Feb 8th, 2020, 12:10 PM

Changing Lingerie Culture

By Emilyn Snyder
Image Credit: Shutterstock/AbElena
Image Credit: Shutterstock/AbElena
France is finally beginning to value comfort over sexiness.

Growing up in the States but having spent time living in other parts of the world, I've come to notice several differences in how women dress between cultures. When I first moved to France in 2016, I was surprised and intrigued by the sheer number of lingerie boutiques there are in Paris. Many of their items looked "sexy," and yet there were women of all ages, shapes and sizes shopping inside. I quickly understood that no matter who you were, you were meant to wear sexier lingerie if you were French. That being said, this hasn't always been a comfortable reality. 

France has always been a trailblazer for emerging fashion trends. It makes sense that their attitude towards bras and lingerie matches their beliefs concerning all things clothing related. Indeed, the French tend to buy expensive clothes that they expect to last a long time. They also believe in looking put together, so nicer looking lingerie, regardless of who it's for, would also fall in line with that perception. 

The earliest bras that resembled what most women wear today were not made until the earliest 20th century. And even those bras were not commercialized until the 1930s, when they started to become widely available to women in the United States and France. Of course, nowadays it has become more accepted to not even wear bras.

As an integral part of a women's wardrobe, whether practical or aesthetic, buying a bra usually prioritizes comfort in the United States. To find out more about why this has historically not been the case in France, I interviewed a dear friend, Anne-Helene Gutierres, who has lived in Paris for most of her life and spent several years in the States as well, asking her to help enlighten me on the cultures surrounding French versus American lingerie. 

"My impression of having lived in the US, lingerie in America was less of a ritual. You would favor comfy over sexy. The feminist movement was more advanced in the US than in France [when I was growing up]. In France, women have been trapped in more uncomfortable lingerie. I felt as if my generation was trapped by sexy for men and not sexy for myself, but that was thirty years ago."

Even more restrictive lingerie was popular further back in France's past. "My grandmother found lingerie very feminine, but it wasn't just about being sexy. The garter belt was more useful and practical because the tights we know now weren’t invented yet."

"Do you know DIM ups?" Anne-Helene explained that they were tights that went to the thigh and were held in place by a thick band of elastic material, only marginally more comfortable than garters. 


"We tried to put them on for the men but the tights were gliding up and down our legs and we felt so uncomfortable trying to keep them on." America and particularly France have both been slowly changing their views on what women can wear, which my friend has clearly noticed. No longer is she wearing "sexy" lingerie for anyone but herself. I asked her if she had always bought nicer-quality lingerie.

"There is a ritual of going and getting a bra with your mother, but for your first bra we still choose something comfortable, and even after my first one I don't go to those really fancy stores where they fit you for a bra. In France, [buying comfortable bras] was originally more of a luxury, but now it is more accessible in places like Monoprix." 

I'm sure, especially in the case of older generations, wearing lingerie for the sake of men is still a hard idea to overcome. Our reality is that much of what women wear has been more for others, not ourselves. However, take comfort in the fact that the world is changing slowly but surely, and realize that women have every right to prioritize their own preferences when it comes to lingerie.