Many men we know would rather be caught stealing food from the refrigerator than be spotted shopping for lingerie for their girlfriends or wives. The biggest fear is being thought of as an overgrown teenager with leftover voyeuristic urges. Some are also intimidated by the complicated terminology, and would rather ponder key philosophical questions than try to figure out if teddies mean more than innocuous stuffed toys.
As we embarked on this formidable task of deconstructing the latticework surrounding these delicate creations, we picked three women at our workplace, asked them what they liked (one wears only white, one must have padding, one likes funky straps in case they peep out of her blouse). Then we braced ourselves and headed to the premier lingerie stores of the Capital to see if the experience is as nerve-racking as it is made out to be. After our fearless male reporter scooped out his picks, a female sidekick scanned the scene to make sure his choices had no Madonna-inspired cones and were actually the best buys in the stores.
Who would have imagined that a dusty and unpaved south Delhi bylane would lead to a fancy French lingerie studio (one that claims it invented the strapless bra in 1972)? Out of all the lingerie stores I visited, I felt the most welcome at Studio Aubade. Not only was the salesgirl patient and attentive, she was well informed of the latest trends, fashion and common preferences.
I described my girlfriend as a petite woman who prefers padding, and the choices were much less extensive. The sizes weren’t always stocked small enough. The saleslady, though, did show some bras with removable silica pouches for extra padding.
But you can order lingerie from their catalogue that will be custom-made and delivered in two months. So sneak into her clothes closet, note the numbers and figure out the design you want (it’s easier to choose from a catalogue).
The design is classic and sensual with lacework, embroidered floral motifs and frilly edges.
However, the female sidekick feels that a few pieces have decorative embellishments that would be impossible to wear outside the bedroom. No woman wants to walk around with a wooden tusk dangling between her breasts. Stick to the unembellished options here and your lady will be in your debt. When they get it right, it’s a good combination of sexy and wearable lingerie.
The next store, Etam, had sheer glass exteriors, and that’s a little intimidating. Thankfully, there was already a man inside the store and though he didn’t seem to be doing much other than accompanying his wife, it did ease the tension a bit.
After asking me to go through the collection, the salesgirl’s first question was: “Do you want something fancy or not fancy?” To be honest, I was not sure. I mumbled something about her being small and needing something with padding. She showed me how their store boasts of an extensive range for the not-so-well-endowed, with sizes starting from 30.
Her suggestions were generally bang on target and she tried to find matching nightwear for the pieces I asked for. Etam’s lingerie tends to be quite girlie, not very embellished, fun and sweet, and moderately decorative, carrying just the barest hints of eroticism. It’s probably more convenient for everyday office wear than the other brands.
The only drawback, according to the sidekick, is that the selections don’t always have multiple underwear options. So before you get your heart set on a bra, make sure to check the underwear. If your girl is a thong enthusiast, she won’t be happy to settle for full panties.
The next stop is a boudoir-style lingerie parlour inside a run-of-the-mill dry-cleaning store. There are two ways you’ll ever know it’s there: Someone recommends it or you visit the laundry.
As you walk in past the glass door of the dry cleaning shop, the lushness of the décor at Seduction strikes you. Yellow satin pleated cloth along the lingerie racks, a yellow and purple polka-dotted floor, dim lighting, large pictures of women in classic lingerie poses, all give you the heady feeling of treading into something forbidden.
The salesgirl was extremely congenial; none of that raised-eyebrow “What are you doing here?” The store stocks premium lingerie from the French brand Lise Charmel and the Romanian brand Jolidon. My “girlfriend” for this store was my co-worker, who loves playful, colourful bras.
The store stood up to the task with sizes that go up to 42. She showed me a lot of unpadded bras with printed tulle and vibrant colours. The sidekick is impressed and says that on a special date, with these pieces under your clothes, you’ll walk around feeling like a gift waiting to be unwrapped. But you should be loaded enough to afford a pair of panties worth Rs3,000 and your girlfriend or wife most definitely has to be a woman in touch with her sexuality (read: no girls).
The Straps chain offers a department store experience with a number of brands: Wonderbra, Triumph, Lovable, Enamor, Cotton Club, Isis, René Rofé, Pigeon, and more. This is the perfect place to shop for the colleague who has stuck to the same brand and the same colour (white) for years: Something simple and comfortable and yet not ugly. Soon enough, I find plain bras in green and pink with pleats on either side converging at the cleavage: It’s elegant enough, not so fancy that you would crib about wearing it inside daywear.
The rather overbearing saleswoman tries to hard-sell, saying that this is the wedding season and she can’t be sure something I like will be there for much longer.
Overall, it seemed that the salesgirls were used to men shopping for their wives and girlfriends and generally responded enthusiastically to all my queries. The sidekick isn’t pleased though, and says that the selection tends to have that same mass-produced, unoriginal feel, though the Italian label Parah is chic, modern and sleek.
Studio Aubade is at Square One Mall, Saket, New Delhi; Etam has stores in New Delhi, Gurgaon, Surat, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Bangalore; Seduction is at Prithviraj Lane, Khan Market, New Delhi; and Straps has outlets in New Delhi, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Surat, Ahmedabad and Bangalore.
Melissa A. Bell contributed to this story.