standing there feeling awkward with no idea of what to do or how to stand, think Betty Grable. All those cheesecakey pin-up poses are classics for a reason! They’re sexy and cheeky, and they make everyone look amazing!
This was a really awesome experience. I want to thank the Agent Provocateur ladies for being so incredibly accommodating and generous with their time. They are wonderful, wise women who know everything there is to know about amazing underthings, so if you're ever in Chicago and need lingerie-slash-advice, they are the people to see. I honestly had zero idea of what my lingerie style was before this experience, except for "bras that fit and aren't too complicated," but now I have a way better idea. I have a lingerie STYLE now. And that's all because of their gentle guidance and all-around fabulousness.
Are you a lingerie person? Where are your favourite places to shop for gorgeous underthings? Tell me everything!