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What’s on the Inside Counts: A Look Into the World of Intimate Apparel

A black-and-white photo of two white women at a table, a salesperson offering a lingerie slip for the other to examine.
Emms x
The lingerie industry encompasses everything from bras to slips, underwear to loungewear...and has a long, fascinating history.

The world of lingerie is as varied and interesting as any other realm of fashion ... and can be an opportunity for playfulness and exploration as well as comfort.

The clothes we wear send specific messages to the outside world. They can symbolize power, youthfulness, sophistication…but what about what we wear underneath? Intimate apparel is deeply personal, and each slip, bra or bodysuit can be a choice about function or an opportunity for the wearer to play and experiment.

Host Anita Rao talks about the history and present-day world of lingerie with Cora Harrington, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Lingerie Addict blog and the author of “In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear and Love Lingerie.” Rao also talks with fitness instructor, burlesque artist and lingerie lover Jake DuPree about how lingerie has helped them explore their personal identity and what changes they would like to see in the lingerie industry to increase gender inclusivity. And Catherine Clavering, a psychologist, disabled person and founder of the U.K.-based lingerie brand Kiss Me Deadly, joins the conversation to discuss the behind-the-scenes of the lingerie market.

Please note: This conversation originally aired on May 14, 2021.

Interview Highlights

A Black woman standing in a road, wearing a red bustier and long black skirt.
Sylvia Rosokoff
Cora Harrington shares her extensive lingerie knowledge on her blog, "The Lingerie Addict," as well as in her book, "In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie."

Cora Harrington on opening up conversations about lingerie on social media and public platforms:

Even though my focus on intimate apparel is very much centered around the culture of fashion, the social aspects of intimate apparel, how to give people advice and resources ... I am often flagged as adult content. And this happens regardless of if I'm showing a bra on a mannequin or showing it you know, flat against the plain background or wearing it myself. And it's very unfortunate, because when we stigmatize conversations like this, we're not only inhibiting the actual flow of information ... we’re also implying that there's something shameful about these conversations. … And so the other thing that I try to do with the way I talked about intimate apparel is normalize it, so that people think of it as something to wear for themselves, for their own self image, for their own self identity, and don't think of it in terms of what society has said they should feel.

A person wearing a red bra, garter belt and underwear, holding a red glove between their teeth.
Jake DuPree
Jake DuPree rocks a red lingerie set from lingerie brand Playful Promises.

Jake DuPree on why they love lingerie — and their hopes for their own lingerie brand one day:

I get so many messages from so many men being like: I want lingerie. And I have to qualify things like you know, I love this brand, but you'll probably end up having to add this to it or add that to it to make it fit appropriately. … There needs to be something occupying that space. And I really would love to explore that. Because it is such an empowering thing and I mean, I used to wear it before I even performed. I sometimes would wear lingerie underneath outfits like, to go out to dinner, or like, with my friends or to go see a movie, just because it made me feel so powerful. And it was like my supersuit underneath my day clothes. It was like the Superman to my Clark Kent.

A white woman wearing a blue bra and highwaisted underwear with black sheer patterned tights. She wears pink glasses and red lipstick.
Catherine Clavering
Catherine Clavering's lingerie brand Kiss Me Deadly serves femme fatale and retro styles...along with a good dose of sarcasm and humor.

Catherine Clavering on about creating an educational, how-to series for lingerie:

We've had a lot of feedback, for starters, in the customer service inbox where people had perhaps done things that were inadvisable — say, washing your underwear in vinegar, which I still don't understand. But apparently, 5-Minute Crafts has ruined everything for everyone. And we started to realize that one of the issues is that, although for years obviously we've done a lot of written information about things, the fact is that nothing can be actually seeing how to put on a suspender belt, sorry, garter belt, or how to wear a teddy, or how things should fit. … So what we're working on at the moment is basically as many clips as we can do … to just do a series of how to put things on, what goes with what, how you can tell whether this fits, what fit issues there are.

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Kaia Findlay is a producer for Embodied, WUNC's weekly, live talk show on health, sex and relationships. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.