It's not just when the fashion tide turns toward exposed lingerie as a trend that we're overly interested in undies… Finding lingerie that fits like a dream and goes the distance is something of an obsession of ours. We have endless questions. Does your bra size really change like the wind? Are all bralettes bad for those with an ample bosom? How often should you update your underpinnings? Is it true you shouldn't wash brassieres as often as you think? Can you mix and match and not feel like a scruff-bag? So. Many. Unanswered. Things. That is, until now.
We visited Agent Provocateur's boudoir-like HQ in London's Clerkenwell to have a thorough one-to-one with its extremely sassy creative director, Sarah Shotton. When you think of AP, we know your mind instantly turns to the kind of racy pieces that are labelled "special occasions only," but Sarah's been adding to the brand's offering in order to cover a girl's full day-to-night, work-to-party, fun-to-serious gamut of lingerie options.
There's also a wider selection of shapes, sizes and preferences than you'd once imagined. "I think your underwear is the most important thing you put on every day, more so than the clothes you wear. So you need to feel A.) it should fit really well, but B.) like if you [had to] walk around naked in it, you'd feel like you're looking good," she says.
If anyone knows the minutiae that makes the difference between a piece that feels confidence-boosting and something not quite there yet, it's her. And yes, I did wear the wrong bra that day (getting ready in a rush) and felt hugely self-conscious… Keep reading to discover how to locate, buy, look after and wear lingerie like a total pro.
"Many women go for a bra that they want to have and sort of squeeze themselves in, which is really bad for you because you've got to protect your top muscles. Once they're ripped, that's it; you can't build up your breast muscles again," warns Sarah. This kind of damage can also occur when bras are too loose around the back, she revealed. "I wear my bras quite tight because I like to feel like I'm in solid. But a lot of women—have you seen them when the bra is riding up at the back and the boobs are sort of drooping?—that's really bad. And also, if you're wearing a cup that's too small, the wire is going to stick into the breast."
You may think matching underwear is just for women with too much time on their hands, but there is a positive mental effect behind such meticulousness: "We're working women, and we've got families or commitments, but I think matching underwear makes you feel better psychologically, and I think that when I have a matching set on, I feel like I've made an effort," Sarah says. "You know when you're going to exercise and you put a sports bra on? You feel sporty. You put your sports leggings on and you know exactly what you're doing—it's that same thing in a way for underwear."
"If you had a basic bra that you loved and you're hammering it all the time, I think you need to change it every month. But with certain expensive pieces from a brand like us, you'd probably only be wearing it on special occasions [so you can hold it onto it for longer]," says Sarah. "I've got AP from 17 years ago and that I can still wear now, but that's because it's been looked after and worn infrequently."
Anna Dello Russo being cheeky at Milan Fashion Week.
"Many women think that if they buy a piece with more coverage, it will be more flattering—actually the smaller the knickers, the better they are on your bottom," explains Sarah. "We did the Brazilian about four or five years ago, and that flew. I actually pushed it through (after a big hoo-ha here and everyone going, 'No one's going to buy that and have their bums out'), but that trend is huge now, and it ended up being a best seller." Not to mention a runaway swimwear trend A-listers can't get enough of.
There are many elements to a proper care routine you should have in place for your smalls. "If you're buying something from us, hand-wash it, look after it—especially when you put it in your drawers, as many women shove them in, and you can get the wires stuck and squashed easily. The most common mistake is that women wear something once, and then stuff it to the back of the drawer and put on their faithful style that they always wear."
Kim Kardashian West wearing Agent Provocateur's Essie Bra (£95).
You may finally find your perfect fit, but your lingerie collection should still account for fluctuations: "Your breasts change each month, up and down… Sometimes you lose weight, or just before your period, you might even go up another size. It's quite good to have various sizes to cater to that." Just remember to wear the right size at the right time.
"Ideally hand-wash and set aside some time one evening. But when using a washing machine, you should put underwear in a lingerie bag and on a cool cycle, like 30 degrees," advises Sarah. "I think it's like your shoes a little bit—it depends on how much you wear them and how loved they are. Modern technology makes lingerie last a bit longer, but it's also common sense—you know when the elastic goes in the back."
Girls with bigger busts will be pleased to know Agent Provocateur ensures that you'll get the exact same bra no matter what size you buy—something most brands don't offer, with larger cup sizes usually meaning the bra has padding, more coverage or noticeably thicker straps. We'd recommend going for the Lorna Bra (£75).
"There is a chart of all different breast shapes; it's quite funny. You might find that you're good in a balconette bra, but sometimes women try and wear things that aren't good for them, or they think they should wear a certain thing [because it's in fashion], and they don't experiment with other shapes."
While you may think it's better to choose the exact knicker silhouette for the clothes you are wearing, the old matchy-matchy tack may actually be better after all. "[The idea of matching lingerie] goes round in phases. I think that women worry too much about VPL right now. I actually think that wearing a knicker sometimes where you can see it is actually really sexy!" says Sarah.
Beyoncé revealing a peek of AP—it's important to have separate bras as your "fashion" pieces that you are happy to put on show and to own others that are more functional.
Sarah thinks the reason behind women feeling like they aren't washing their lingerie as frequently as they'd want is that they perhaps don't own enough in the first place. Her advice is that you shouldn't be wearing the same bra more than two days in a row on any given week, and to rotate them more when possible. "We've all had favourite bras that we don't want to take off," she says. "You shouldn't be wearing the same pair of shoes every day, as it's not good for your feet, and the same goes for bras."
"If you're going to do sport, you need a sports bra, and you need to be fitted for that sports bra, I think. It's really important. If you're doing aerobics or running, you need to be strapped in; running is quite hard on the body. I tend to wear two: a sports bra with a supportive vest over the top."
"Basically you should get measured in every store: If you're a 34B in M&S and came to AP, we would still want to fit you because it depends on what they class as a 34B and where their bras have been made. Plus, they use lingerie fabric, whereas we use ready-to-wear, which makes a difference."
Although less coverage can be more flattering, you still need to ensure your knickers are comfortable and not excessively digging in. "People think I'm definitely not a large. Just get something that fits properly—it doesn't matter what size is on the label," she says.
Style du Monde
Is it any wonder Kim's go-to stylist, Christine Centenera, is a fan of the exposed bra too?
Using high-temperature settings on your washing machine can destroy lingerie quickly—but not washing pieces enough is understandably a hygiene issue as well. Sarah advises that you should wash your bras every couple of wears, and that "with anything [like this], it should be common sense—when you start to see the skin on the elastic."
In the mood for underwear shopping? See the best bras for every girl.