Every true Parisienne has certain key items in her wardrobe: at least one beautifully printed scarf, a chic sac à main, a black cocktail dress and classic trench among them. But to most, the lingerie she wears under her carefully crafted ensemble is as central to her wardrobe as her Chanel mini sac.
The French affection for small stretchy pieces of lace — embroidered, embellished and often painfully uncomfortable — is apparent everywhere you go. From the ubiquitous soft lit advertisements featuring headless, amply endowed torsos to the city’s hundreds of boutiques devoted exclusively to under garments, visitors to Paris quickly realize that lingerie here is serious business.
Soon after arriving, I discovered my own lingerie drawer was in dire need of an overhaul. Faded cotton panties and functional athletic bras simply would not do in the City of Light.
I ventured out in search of my inner seductress, trying to imagine wearing a garter while keeping a straight face. With so many specialty boutiques to choose from – Aubade, Lise Charmel, Chantelle and many more – I made my first stop at Princess Tam Tam, a mid-range chain that does sexy as well as cute and sassy.
After poking through the racks and selecting some pretty pastels, a saleswoman approached to offer some assistance. I held my stack of panties and said I was ready to pay. “But where were the matching bras?” she asked, clearly horrified that I might buy the underwear alone. Buying a bra and panties that aren’t part of a set? Pas possible.
She skillfully assisted me in completing my ensembles, selecting one matching bra after another. Behind the velvet curtain of la cabine d’essayage, it became clear that these lacy lovelies were meant to provide more than a little support – they seemed created to be seen and admired.
Discussions with French friends, however, proved this assumption to be only partly correct. Parisiennes, it turns out, wear beautiful lingerie for themselves as much as for their amoureux. Wearing something lovely close to the skin is a pleasure, I was told, even if no one else is going to see it. Lovely bras, panties and les sous vetements are the foundation for the overall look. Much like the knowledge of how to skillfully tie a scarf, young French women are taught the art of lingerie at an early age.
The French love of lingerie extends to sleepwear as well. No Parisian worth her Repetto ballet flats would save the good stuff for special occasions (like anniversaries) and sport oversized t-shirts to bed the rest of the year. They don their lacy best every day (and night) and coordinate it all with artistry and care. As I concluded my own lingerie shopping excursion, I plucked an ivory silk nightgown from the rack and headed for la caisse.
With my lingerie purchased and my excitement mounting, I sauntered in to the Paris afternoon feeling as if I carried a delicious secret in my bag. I couldn’t wait to wear (and share!) my lovely acquisitions.
After all, beautiful lingerie is un plaisir and isn’t pleasure what Paris life is all about?
- French lingerie shopping guides here and here
- We love these romantic, boudoir shots by Making Magique
- Psst: Princess Tam Tam is available online from the States here
- For some inspiration, check out the websites of La Perla, Chantelle, Chantal Thomass, Aubade and Lise Charmel
- Girl’s Guide to Paris lists some good lingerie shopping spots in Paris here